From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Academic Autobiography (2d)—Tristes Tropiques

One year ago on Round and Square (30 September 2011)—Fieldnotes From History: Utensils/Greasy Fingers
Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Academic Autobiography"
[a] Moving RF
Click here for the other posts in this Round and Square series on Claude Lévi-Strauss's Tristes Tropiques:
Tristes 1          Tristes 2          Tristes 3          Tristes 4          Tristes 5          Tristes 6
          I wish now that I had been able, twenty years ago, to appreciate fully 
          the unheard-of luxury and regal privilege of being among the eight or 
          ten passengers who, on a boat built to accommodate 100 or 150, had 
          the deck, the cabins, the smoking-room and the dining-room all 
          to themselves. During the nineteen days at sea, all this space, which 
          seemed almost limitless through the absence of other people, became 
          our province; it was as if the boat were our appanage, moving with us.[1] 
[b] Passages RF

Lévi-Strauss does not merely describe his foreign world and use that data to begin his broader project. He describes his passage between the two as well, often in highly symbolic terms. The book begins in the groves of French academe, and will continue on to four different societies in Brazil. Some of the most interesting passages in Tristes Tropiques deal with the years, and voyages, between France and Brazil. Nowhere is the passage expressed more evocatively than in his description of the Doldrums as a metaphor for the interaction of two worlds.

          The air is so still that one might think oneself in some confined space 
          instead of out on the open sea; dark clouds, with no breeze to disturb 
          their balance, are affected only by gravity, and slowly disintegrate as 
          they drift down towards the sea…

          The inky sky over the Doldrums and the oppressive atmosphere are 
          more than just an obvious sign of the nearness of the equator. They 
          epitomize the moral climate in which two worlds have come face to face. 
          This cheerless sea between them, and the calmness of the weather whose 
          only purpose seems to be to allow evil forces to gather fresh strength, are 
          the last mystical barrier between two regions so diametrically opposed to 
          each other through their different conditions that the first people to become 
          aware of the fact could not believe that they were both equally human. A 
          continent barely touched by man lay exposed to men whose greed could 
          no longer be satisfied by their own continent.[2] 

From the first pages of Tristes Tropiques, the reader grows accustomed to straightforward narration masking a deeper, layered meaning. Lévi-Strauss continues:

          Everything would be called into question by this second sin: God, Morality, 
          and law. In simultaneous yet contradictory fashion, everything would be 
          verified in practice and revoked in principle: the Garden of Eden, the Golden 
          Age of antiquity, the Fountain of Youth, Atlantis, the Hesperides, the Islands 
          of the Blessed, would be found to be true; but revelation, salvation, customs, 
          and law would be challenged by the spectacle of a purer or happier race of 
          men (who, of course, were not really purer or happier, although a deep-
          seated remorse made them appear so).[3]
This description, precisely the kind that a busy professional anthropologist might skim in search of the heart of the text, provides a launching pad, as it were, for an historical anecdotalism that runs through the New World section of Tristes Tropiques. We are presented, in succession, with the perceptual challenges of sixteenth century travelers in contact with the native population of Hispaniola (“both attitudes showed equal ignorance, but the Indians’ behavior certainly had greater human dignity”) and Columbus’s encounters with “mermaids” and cotton plants (which they mistook for “sheep trees”).

          In all such instances, the sixteenth-century consciousness was lacking in 
          an element more important than knowledge: a quality indispensable to 
          scientific thought. The men of that time were not sensitive to the 
          harmonious arrangement of the universe…  The mermaids and the 
          sheep tree constitute something different from, and more than, just 
          objective mistakes; on the intellectual level they are to be considered 
          rather as lapses in taste; a defect in minds that, in spite of the great gifts 
          and refinement they displayed in other fields, were deficient in powers 
          of observation.[4]

From here we move on to the scents, the sounds, and the tumult—the petulant activité Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo (“the tropics are less exotic than out of date”) and a host of passages that imply quite strongly that, for the true anthropologist, half the charm, half the story, lies in getting there. Indeed, on many levels, Tristes Tropiques (and perhaps his entire oeuvre) is about getting there. As one of my overheard anecdotes has it—I chanced upon the conversation in a coffee shop in 1998, with a guitar player talking to a young admirer—"It's all about the journey, man...the journey."

