Centennial Sauvage: The Survival of Tristes tropiques

The Birthday Party

In December 2008, I read an article in an American newspaper describing an event that took place the week before. November 28 had been Claude Lévi-Strauss’ one hundredth birthday. Friends and admirers staged “Claude Lévi-Strauss à 100 ans,” a day-long public performance of his work at the Musée du Quai Branly. As Lévi-Strauss declined to attend the event, the French president made a ceremonial visit to his home.

Tristes tropiques
BY Claude Lévi-Strauss
(Plon, 1955)

By the time I read the news, I had already missed the event. I was surprised to learn he was still alive. The French anthropologist had not intersected with my life in many decades. But now the train had arrived, I was standing on the platform and I already had the ticket in my pocket. I decided it was not too late to add my own thoughts to the celebration. I went to the collection of books I had brought to France from America and started to read my old copy of Tristes tropiques. This was the book, written for a popular audience in the early 1950s, that for many readers defined his place in France and in the world. I re-read it, then read the later English translation and the French original, trying to understand how it came to be, what it was made from and just who had inherited what from whom.

It is an amazing work of literature. A lot of water has gone under all the bridges that cross the Seine since it appeared in 1955. Many –isms and many schools of thought have come and gone. No one ever wrote another book like this one. Its mix of anthropology, travelogue, social criticism and autobiography fits no specific genre. The year it was published, the jury for the French Goncourt literary prize apologized for not selecting it only because it was not a work of fiction. Perhaps they missed their chance to redefine what fiction was about to become.

Claude Lévi-Strauss is a writer who views humanity in terms of universals, but Tristes tropiques is about the specifics of a life – a telling of one man’s experience. The book is filled with the tension between a world of things and actions and behaviors and the mind of a writer who thinks in terms of ideas and methods and analysis. The reader can see something that maintains a cloak of invisibility in his other works – the birth of a technique and the formation of an attitude that is part affinity, part training and part rebellion.

This was the book, written for a popular audience in the early 1950s, that for many readers defined his place in France and in the world.

He addresses his French audience directly. In his reflexive tone and surprising assertions, he affirms his reader’s intelligence. He means to surprise from the opening lines, a travel book that begins: “I hate travelling and explorers.” The autobiographical narrator secretes layers of irony that separate the author from the imperfections of the world. As he tells his life story, I get the sense that irony is natural to the way his mind works, as the imperfections of European culture threaten to intrude on the universal analytic thought process he was trained to practice. His writing consists of pivoting, shifting movements between descriptive metaphor and logical analysis. The book is divided into nine parts, but this is the lower level of its structure. Above the details, the work is the dramatic monologue of a memorist, a theatrical performance, divided into three acts.

The first act (Part One through Part Four) describes his French education and experience of traveling to and from Brazil as a teacher of anthropology. The time is the 1930s, but the narrative is cyclical, with later memories intruding on earlier ones. This first confrontation with the New World draws to a close with observations of the newly formed state of India in the 1950s. His observations of these alien cultures form a summary of the present state of humanity.

The second act (Part Five through Part Eight) is devoted to ethnography. He returns to 1935 and describes the four Brazilian Indian groups he visited and studied during his field work. The groups are presented in a series that begins with analogies to European feudal order – the Caduveo are described as the remains of a Brazilian Indian ruling class – and then moves on to the “uncivilized” Bororo, the Neolithic and nomadic Nambikwara, and the more remote bands of Tupi-Kawahib surviving in the area farthest from the Euro-Brazilian world.

The third act (Part Nine) is a coda. It is devoted to the author’s return to civilization and sense-making. In the present, he is back in India, meditating on several thousand years of human experience. He relates his experience of the beliefs, material culture, kinship systems and aesthetics of the New World to religious and social systems of the Old World.

First Encounter

I first read the book in 1968. If I remember correctly, my encounter was not during the spring of 1968, when some solar wind blowing from East to West and back again disturbed the adrenaline and testosterone of large groups of people in their twenties. I did not read it in the spring watching urban riots in Washington, participating in campus occupations in New York, fleeing police massacres in Mexico City, facing Soviet tanks in Prague, displaced by the Red Guards in the Chinese countryside or stoned out on a country commune in Vermont where the veneer of suburban refinement gave way to maggots churning in the compost and mice rattling the rafters over the bed.

No, it was in the confusing fall of that same year when I returned to the village in Ohio that was my chosen college town, the place fate dropped me through a series of bait-and-switch operations I was too slow to catch. The entire structure of civilization seemed fragile by then. It was like a thin mesh of glass filaments, rigid and brittle. Everywhere I looked people were disobeying orders, crossing lines that were not meant to be crossed, walking through walls. Each time it happened to me or my peers, we were not sure our molecules would reassemble in the same way on the other side. In the back seat of a Volkswagen Beetle, sliding down the interstate network that connected every major city and suburban development with every other city and suburban development – for the greater good of homogenization and access to shopping malls – the speed at which the molecules of my body and the bodies of those beside me accelerated towards some future position illuminated by the twin headlights was greater than or equal to the sound of a drum solo playing on the radio. We were looking for the answer buried beneath the trivia already embedded in the waxy DNA of young media-drenched minds, and hoping that somewhere down the road we would find someone who would tell us where to find it.

The entire structure of civilization seemed fragile by then. It was like a thin mesh of glass filaments, rigid and brittle. Everywhere I looked people were disobeying orders, crossing lines that were not meant to be crossed, walking through walls.

That fall I took an elective class in the religion department from a newly-arrived and very young professor named Jee-Gook Kim. The class had a vague title, something like comparison of religions. Jay, as people learned to call him, was Korean-American and had recently graduated from a college in Staten Island. I grew up around New York and thought I was pretty sophisticated. I knew where Staten Island was. It was the place where you go on the Staten Island ferry and then return without bothering to get off because there’s nothing there to see. I knew that Korea was where we won a war against Communists around the time I was born, much like the war that was going on in Vietnam that we all wanted to avoid.

This small town in Ohio contained only one thing, a school that had begun as an Episcopal seminary in the early nineteenth century and become a liberal arts college for 700 men. We all took our meals in a Great Hall modeled on an Oxford college, with stained glass depicting authors from the pantheon of British Literature. The last group of Anglican seminary students had abandoned the place the year before. Attending the church had been optional for decades and, as one student after another refused to wear a tie and jacket for this or any other occasion, the formal Sunday lunch meant to follow services was rapidly degenerating into just another meal.

In this aquarium, where all the fish swimming about knew each other by sight if not by name, Professor Kim did not fit. No one was surprised but some of us were disappointed when he did not come back for a second year. He had little patience with the way students responded to his teaching style. The books he assigned us were difficult because they were not about any form of religion we knew. But the most difficult part was that he expected us to read and discuss these books without telling us what we were supposed to say about them.

