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Monday, March 21, 2011

Beginnings (5)—Tristes Tropiques

Part One—An End of Journeying
1 Setting Out
Lévi-Strauss in Brazil [b]
Claude Lévi-Strauss, 1908-2009 [a]
I hate traveling and explorers. Yet here I am proposing to tell the story of my expeditions. But how long it has taken me to make up my mind to do so! It is not fifteen years since I left Brazil for the last time and all during this period I have often planned to undertake the present work, but on each occasion a sort of shame and repugnance prevented me from making a start. Why, I asked myself, should I give a detailed account of so many trivial circumstances and insignificant happenings? Adventure has no place in the anthropologist’s profession; it is merely one of those unavoidable drawbacks, which detract from his effective work through the incidental loss of weeks or months; there are hours of inaction, when the informant is not always available; periods of hunger, exhaustion, sickness perhaps; and always the thousand and one dreary tasks which eat away the days to no purpose and reduce dangerous living in the heart of the virgin forest to an imitation of military service…[1]

Première partie—La Fin Des Voyages
1 Départ
 Bibliothèque de la Pléiade [d]

Cover of Tristes Tropiques [c]
Je hais les voyages et les explorateurs. Et voici que je m’apprête à raconter mes expéditions. Mais que de temps pour m’y résoudre! Quinze ans ont passé depuis que j’ai quitté pour la dernière fois le Brésil et, pendant toutes ces années, j’ai souvent projeté d’entreprendre ce livre ; chaque fois, une sorte de honte et de dégoût m’empêché. Eh quoi ? Faut-il narrer par le menu tant de détails insipides, d’événements insignifiants ? L’aventure n’a pas de place dans la profession d’ethnographe ; elle en est seulement une servitude, elle pèse sur le travail efficace du poids des semaines ou des mois perdus en chemin ; des heures oisives pendant que l’informateur se dérobe ; de la faim, de la fatigue, parfois de la maladie ; et toujours, de ces mille corvées qui rongent les jours en pure perte et réduisent la vie dangereuse au cœur de la forêt vierge à une imitation du service militaire…[2]
Lévi-Strauss framed by Kwakiutl art [e]

(First published in 1955).

[1] Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques (New York: Penguin Books, 1973), 17.

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