So it was for Claude Lévi-Strauss, and we'll take a closer look at that journey tomorrow. 

Click here for the other posts in this Round and Square series on Claude Lévi-Strauss's Tristes Tropiques:
Tristes 1          Tristes 2          Tristes 3          Tristes 4          Tristes 5          Tristes 6
[d] Journey RF
[1] Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropique [Translated by John and Doreen Weightman] (New York: Penguin Classics, 2012), 22.
[2] Tristes Tropiques, 74.
[3] Tristes Tropiques, 74.
[4] Tristes Tropiques, 77.

Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques [Translated by John and Doreen Weightman]. New York: Penguin Classics, 2012.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Academic Autobiography (2c)—Tristes Tropiques

One year ago on Round and Square (29 September 2011)—Fieldnotes From History: Cuisine
Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Academic Autobiography"
[a] Perspective RF
Click here for the other posts in this Round and Square series on Claude Lévi-Strauss's Tristes Tropiques:
Tristes 1          Tristes 2          Tristes 3          Tristes 4          Tristes 5          Tristes 6
III—Anecdotal Origins
          In exploring all this, I was being true to myself as an archaeologist of space, 
          seeking in vain to recreate a lost local colour with the help of fragments and 
          debris. Then, insidiously, illusion began to lay its snares. I wished I had lived 
          in the days of real journeys, when it was still possible to see the full 
          splendour of a spectacle that had not yet been blighted, polluted, and spoilt; 
          I wished I had not troddent that ground as myself, but as Bernier, Tavernier 
          or Manucci did...[1]
The search for origins is a key to Lévi-Strauss’s anthropology. The discipline is, he argues (at least when practiced correctly), a fundamentally receptive one. This goes far toward explaining for anthropologists (others have been less puzzled) why Tristes tropiques is such difficult reading, why it is, in the words of an American anthropologist, “though very far from being a great anthropology book, or even an especially good one…surely one of the finest books written by an anthropologist. Reading Tristes tropiques as one does a standard ethnography has led countless anthropologists to throw up (their hands) in despair. What, even a careful reader might ask, is Lévi-Strauss doing with the details he relates—a play in Calcutta, the description of a sunset, a snatch from the draft of a play written twenty years earlier (forgetting how it ended)? Let's continue with the quotation (one of the most famous in the book) that began this post.

          Once embarked upon, this guessing game can continue indefinitely. When 
          was the best time to see India? At what period would the study of Brazilian 
          savages have afforded the purest satisfaction, and revealed them in their 
          least adulterated state? Would it have been better to arrive in Rio in the 
          eighteenth century with Bougainville, or in the sixteenth with Léry and 
          Thevet? For every five years I move back in time, I am able to save a 
          custom, gain a ceremony or share in another belief. But I know that exts too 
          well not to realize that, by going back a century, I am at the same time 
          forgoing data and lines of inquiry which would offer intellectual  enrichment. 
          And so I am caught within a circle from which there is no escape: the less 
          human societies were able to communicate with each other and therefore 
          to corrupt each other through contact, the less their respective emissaries 
          were able to perceive the wealth and significance of their diversity.[2]
[c] Tract RF

Anthropologists reading Lévi-Strauss’s accounts of, say, village arrangement among the Bororo or family life among the Nambikwara as they might a chapter from Argonauts of the Western Pacific or, to use a puzzling example by which the author claims to have been inspired, Robert Lowie’s Primitive Society, come away from a reading with a profound sense of dissatisfaction. It is hard to know, at times, why Lévi-Strauss describes in minute detail items that seem to be founded on precisely the sensory and experiential data that he has condemned in earlier chapters.