The first book he assigned was The Sexual Life of Savages by Bronisław Malinowski. The title certainly caught our attention. The sexual life of college students was a constant subject of discussion. Reading about an anthropologist making notes on the sex life of people in the South Pacific was more interesting than reading Plato or Kant and easier than reading Chaucer. At least Malinowski’s book had photographs. The detail I still carry with me was the discussion of what constituted marriage on the Trobriand Islands. Similar to the situation in the dormitories, it was not a question of whether a young man and woman had sex with each other. Anyone could do that with anyone, apparently. The man was married to the woman if they had sex and then went to her parents’ house the next morning to share breakfast. I made a note of that.

The second book was Tristes tropiques. What we had in our hands was an American edition of the British translation done by John Russell in 1961. It had appeared in England with the title A World on the Wane, an attempt to the translate alliteration without sense. Fortunately, when the American edition appeared two years later the author was already famous, so the more exotic and opaque French title had returned. By 1968, the name Lévi-Strauss was enough to sell the book, even if Americans didn’t understand what the title meant. This was an assigned text, we didn’t have to understand.

The black and white images have a powerful charm of their own, quite independent from the prose. They stand as evidence of the author’s presence in an exotic world similar in many ways to the images of nineteenth century explorers in the Americas
and Africa.

The cover claimed it was a book about “primitive societies in Brazil.” That advertisement and the photographs of naked Indians were reassuring. Without them it was hard to understand why I was reading over 150 pages of travelogue and social criticism with no natives in sight. Finally, the natives appeared and the author convinced me that the people he described and photographed lived in poverty, but at the same time he invited me to marvel at their happiness and energy in the face of a cruel world. He had a unique way of describing how the natives create artistic expression from the simplest things – patterns painted on their skin, feathers, strings, and folded leaves.

Near the center of the book I was confronted with my first shaman. He was the author’s unintended roommate during his sojourn in a Bororo village. The local name for this role was bari, and I underlined portions of the description. “The bari is asocial…. But the bari is also under the dominion of one or more guardian spirits…. The old adage about the quick and the dead here takes on an unexpected and terrible significance; for, between the spirit and the sorcerer, the bond is of so jealous a nature that one can never be quite sure which of the two partners is, in the end, the master, and which the servant.”[1] My own unintended roommate that year, a gifted photographer, was similarly mysterious. He had inherited the Asian features of his Japanese mother and the Washington DC culture of his Jewish father. When I looked at him I was never sure which side was looking back.

At the time I did not have the linguistic or intellectual tools to see how the British translator had deformed the author’s metaphor in the passage I underlined. Russell had substituted an ambiguous reference to the King James Bible – “who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead” (1 Peter 45) – for a French legal reference – “Le mort saisit le vif” (the dead seize the living). John and Doreen Weightman, who re-translated Tristes tropiques twelve years later and went on to produce English versions of much of Lévi-Strauss’ later writing, explain that the legal term means “the heir is immediately invested with the possessions and prerogatives of the dead man.” It would have been interesting to hear that in 1968. During this time when a search for authenticity and roots was commingling with the desire to survive the latest war, many of us were looking for a spirit to invest us.

I didn’t grasp the shape of the book reading the Russell translation. After reading it again, I read the second Weightman translation and began to see how Lévi-Strauss actually presented the balance between the Old and New Worlds. I discovered the parts Russell left out: the three chapters about India that conclude the first act, and a chapter and a half about India in the third.

I also found copies of the original French (Plon) edition. The first copy I found was on the shelf in a friend’s living room, beside others from the same Terre humaine series. Here I discovered that the French edition contained sixty-three photographs, three times the number included in the English edition. The second copy was on a sagging shelf in another friend’s country house in Normandy. As I flipped through it, I could smell the fifty years of moisture and dust that had settled on the edges of the pages. The current paperback edition is easy to find in the larger bookstores of Paris. Ten years before, his French publisher had produced a large edition of just the photographs Lévi-Strauss and his associates had taken in Brazil. The black and white images have a powerful charm of their own, quite independent from the prose. They stand as evidence of the author’s presence in an exotic world similar in many ways to the images of nineteenth century explorers in the Americas and Africa. At the same time the portraits of the men, women and children he studied exude a sense of the photographer’s intimate contact with fellow human beings.

The French Modernist

In the first act, Lévi-Strauss describes how he taught himself to do what he is doing. He was trained in “mental gymnastics” at the Sorbonne where he took the agrégation, an exam that is unique to the French education system. The candidates spend a year studying a general topic. If the candidate survives the written exam – an essay on a question within the chosen topic, he wins the chance to perform the oral examination. For the oral, the candidate draws a question at random, has a few minutes of preparation, and then presents an hour-long discourse. Lévi-Strauss tells us he passed the exam on the first try, as the youngest candidate. “I was confident that, at ten minutes notice, I could knock together an hour’s lecture with a sound dialectic framework, on the respective superiority of buses and trams.”[2] The French State awards the agrégé a guaranteed teaching position for life. And so, when he was chosen in his mid-20s to fill a teaching position at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, he was already a master at describing, bifurcating, comparing and moving on.

This first act contains the marvelous “Sunset” chapter, an exam which tests the reader’s patience and attention. It is marvelous in the way it demonstrates the technique Lévi-Strauss brought to his chosen field and frustrating in the way it embodies the very boredom he describes. The chapter begins by telling the story of his first journey by ship from France to Brazil, but quickly switches to an account of the anxiety (though he never calls it as such) felt by a young man about to face the new trial of ethnographic observation. The ethnographer must be able to quickly and precisely describe what he sees and does not understand. The virgin ethnographer decides to train himself by describing the rising and setting of the sun.

If I could find a language in which to perpetuate those appearances, at once so unstable and so resistant to description, if it were granted to me to be able to communicate to others the phases and sequences of a unique event which would never recur in the same terms, then – so it seemed to me – I should in one go have discovered the deepest secrets of my profession: however strange and peculiar the experiences to which anthropological research might expose me, there would be none whose meaning and importance I could not eventually make clear to everybody.[3]

At which point he switches from the memoir into the moment and reproduces a description and comparison of sunrise and sunset “written on board ship.” It was the young writer’s self-applied exam, and it is a trial for the reader to complete. What is to be learned by going on? The sun rises and the sun sets. The light changes. The reader who succumbs to boredom and skips ahead to the next chapter is missing the point. The value of this chapter is not in the description it presents, it is in the pattern. Actions and shapes are described in pairs. Sentences are built from words that alternate color, texture and direction. Metaphor is inserted to stretch and pivot the mind’s eye from one moving piece to the next.

