THE STORY OF LYNX by Claude Lévi-Strauss


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 The eminent French anthropologist offers a meticulously wrought structural analysis of a set of North American Indian myths. The work is actually two separate but intertwined texts: The first is the collected myths and their many variants, the second an argument constructed by stripping the stories to their most basic elements and analyzing the dualisms, symmetries, and inversions that emerge at this ``structural'' level. The myths are primarily those of the Salish-speaking peoples of the Pacific Northwest and a second, contrasting group from South America. LÇvi-Strauss presents us with a fascinating collection of stories that reveal a great deal about their cultures. We learn, for example, why certain groups consider the fur of the lynx to be a sacred medicine; why wild goats are hunted at specific times of the year; and the cultural meanings and associations assigned to the moon, the sun, and various winds. The stories all concern transformation, regeneration, creation, and ritual practice. When stripped bare and examined in conjunction with similar myths from South America, ``deeper'' cultural meanings also become apparent. The nature of twinness in Native American mythological thinking is revealed to be one of incompatibility, i.e., twins are always resolved into their differences, no matter how similar they may have been at some point in the past. LÇvi-Strauss contrasts this with the manner in which Western European thought tends to highlight similarities in twins, glossing over intrinsic differences. He implies that these differences may have made inevitable the discord between Native American peoples (who too trustingly saw European invaders as their ``twins'') and the Europeans (who saw Natives as totally Other). Essential reading not only for those interested in Native American culture and folklore, but also for anyone investigating structuralist orientation in the social sciences.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-226-47471-2
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1995


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