The answer, which may not be of much interest, perhaps, to professional anthropologists, lies in balancing the various themes of the book—memoir, ethnography, philosophical text, and reformist tract. Even in the book’s later chapters, in which the world becomes his subject and the reform of Western society his goal, Lévi-Strauss quite consciously moves from a snippet of his travel experience, a page from his fieldnotes, to an ever-widening treatment of broad historical and philosophical themes. The role of the anecdote has been too little treated in interpretations of Tristes tropiques; I believe that it provides a key to understanding what Lévi-Strauss argues in the final passages of the work.

The “method” whereby the author moves out in concentric circles, as it were, from a primary datum toward its ever-widening implications, is what links the “co-occurring texts” in Tristes tropiques. What I shall call Lévi-Strauss’s anthropologie anecdotique is the engine behind his receptive anthropology. It is the method that allows him to move from a single experience, contextualize it, and make use of it for a broader and deeper understanding not only of the society at hand, but his own as well.
[d] Picture RF

Such analysis, as with his “study” of cannibalism in chapter thirty-eight, “if carried out sincerely and methodically, leads to two results: it introduces and element of moderation and honesty into our evaluations of customs and ways of life very different from our own…and it removes form our own customs that air of inherent rightness that they so easily have for anyone unacquainted with other customs, or whose knowledge is partial or biased.” It provides, in short, a method whereby the West can restore contact with that receptivity, that femininity, that needs to be rediscovered if it is to avoid the fate—to use Lévi-Strauss’s rhetoric—of Islamic civilization, as well as the last several hundred years of our own.

Anthropologists become frustrated, at times, reading Tristes tropiques because the details Lévi-Strauss relates are not merely building blocks for an “objective” picture of the society under study. They are, rather, carefully chosen and highly polished fragments of experiential data that constitute, like a fog-drenched Chinese landscape painting, only a shred of a larger meaning. The role of the anthropologist is to draw the lines, so to speak, between the ethnographic fragments and the larger meaning.

Let's conclude today's post with the dénouement of Lévi-Strauss's memorable quotation.

          In short, I have only two possibilities: either I can be like some traveller of 
          the olden days, who was faced with a stupendous spectacle, all, or almost 
          all, of which eluded him, or worse still, filled him with scorn and disgust; or 
          a modern traveller, chasing after the vestiges of vanished reality. I lose on
          both counts, and more seriously than may at first appear, for, while I 
          complain of being able to glimpse no more than the shadow of the past, I 
          may be insensitive to reality as it is taking shape at this very moment, since 
          I have not reached the stage of development at which I would be capable 
          of perceiving it. A few hundred years hence, in this same place, another 
          traveller, as despairing as myself, will mourn the disappearance of what I 
          might have seen, but failed to see. I am subject to a double infirmity: all that 
          I perceive offends me, and I constantly reproach myself for not seeing as 
          much as I should.[3]

Click here for the other posts in this Round and Square series on Claude Lévi-Strauss's Tristes Tropiques:
Tristes 1          Tristes 2          Tristes 3          Tristes 4          Tristes 5          Tristes 6
[e] Vestiges RF
[1] Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropique [Translated by John and Doreen Weightman] (New York: Penguin Classics, 2012), 43.
[2] Tristes Tropiques, 43.
[3] Tristes Tropiques, 43.

Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques [Translated by John and Doreen Weightman]. New York: Penguin Classics, 2012.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Academic Autobiography (2b)—Tristes Tropiques

One year ago on Round and Square (28 September 2011)—Seinfeld Ethnography: The Alliance.
Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Academic Autobiography"
[a] Tropiques RF
Click here for the other posts in this Round and Square series on Claude Lévi-Strauss's Tristes Tropiques:
Tristes 1          Tristes 2          Tristes 3          Tristes 4          Tristes 5          Tristes 6
          Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the Author of things; 
          everything degenerates in the hands of man. —Rousseau[1] 