Innumerable networks of vapor suddenly appeared in the sky; they seemed to be distributed in all directions horizontally, obliquely, perpendicularly and even spirally. The sun’s rays, as they gradually declined (like a violin bow which is placed at different angles to touch different strings), made each network in turn explode into a spectrum of colors that one would have said was the arbitrary and exclusive property of each. At the moment when it showed itself, each network had the clearness of outline, the exactness and fragile stiffness of spun glass, but then it slowly dissolved, as if its substance, overheated through exposure in a flame-filled sky, were darkening in color, losing its individuality and spreading out in an ever-thinner layer until it disappeared from the scene, at the same time revealing another, freshly spun network. At the end, all that was left were blurred blues running into each other, just as liquids of different colors and densities, poured one over the other into a transparent bowl, slowly begin to blend, in spite of their apparent stability.[4]

The pattern of this one paragraph is a violin bow on spun glass melting into liquid colors mixing in a glass bowl. If the reader passes this trial by fire, he is a convert ready to enter the New World.

In “The Structural Study of Myth,” a paper presented the year before publishing his memoir, Lévi-Strauss demonstrated a form of analysis that is so radically a-historical that it seems to leave folklore, ethnography and narrative behind. “What if patterns showing affinity,” he asks, “instead of being considered in succession, were to be treated as one complex pattern and read as a whole?”[5] What if I took all the stories in the world, cut them up into pieces, and arranged them into patterns that explained not what any one story means but what the human mind is actually saying by telling stories? Think of folklore studies as a card game, a magnificent game of Human Solitaire.

The aesthetic he proposes, if we think of it for a moment as an aesthetic rather than a method of scientific or philosophical analysis, is the aesthetic of Modernist poetry. This was being done by many European poets of the time, but none had Lévi-Strauss’ sense of irony nor his scientific ambition. In this scientific paper, which became a chapter in his book Structural Anthropology, he promised to demonstrate the patterns of affinity in myth. He deliberately chooses a myth more closely associated with Classics and Literature (not to mention Freudian psychology) than with anthropology: the Oedipus myth, and then qualifies his demonstration with a metaphor.

The “demonstration” should therefore be conceived, not in terms of what the scientist means by this term, but at best in terms of what is meant by the street peddler, whose aim is not to achieve a concrete result, but to explain, as succinctly as possible, the functioning of the mechanical toy which he is trying to sell to the onlookers.[6]

His conclusion – that the Oedipus stories are about two irreconcilable beliefs – that mankind comes from the Earth and at the same time comes from human parents – is brilliant and convincing. It is surprising to have an ethnographer, whose domain is the thought of primitive cultures, explain the myth of a culture that every educated European knows is the foundation of his superior worldview. But it is less surprising than the irony of his comparison. A scientist presenting a paper at an academic conference is like a street peddler selling mechanical toys. If Lévi-Strauss had read more Mark Twain and less Rousseau he could have added something about selling snake oil.

Out of India

The three chapters omitted from the first act by the first British translation of Tristes tropiques are a leap from Brazil in 1937 to India (and the unnamed country of Pakistan) in 1950. Lévi-Strauss sees in India a cultural apocalypse. Civilization begins in this cradle of the Indo-European Old World and now it is the complete degradation of human culture that he senses as a visitor. “The Magic Carpet,” a view of the earth seen from an airplane moving from France across Egypt to Pakistan and across India to the frontier of Burma, ends with an analysis of why this region is so destitute. “Europe, India, North America and South America” the author informs us, “can be said to illustrate the possible range of combinations between geographical settings and density of population.”[7]

He is appalled and revolted by what he finds in India. He sees colonial history and parliamentary democracy as so much veneer covering a social arrangement that has been in place for thousands of years. His analysis is based entirely on the density of population in relation to the physical resources. People in India treat each other in an inhuman way in order to reduce the number of humans per square foot.

Nowhere in Tristes tropiques does Levi-Strauss mention why he was in India and Pakistan in the early 1950s. At the time he was a representative of UNESCO, the cultural arm of the United Nations.

The first contribution of Claude Lévi-Strauss to the deliberations of UNESCO goes back to 1949: he participated then in the international commission of scholars entrusted with drafting the first UNESCO declaration on race, published consecutively in 1950. In the same year, he was commissioned by UNESCO to carry out an inquiry into the state of social sciences in Pakistan. In 1951, he sat on the committee of experts convened to set up the International Social Science Council, of which he was the first Secretary-General, from 1952 to 1961. In 1952, on the request of UNESCO, he wrote Race and History, which was to become a classic of antiracist literature.[8]

This is from a summary of Lévi-Strauss’ contributions to UNESCO published to mark his centennial celebration. The same issue of the The UNESCO Courier reprints several articles he wrote about the economic and cultural situation of Pakistan in those years, which contain several arguments that reappear in Tristes tropiques. There is a presentation of the “pearl button crisis,” an analysis of globalized local markets that is both prophetic of our present time and an accurate description of the year it was written. In the articles, he is a social scientist hoping to influence international development policy, focusing on potential remedies. When he reworks the experience in his memoir, his hopeful suggestions are transformed into expressions of disgust. Lévi-Strauss did not seem to believe in the idea of progress. He certainly did not believe in ideologies. “Ideologies are signs which only constitute a language in the presence of the objects to which they relate”[9] he writes, and then uses India to explain Europe’s own crimes against humanity during World War II.

India’s great failure can teach us a lesson. When a community becomes too numerous, however great the genius of its thinkers, it can only endure by secreting enslavement. Once men begin to feel cramped in their geographical, social and mental habitat, they are in danger of being tempted by the simple solution of denying one section of the species the right to be considered as human. This allows the rest a little elbow-room for a few more decades. Then it becomes necessary to extend the process of expulsion. When looked at in this light, at the culmination of a century during which the population figures have doubled, […] can no longer appear as being simply the result of aberration on the part of one nation, one doctrine, or one group of men. I see them rather as a premonitory sign of our moving into a finite world such as southern Asia had to face a thousand or two thousand years ahead of us, and I cannot see us avoiding the experience unless some major decisions are taken. The systematic devaluation of man by man is gaining ground, and we would be guilty of hypocrisy and blindness if we dismissed the problem by arguing that recent events represented only a temporary contamination.

What frightens me in Asia is the vision of our own future which it is already experiencing. In the America of the Indians, I cherish the reflection, however fleeting it may have now become, of an era when the human species was in proportion to the world it occupied, and when there was still a valid relationship between the enjoyment of freedom and the symbols denoting it.[10]

It is with this send-off, this setup of his memory of tropical America as the humane opposite of teeming inhuman Asia of today that he begins the second act: his account of the American Indians.

