LOOK, LISTEN, READ by Claude Lévi-Strauss


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 In this slim volume of fragmentary musings, the renowned octogenarian anthropologist reflects engagingly on the high culture of his native France. Avatar of structuralism, author of both dense theoretical tomes and accessible autobiographical works--most famous among the latter is Tristes Tropiques--LÇvi-Strauss (The Story of Lynx, 1995) remains without peer in his academic field. This volume finds him turning his anthropological gaze toward home, focusing on the art and literature of the French Enlightenment. His opening chapters feature an intriguing analysis of the 17th-century painter Poussin's Et in Arcadia ego theme, which, LÇvi-Strauss argues, enabled him to knot together in his pictures nature and culture, life and death. The discussion peters out into an unfocused look at various Enlightenment theories of artistic expression, but this interlude provides a bridge into a cogent treatment of the composer Rameau and his opera Castor et Pollux. The anthropologist argues that we should keep in mind, when listening to 18th-century music, that audiences then were more attuned to music theory than audiences today. In the writings of the Enlightenment music theorist Chabanon, LÇvi-Strauss finds early intimations of structuralism; he then traces the idea that the expressive languages of the different arts correspond to one another through a reading of Rimbaud's famous synesthetic sonnet likening the vowels to colors. Closing sections contain a historic artifact from 50-odd years ago: LÇvi-Strauss's famous shipboard correspondence with the surrealist poet and theorist AndrÇ Breton. From his opening consideration of how Proust's ``completed work resembles a mosaic where each piece retains its own face and character'' to his account of how basket-weavers produce objects able to take on a life of their own, what LÇvi-Strauss offers here is a series of allegories for his own craftsmanship. As a belle-lettrist, LÇvi-Strauss is more than passable. But his best insights come when he captures an outsider's perspective on his own heritage.

Pub Date: May 21st, 1997
ISBN: 0-465-06880-4
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1997


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