Uniting the Americas

Tristes tropiques does not pitch structural anthropology, but the author uses the structural method to disarm the reader’s mind with parallels that reflect and refract thought in several directions simultaneously. If Lévi-Strauss had died at the age of fifty rather than living past a hundred, we would still have the seeds of each idea he later proposed in this book. In the center are chapters about living with the Bororo and these chapters contain a new focus, as if the description of his education in France and his years teaching in São Paulo were the Joycean dream he was about to awake from.

He sees the Bororo living in a cultural harmony consisting of a physical arrangement of buildings, social relationships and metaphysical beliefs. He draws a diagram of the village, bifurcated by kinship boundaries that are related to both cardinal directions and the flow of the river. In the center of the circle is the men’s house. This abstract geometry is the harmony of the world. The most overt piece of structuralism in the book is his observation of this village:

The circular arrangement of the huts around the men’s house is so important a factor in their social and religious life that the Salesian missionaries in the Rio das Garças region were quick to realize that the surest way to convert the Bororo was to make them abandon their village in favor of one with the houses set out in parallel rows. Once they had been deprived of their bearings and were without the plan which acted as a confirmation of their native lore, the Indians soon lost any feeling for tradition; it was as if their social and religious systems (we shall see that one cannot be dissociated from the other) were too complex to exist without the pattern which was embodied in the plan of the village and of which their awareness was constantly being refreshed by their everyday activities.[11]

Note that the Bororo world is not described as primitive or fragile. It is described as “too complex” to survive being disturbed. He is also deeply impressed by what he witnesses inside the men’s house. As the center for cultural exchange, it embodies an easy mixture of sacred and profane activities. Lévi-Strauss describes his own relationship to French society in subtle and delicate ways. He omits any mention of his own family relationships. Nowhere in the book does he mention his parents, nor does he refer to Dina Dreyfus, his first wife who accompanied him during his fieldwork in Brazil. But as I reread his description of how the sacred and profane mixed in the Bororo men’s house, I noticed an exception to this rule, an ironic and bitter reflection on his own childhood.

This casual attitude to the supernatural was all the more surprising to me in that my only contact with religion dated back to childhood when, already a non-believer, I lived during the First World War with my grandfather, who was Rabbi of Versailles[12]

The passage that begins with this sentence is the only direct reference to his family anywhere in the book. It tells us that at the age of eight or ten, our hero is already convinced that his own religion is meaningless. Early in the book, he tells us he left France in 1941 when “I already felt myself to be potential fodder for the concentration camp.”[13] At that point in history, he was a Jew by descent, not by conviction. The secular Jew fleeing Vichy France had long before confronted the religion he did not believe in during the national trauma of The Great War. He was not just any secular Jew. He was the grandson of a rabbi. And not just any rabbi. His grandfather was the rabbi of the very wealthy city of Versailles.

And from that opening sentence, Lévi-Strauss contrasts the “arid” synagogue in the city created by Louis XIV with the “casual” men’s hut of the Bororo village in the Mato Grosso of Brazil.

The house was attached to the synagogue by a long inner passage, along which it was difficult to venture without a feeling of anguish, and which in itself formed an impassable frontier between the profane world and that other which was lacking precisely in the human warmth that was a necessary precondition to its being experienced as sacred. Except when services were in progress, the synagogue remained empty and its temporary occupation was never sustained or fervent enough to remedy the state of desolation which seemed natural to it and in which the services were only an incongruous interruption. Worship within the family circle was no less arid.[14]

The negativity of this statement is characteristic of the profound alienation found throughout Tristes tropiques. This negativity may be peculiarly French, and some of its tone was completely lost in the Russell translation. For example, Russell translates: “Only my grandfather’s silent prayer before each meal reminded us children that our lives were governed by a higher order of things.”[15] The Weightman translation carries the more negative flavor of the French original: “Apart from my grandfather’s silent prayer at the beginning of each meal, we children had no means of knowing that we were living under the aegis of a superior order, but for the fact that a scroll of printed paper fixed to the dining-room wall proclaimed the motto: ‘Chew your food well for the good of your digestion.’”[16]

As I reread Tristes tropiques, I was struck by the depth of Lévi-Strauss’ alienation from the French culture he sprung from and returned to. He left it by chance, a phone call that changed his life and gave a young high school teacher a chance to become an ethnographer in Brazil. The Mato Grosso wilderness was a New World in flux, a mixture of all the forces defining the modern world. It was also a place devoid of French domination, intellectual or political. The lack of domination did not preclude the presence of French influence, and Lévi-Strauss notes it repeatedly. In Brazil, he had the advantages of a White Man without a colonial burden. It was a world in which he perceived a profound harmony, unlike what all his Anglo-American or Brazilian colleagues perceived before him.

Lévi-Strauss proposes that the Americas should be understood as a single cultural complex. He does not say a single civilization.

In the midst of his description of the tribal bands he visited, Lévi-Strauss proposes that the Americas should be understood as a single cultural complex. He does not say a single civilization. He is deducing millenniums of inter- and intra-tribal contact and population movement, the rise and fall of centralized states in the precarious narrative that was Pre-Columbian history being struck on many sides by new archeological data. He makes this proposal in a chapter called “The Lost World.” He begins by telling about his longest and last field expedition in Brazil, starting with a description of purchased beads and thread in the district around the Carrefour Réaumur Sébastopol “an area of Paris as unknown to me as the Amazon.” [17] This was the wholesale cloth and notions district, and is still today a part of Paris filled with wholesale shops dealing in jewelry materials, notions and accessories, as well as uncut cloth and leather. He launches into a justification of his plan to visit a cross-section of the surviving Brazilian culture groups, and from there into his hypothesis that all the cultures of South, Central and North America share a common system of mythological thought. Arguing this hypothesis would take up much of the second fifty years of his life.

I was drawn to read this chapter again by the reproductions of Hopewell designs he reproduced to illustrate his hypothesis. In the late 1970s I had the task of gathering information about the publishing program at the Peabody Museum of Harvard University. I was working for the university administration and the purpose of the investigation was to contain, if not to halt, a publishing program that someone in the administration thought was a waste of money.

I was sent to interview a Mr. Philip Phillips, who was the author, as well as underwriter, of a particularly elaborate multi-volume work, Pre-Columbian Shell Engravings from the Craig Mound at Spiro, Oklahoma. The volumes reproduced tracings of the designs found on large conch shells carved by a pre-contact native group known as the Hopewell culture. The books were in a very large format, rather like the Audubon folios of bird engravings produced in the nineteenth century, and the multi-volume set cost hundreds of dollars. Mr. Phillips lived in a lovely house in Harvard, Massachusetts, a wealthy rural community west of Boston. The British professor who had taken over as director of the Peabody Museum was an archeologist who specialized in a region that had been politically closed to European and American archeologists by the recent Iranian Islamic Revolution. Perhaps he was trying to get his revenge by attacking the New World. He scoffed at how his predecessor, the Americanist who sponsored the publication, was treating these shell fragments scratched up by pre-historic Indians as if they were “the Elgin Marbles.” Elgin Marbles sounded more valuable than conch shells from Oklahoma. It was to be another decade before I saw the pieces of Greek relief sculpture on the walls of the British Museum and heard the story of how these trophies had been removed from the Acropolis by Lord Elgin. Mr. Phillips was a very wealthy alumni, I was told, so one must be tactful. He was the Phillips of Phillips Milk of Magnesia and his wife was Niagara Power and Light. This third volume was to be his last. The academic world was and still is a treacherous place for minds that seek large patterns.

In Tristes tropiques, Lévi-Strauss searches through the evidence and theories available to him for just such patterns. By the 1950s there was more new archeological and linguistic speculation about cultural migrations than there had been in the 1930s when he did his field work. Between his time in Brazil and his time in India, he had spent the war years living in New York, teaching and arguing with American anthropologists and the linguist Roman Jakobson. Now he was speculating about the connectedness of the cultures of the Americas before the coming of the Europeans, proposing a world less isolated than Americanists made it out to be. “It is as if American specialists were trying to impose on primitive America that absence of depth characteristic of the contemporary history of the New World.”[18]

He wants to challenge the conventional wisdom of the time, in which the entire population of the Americas was viewed as a mysterious group of Others isolated from all the other Others of the planet. He wants to explain the similarities among American cultures in relation to other geo-regional cultures that might have had contact with American territory. He settles on South-East Asia – specifically Indonesia for reasons he never develops – and Scandinavia. He sees them forming “the trigonometrical points of the pre-Columbian history of the New World.”[19] It is a startling proposal, characteristic of how he leaps towards ideas that challenge the assumptions of specialists.

He wants to challenge the conventional wisdom of the time, in which the entire population of the Americas was viewed as a mysterious group of Others isolated from all the other Others of the planet.

He does this in an ahistorical and matter-of-fact way, without recounting or analyzing the long tradition of disproven contact theories that have flourished in North America. He does not mention the Vineland Saga, tales of Celtic monks who sailed to the west, or theories of one group or another being descended from the lost Tribes of Israel. These were the ideas of Pre-Columbian contact that thrived in the nineteenth century. I thought immediately of Charles G. Leland and his treatment of Algonquin stories as aligned with, if not derived, from Scandinavian-Germanic traditions. Without the rigor of Lévi-Strauss’ logic, or the benefit of twentieth century archeology, Leland saw what he wanted to see. He saw Algonquin tales as more understandable if we recognized their similarities to European tales, which were understandable because, by definition, they were ours.

But are these isolated New World inhabitants similar to us, or are we, the descendants of a Europe cut off from the formative cultures of the Old World, similar to them? Lévi-Strauss turns the proposal around every elegantly: “We now have to correct a second mistake, which consists in assuming that America remained cut off from the world as a whole for twenty-thousand years, because it was separated from Western Europe. Everything would seem to suggest rather that the deep silence on the Atlantic side was offset by a buzz of activity all along the Pacific coasts.”[20] We will understand the Americas to our West by seeing how they are related to Asia, and we, the French at another edge of the migration, are also related to the same cultural center far to the East.

The Earth from Above

Reading Tristes tropiques today as an adult who has spent a decade in France was not so different from reading it as an American college student in the 1960s. It still seems to be a report of the Earth written by someone from another planet. Unless you are also French, the long introduction to the author’s education is amusing – what student has not experienced their professor droning on about some intellectual subject and imagined a beet root with whiskers – but it does not make you think he is describing anyone’s home. The narrator, who tells us that travel books teach us nothing, seems to always be traveling through an alien world – the nearly empty steamships moving between the Mediterranean and the coast of Brazil, the markets or urban sprawl of São Paulo and the afternoon lecture halls of the French natural history museum. The Brazilian New World of the 1930s is populated by Lebanese merchants, Japanese farmers and an occasional French frontiersman. While our resident alien describes his house in São Paulo and writes affectionately of his students, the Brazil of Tristes tropiques is remarkably devoid of everyday Brazilians or visions of the dominant Euro-Portuguese culture.

Lévi-Strauss went to Brazil to see the meeting of the Old and New World. That original fifteenth century moment is an idée fixe around which his senses and intellectual gymnastics dance like a moth around a candle flame. In the third act of his book, he states it this way:

Being human signifies, for each one of us, belonging to a class, a society, a country, a continent and a civilization and for us European earth-dwellers, the adventure played out in the heart of the New World signifies in the first place that it was not our world and that we bear responsibility for the crime of its destruction; and secondly, that there will never be another New World: since the confrontation between the Old World and the New makes us thus conscious of ourselves, let us at least express it in its primary terms – in the place where, and by referring back to a time when, our world missed the opportunity offered to it of choosing between its various missions.[21]

What has happened in the intervening centuries is sad to contemplate, and seems to be the result of having chosen the wrong response to this confrontation. We might have chosen, five hundred years ago, to learn from the New World rather than to displace it. This realization generates a sadness that he skillfully builds in the reader’s mind. He leaves Europe slowly and elliptically by boat several times, ending with his account of the “last” journey of 1941. Fleeing a defeated France, he was an anthropologist on the run, transformed into an enemy of the state by a Jewish name, received as a traitor by the marginal authorities in the colonial French administration in the Caribbean. How blind and petty, how threatening civilization had become, and at the same time how powerless the authorities were to mask its decay. He recounts his trouble with Brazilian police who detain him for photographing the black children who follow him on the street. It was a time when it was against the law to publish images of Brazilians descended from African slaves. Our narrator moves through the jungle at night, along roads visible only to the animal he rides. He senses that he is approaching a settlement by the sound of dogs barking, and he is sheltered by an exploitation of natural resources – gold mining, rubber tapping – that has drawn a desperate human population into the jungle and then collapsed around them, leaving fragments of human poverty in its wake.

Back in the second act, in this theater of observation focused on the margins of cultural dispersal, the author describes four native cultures in the Mato Grosso plateau. In a series of scientific excursions, he visits these groups, each living in a fashion that is progressively closer to a “natural” state, the state he imagines existed before European contact. The anthropologist revels in these social agreements that, despite centuries of co-existence, maintain their non-European authenticity. The book starts over again – the narrator is human, his subjects are human, and he identifies with his subjects. We, of course, are reassured that we are the humans who read books in order to understand how humans live.

With small elements of material culture arrayed before him, Lévi-Strauss miraculously creates a portrait of the human mind. He creates a rather seamless transition from his personal rumination of surviving the onslaught and hazards of a high-class French education to discussing the elaborate tattoo patterns practiced by the Caduveo. He reproduces these images drawn on paper, and photographs of the same patterns drawn as they are meant to be, on women’s faces. He reproduces photographs, several of them remarkable for the spontaneity they capture, of the people he lived with. These human beings are naked by the author’s standards, and so their cultural clothing – necklace, arm band, belt, penis sheath – are all the more visible. They are playful and at ease with each other. A young woman reclines in the dust with the expression of a daydream on her face. In a photo captioned “The author’s best informant, in ceremonial dress,” the subject fixes the photographer with a stare of serious dignity. We are given a brief biography of this nameless man.

This man, who was about thirty-five years old, spoke Portuguese fairly well. He said that he had once been able to read and write the language (although he could no longer do so), having been a pupil at the mission. The Fathers, proud of their success, had sent him to Rome, where he had been received by the Holy Father. On his return, there had been an attempt to make him go through a Christian marriage ceremony, without regard for the traditional native rules. This had brought on a spiritual crisis during which he was re-converted to the old Bororo ideal: he then settled in Kejara where, for the last ten or fifteen years, he had been living an exemplary savage life. This papal Indian, who was now stark naked, befeathered, smeared with red paint and wearing the pin and the lip-plug in his nose and lower lip, was to prove a wonderful guide to Bororo sociology.[22]

The author convinces us that these humans know something of a world that is a whole system, internalized in patterns of thought that are externalized in the visual messages of patterns reproduced across generations, material objects crafted and displayed, each encoded in a system he would like to learn. And as the groups become smaller, poorer, and more precarious in their relationship to both nature and the dominant civilization, the question of identifying the code becomes more fascinating.

The journey into the wilderness of 1938 ends in the Euro-Brazilian frontier where the boom and bust of global rubber business has left the latex sap gatherers in a desperate economic condition. The “wild” hunters and gatherers he has visited are a well-balanced culture compared to these workers whose efforts cannot pay for their own supplies. The encounter of the Old and the New World seems to be destroying both. The author chooses to end with a description of a country dance where the local women presented themselves to the male latex tappers. He describes the couple’s dance steps from “another age” as well as their recital of rhymed couplets improvised between steps. Then one can almost see him turn to the audience, like the narrator of a play, and directly address the twentieth century French audience he has been entertaining with his stories of time spent in the jungle.

The Nambikwara had taken me back to the Stone Age and the Tupi-Kawahib to the sixteenth century; here I felt I was in the eighteenth century, as one imagines it must have been in the little West Indian ports or along the coast. I had crossed a continent. But the rapidly approaching end of my journey was being brought home to me in the first place by this ascent through layers of time.[23]

The second act is over and it is time to return to a world he had left at the beginning of the first act, a Europe about to be devastated by the Second World War.

In the Beginning

Lévi-Strauss begins the third act of Tristes tropiques with a recollection of boredom: wandering across the arid Brazilian wilderness with no natives in sight. He confesses how his escape from the normal European world left him with “fleeting visions of the French countryside I had cut myself off from, or snatches of music and poetry which were the most conventional expressions of a culture which I must convince myself I had renounced…” And rather than thinking about the mythological puzzles of Brazilian Indians or shamanistic chants, his head was filled with “the melody of ‘Chopin’s Étude No. 3, Opus 10,’” which, by a bitterly ironical twist of which I was well aware, now seemed to epitomize all I had left behind.” In a foreshadowing of the ahistorical conclusion he creates for his book, he describes the irony of Chopin rising up in his brain. Before he left France, his musical taste had become more modern — Debussy and Stravinsky are mentioned — but now this nineteenth century melody was all the more interesting because he knew what came after it, and could hear in his head the future and the past.

At which point he recounts how he did what many European writers, artists and composers were doing in the 1930s: trying to resolve the present by invoking the pre-Christian era of Roman classicism. He spends his days flipping over his ethnography notes and writing a play about Cinna confronting the Emperor Augustus on the blank parts of the paper. He tells us this attempt at sense-making through literature was a failure — he does not complete the play — but his synopsis of the incomplete text begins a series of meditations about returning to Europe. He writes about his failure to write and the impossible nature of anthropology.

He remembers appreciating the taste of the rum made in the old style in French Martinique, rather than the modern industrial rum produced in U.S. Puerto Rico. But what he is thinking about is his own transformation from a politically engaged Socialist, a role he played before going to Brazil, into a scientist engaged in analyzing but not modifying society. Above and beyond all the exquisite logic of his argument, it is metaphor that carries his ideas. It is the imperfection of the barrel aging in Martinique that creates its superior taste. “No society is perfect,” he asserts, and it is imperfection that is fundamental to the nature of societies. From that metaphor, he develops one of those binary classifications that were to become the signature of his later books. There are two kinds of societies: those that practice cannibalism and those that put people in prisons. The adherents of either one of these practices can see clearly that the adherents of the other are beyond the boundaries of civilization.

Then he is talking about what it means to become an anthropologist, a distinctly Western European invention. Perhaps it is not the greatness of understanding that allows us to rise above our superior civilization and compare it to others, he suggests. The dialectic opposite is the thought that Europe produces anthropologists “precisely because it is a prey to strong feelings of remorse, which forced it to compare its image with those of different societies in the hope that they would show the same defects or would help to explain how its own defects had developed within it.”[24] And the burning flame of that remorse is located in that time when the Old World discovered the New World and chose not to learn from it, but to displace it. It is in this thought that the true sadness resides.

The finale of the book is a play set in India. A French intellectual, an anthropologist, uses the relics he sees in museums and archeological sites to explain the state of Western Europe. Everywhere he looks, he sees the lost union of West and East, the ancient Graeco-Buddhist world that could have been.

At Taxila he begins a meditation on the layers of history beneath his feet. Like Bamiyan, destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, this is a site where the relics an ancient cultural plurality contrasts harshly with what was, in 1950, the emerging reality of the post-colonial Hindu and Moslem states. He uses the occasion to question whether Christianity, which absorbed the Graeco-Roman world, and Islam, which displaced Buddhism, should ever have come into existence.

[W]e would be underestimating Taxila if we thought of it only as the place where, for several centuries, three of the greatest spiritual traditions of the Ancient World, Hellenism, Hinduism and Buddhism, lived side by side. The Persia of Zoroaster was also present and, with the Parthians and Scythians, the civilizations of the steppes, which here combined with Greek inspiration to create the most beautiful ornaments ever to come from the hands of a jeweler; and these memories had not yet been forgotten when Islam invaded the country, never to leave it again. With the exception of Christianity, all the influences which molded the Old World come together here…. What would the West be like today, if the attempt to unite the Mediterranean world and India had any lasting success? Would Christianity or Islam have come into being?[25]

If this heresy had been written fifty years later, it might have generated death threats for the author. But as completely as he eviscerates the value of Islamic civilization, he quickly confesses that he is not really talking about Islam. He is talking about the West. “I rediscovered in Islam the world I myself had come from; Islam is the West of the East. Or, to be more precise, I had to have experience of Islam in order to appreciate the danger which today threatens French thought.”[26] This is the danger of a world that believes only in its own formal logic without recognizing that “the universe is no longer made up of the entities about which we are talking.”[26] He is condemning the tendency towards intolerance present in Islam. He could be condemning Christian fundamentalism and we can remember the sympathy he expressed for the Brazilian Indians who murdered their intolerant Protestant missionaries in the second act. His meditation on the cultures of the Old World never mentions Judaism and does not explore the varieties of Christian or Islamic thought. He speaks of Christian, Moslem and Buddhist civilizations as if they were a set of structural relationships.

If the West traces its internal tensions back to their source, it will see that Islam, by coming between Buddhism and Christianity, Islamized us at the time when the West, by taking part in the crusades, was involved in opposing it and therefore came to resemble it, instead of undergoing – had Islam never come into being – a slow process of osmosis with Buddhism, which would have Christianized us still further, and would have made us all the more Christian in that we would have gone back beyond Christianity itself. It was then that the West lost the opportunity of remaining female.[27]

He is writing about India, but he is talking about the failure of the West. His arguments are both historical and ahistorical. If Islamism had not come into being, if the Spanish had not expelled it and then destroyed the Aztec and Inca states, if the Portuguese had not decimated the native of Brazil, the world would be a different place.

In much the same way he found the easy social balance of the Bororo men’s house to be an antidote for his uninspiring spiritual past in act two, in the conclusion of act three Levi-Strauss finds a profound solace in the Buddhism that observes in a Mogh village in what is today the Bangladesh-Burmese border. As the book ends, he is scrambling up a muddy hill to enter a modest community monastery. In sharp contrast to his description of other forms of contemporary religion, Lévi-Strauss finds beauty, humanity and profound logic in the village temple he has been invited to enter.

“You need not do what I am doing,” my companion said to me as he prostrated himself on the ground four times before the altar, and I followed his advice. However, I did so less through self-consciousness than discretion: he knew that I did not share his beliefs, and I would have been afraid of debasing the ritual gestures by letting him think I considered them as mere conventions: but, for once, I would have felt no embarrassment in performing them. Between this form of religion and myself, there was no likelihood of misunderstanding. It was not a question of bowing down in front of idols or adoring a supposed supernatural order, but only of paying homage to the decisive wisdom that a thinker, or the society which created his legend, had evolved twenty-five centuries before and to which my civilization could contribute only by confirming it.[28]

We can use one of Lévi-Strauss’ own tropes to appreciate this ahistorical moment, since the twenty-first-century reader can see both the past and the future in this event. The social scientist that will spend the rest of his life formulating the structural relationships of human thought and live to see his hundredth birthday finds authenticity in acknowledging the wisdom of an ancient sage in this modest Buddhist house of worship.

What else, indeed, have I learned from the masters who taught me, the philosophers I have read, the societies I have visited and even from that science which is the pride of the West, apart from a few scraps of wisdom which, when laid end to end, coincide with the meditation of the Sage at the foot of the tree? Every effort to understand destroys the object studied in favor of another object, of a different nature; this second object requires from us a new effort which destroys it in favor of a third, and so on and so forth until we reach the one lasting presence, the point at which the distinction between meaning and the absence of meaning disappears: the same point from which we began. It is 2,500 years since men first discovered and formulated these truths. In the interval, we have found nothing new, except — as we have tried in turn all possible ways out of the dilemma — so many additional proofs of the conclusion that we would have liked to avoid.[28]

This is the message the author brings back from his travels. He has gone searching for the New World and found ahistorical relativism.

As he moves about within his mental and historical framework, man takes along with him all the positions he has already occupied, and all those he will occupy. He is everywhere at one and the same time; he is a crowd surging forward abreast, and constantly recapitulating the whole series of previous stages. For we live in several worlds, each truer than the one it encloses, and itself false in relation to the one which encompasses it. Some are known to us through action; some are lived through in thought; but the seeming contradiction resulting from their coexistence is solved in the obligation we feel to grant a meaning to the nearest and to deny any to those furthest away; whereas the truth lies in a progressive dilating of the meaning, but in reverse order, up to the point at which it explodes.[29]

Writing of this conclusion in Claude Levi-Strauss: An Introduction a decade after the book appeared, Octavio Paz describes how the writer’s thought “achieved in those few pages a density and transparency which might make us think of the forms rock crystal takes if it were not for the fact that it is animated by a pulsation which does not recall so much mineral immobility as the vibration of light waves.”[30] When I read it as a student, I thought he had converted to Buddhism and would write his next book from a monastery. As I read it today, he sounds less like a Buddhist and more like the analytical double of Walt Whitman trading his naïve optimism for a love of the Void.

The final sentences of the book end with images meant to embody constructed meaning: the beauty we sense in our visual perception of a mineral, our olfactory perception of a flower, the mental projection we make when exchanging visual contact with another animal. But rather than these images, I found two sentences a few paragraphs before to be the best conclusion to the book. It made me think of Stephan Daedelus on the beach, closing his eyes and wondering if the world will still be there when he opens them again.

The world began without man and will end without him. The institutions, morals and customs that I shall have spent my life noting down and trying to understand are the transient efflorescence of a creation in relation to which they have no meaning, except perhaps that of allowing mankind to play its part in creation.[31]

A Visit to the Musée du Quai Branly

In the centuries when Western Europeans first set out in ships to Africa, Asia and the Americas, they began to create places to display the things they brought back, the cabinet of curiosity, where the exotic objects from around the world – animal, vegetable and mineral, produced by nature or foreign cultures – to demonstrate a grasp of the world. This became the natural history museum, where objects from the environments of the world were presented in a classified organization, along with the artifacts of distant human cultures. This branched into the anthropology museum where the evolution of man was recorded and pre-history was joined to the activities of modern anthropology. In parallel, the objects collected by explorers, colonists, and commercial traders from around the world became the collections of our museums of foreign cultures.

As the twenty-first century began, the French government created the Musée du Quai Branly by selectively absorbing the highlights of French ethnography collections into what its creators proposed would be a new kind of museum. The result is different from previous anthropology museums, but it is not new. It is a French art museum, in much the same way that the Musée Guimet, the national collection of art from Asia, is a French art museum.

The building, designed by Jean Nouvel, resembles a set of interlocking cubes, colorful and opaque, hoisted on legs standing over a grassy marsh. The garden looks even better at night when plastic sticks glow among the marsh grass and throw colorful patterns onto the belly of museum beast above. When I approach it from the street or walk beneath it, I often think of the drawings of the Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki. His castles fly through the air held up by airships, or stand up on steam-powered legs and walk across the landscape. I imagine this monstrosity slowly walking over to the quai, lowering itself into the Seine and drifting out to sea, where it would continue to drift around the planet, returning its contents to their native place, leaving one of its cubes at each place it touches land.

The objects in the Quai Branly were collected by adventurers, soldiers, administrators, scientists, missionaries and art dealers. Regardless of their provenance or original purpose, each object is presented as “non-Western art.” It is here that Lévi-Strauss’ 100th birthday was celebrated. It is here that his name and words have become part of the permanent exhibition.

Having missed the celebration, I went looking for what remained. I enter the building by walking up a ramp that pierces the cubes near its center. At this juncture, the permanent exhibition area opens into view and I am standing at the beginning and the end of the path that leads in a circle organized by geographic zones. If I turn to the right, as an arrow on the floor suggests, I will enter Oceania and continue to Australasia, Asia, and Africa. But I want to see the Americas and they are right in front of me. I have been here before, but this time I look at the orientation guide and realize that I have been looking at the museum in reverse order. The Americas, where I always start, is the end of the collection.

The visitor who continues straight ahead when passing through the transition from the World of Us to the World of Not Us encounters the art of an America that Lévi-Strauss unified in his imagination. There is no North, Central and South. There is no high and low culture, no empires, no rise and fall. Mexico is with Brazil, Peru is with the Northern Plains, the Eastern Woodlands are beside the Andes. The objects in the cases are organized in visual pattern groups. Each object is placed and aligned to emphasize pattern similarities or variations. Symmetry is emphasized by the way each statue, vase, pipe, axe and pedestal is presented. Along the edge of one case, a video screen presents a series of photos of stone and ceramic objects which transform into each other through the aid of computer morphing. The text by anthropologist Emmanuel Désveaux explains: “They make transformational groups, tokens of the uniqueness of Amerindian artifacts: even before being instruments in themselves, they are regarded as instruments of meaning.”

I can see it is the same human mind that fashioned them both, that chose this material and this form to adorn the neck. And it is the same human mind looking through my eyes at these ornaments…

The largest of the glass cases at the end/beginning of the collection contains a group of head ornaments on stands. The label is a Lévi-Straussian transformation: “From Crown to Halo.” The label reads, in part, “The famous headdress of the Plains Indians is a fine example of the synthesis between the crown and the halo.” The halo of feathers beside it has the label “Diadème d’enfant, Bororo, don Claude et Dina Lévi-Strauss (Mission ethnographique au Brasil, 1935-36).” Beside this is a panel that presents the Bororo birdnester myth, the text that Lévi-Strauss chose as the key myth in his four-volume Mythologies. It is a story of incest, quest, and transformation. Nearby cases present sets of paddles, clubs and rattles with a text explaining their common properties — supporting contact across distance — also explained by the birdnester myth.

Yet some geographical and cultural boundaries are maintained. As I continue backwards from the end, I reach a case containing only objects collected by Lévi-Strauss in Brazil: small ornaments and objects made from shell, sticks, animal teeth and gourds. And turning the corner, I am facing two early nineteenth-century oil portraits by George Catlin of Plains Indian dignitaries. These men are dressed in buffalo robes or deerskin shirts, with feather roaches and headdresses covering their heads. Their necks and breasts are draped with claw necklaces, beads and shell or metal gorgets. I have crossed from South to North America.

But the Frenchman has made his point. After looking at the necklace collected from the Brazilian natives who slept on the ground and dressed only with penis sheaths, I am seeing America differently. I have seen Catlin’s paintings a hundred times, in books and on the walls of other museums. But now for the first time, I can see this necklace made from the enormous claws of a grizzly bear almost lost in the layers of robes, beads, gorgets, medals and face paint. It is a hundred years, several language groups and thousands of miles away from the tiny delicate teeth of the necklace I have just left around the corner. I can see it is the same human mind that fashioned them both, that chose this material and this form to adorn the neck. And it is the same human mind looking through my eyes at these ornaments and paintings, rattles and clubs, and finding them beautiful.

— November 2008-January 2012

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  1. Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Tristes tropiques. Trans. John Russell. New York: Criterion Books, 1961. 221.
  1. Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Tristes tropiques. Trans. John and Doreen Weightman. Penguin Books, 1973. 52.
  1. Ibid,,62.
  1. Ibid, 66.
  1. Lévi-Strauss, Claude.Structural Anthropology. Trans. Claire Jacobson and Brooke Grundfest Schoepf. New York: Basic Books, 1963. 2??
  1. Ibid, 213.
  1. Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Tristes tropiques. Trans. John and Doreen Weightman. Penguin Books, 1973. 133.
  1. Stoczkowski, Wiktor. “Claude Lévi-Strauss and UNESCO.” The UNESCO Courier. 5 (2008): 5, 5.
  1. Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Tristes tropiques. Trans. John and Doreen Weightman. Penguin Books, 1973. 149.
  1. Ibid, 149-150.
  1. Ibid, 149-150.
  1. Ibid, 230.
  1. Ibid, 24.
  1. Ibid, 230-231.
  1. Ibid, 215.
  1. Ibid, 231.
  1. Ibid, 249.
  1. Ibid, 253.
  1. Ibid, 256.
  1. Ibid, 257.
  1. Ibid, 393.
  1. Ibid, 216-217.
  1. Ibid, 372.
  1. Ibid, 389.
  1. Ibid, 396.
  1. Ibid, 405.
  1. Ibid, 409.
  1. Ibid, 411.
  1. Ibid, 412.
  1. Paz, Octavio. Claude Lévi-Strauss: An Introduction. [Claude Lévi-Strauss o el Nuevo festín de Esopo, 1967]. Trans. J.S. Bernstein and Maxine Bernstein. New York: Dell, 1970. 135.
  1. Ibid, 413.

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