Each stage in mankind’s religious development, writes Lévi-Strauss, represents a regression from that which preceded it. For Lévi-Strauss this regression can be seen everywhere—from the cities of the New World to modern painting. “Man never creates anything truly great except at the beginning:

          In whatever field it may be, only the first initiative is wholly valid. The 
          succeeding ones are characterized by hesitation and regret, and try to 
          recover, fragment by fragment, ground that has already been left behind…  
          The grandeur inseparable from beginnings is so undeniable that even 
          mistakes, provided they are new creations, can still overwhelm us with 
          their beauty.[2]

Lévi-Strauss’s attitude toward “nature” and “origins” often quite closely resemble those of his distant mentor, Jean Jacques Rousseau—“Rousseau, the most anthropological of the philosophes…Rousseau our master, our brother, to whom we have behaved with such ingratitude but to whom every page of this book could have been dedicated, had the homage been worthy of his memory:

          We shall emerge from the contradiction inherent in the anthropologist’s 
          position only by repeating, on our own account, the procedure that allowed 
          Rousseau to move on from the ruins left by the Discours sur l’origine de 
          l’inégalité to the ample structure of Le contrat social, the secret of which is 
          revealed in the Emile.[3]
[b] Gymnastics RF

Lévi-Strauss’s boredom with the tired “mental gymnastics” of Sorbonne philosophy—“not so much a system of discovering what was true and what false as of understanding how mankind gradually overcame certain contradictions”—and his predilection for geology, psychoanalysis, and Marxism, culminating in his choice of anthropology as a vocation, are a part of this desire to get to the solid foundation of matters.

For Lévi-Strauss, geology, psychoanalysis, and Marxism can be reduced to a common thread. Knowing a thing requires going beyond the sensory data that lie before us (and that includes, for academics, books and records) to achieve a deeper level of understanding. One cannot perceive, unless one is taught to see in a different way, the series of upheavals that have created a particular landscape; the clues are buried in an out layer that may not only mask, but positively deform the deeper structures.

          Every landscape appears first of all as a vast chaos, which leaves one 
          free to choose the meaning one wants to give it. But, over and above the 
          various agricultural considerations, geographical irregularities, and the 
          various accidents of history and prehistory, the most majestic meaning of 
          all is surely that which precedes, commands, and, to a large extent, 
          explains the others…  The sole aim of this contrariness is to recapture the 
          master-meaning, which may be obscure but of which each of the others is 
          a partial or distorted transposition.[4]
With the case of the landscape, as with Rousseau’s desire to see a life free from the encumbrances of social institutions, it is necessary, if one is to gain real insight, to go beyond the surface to the origin of a thing, to see it in its unadulterated state. Only then is it possible, echoing the quotations above, to move to the “ample structure” of deep understanding. One cannot know the Christian West without retracing the development of its thought. But even then one hasn’t grasped the origin. One must, just as Rousseau did two hundred years earlier, “set facts aside” at times to gain a better knowledge of a thing’s true nature.

          Following Rousseau, and in what I consider to be a definitive manner, 
          Marx established that social science is no more founded on the basis of 
          events than physics is founded on sense data: the object is to construct a 
          model and to study its property and its different reactions in laboratory 
          conditions…  At a different level of reality, Marxism seemed to me to 
          proceed in the same manner as geology and psychoanalysis…  All three 
          demonstrate that understanding consists of reducing one type of reality to 
          another; that the true reality is never the most obvious; and that the nature 
          of truth is already indicated by the care it takes to remain elusive.[5]

For cultural anthropologists, the search for origins is problematic; they operate, to some extent, at the intersection of their own and other societies. It is difficult enough to retrace the steps of development in each, but to reintegrate that knowledge into a new set of principles, a new way of knowing, is forbiddingly complex. It is necessary for them to gain release from the constraints of their own societies.

          Anthropology affords me intellectual satisfaction: as a form of history, 
          linking up opposite ends with world history and my own history, it thus 
          reveals the rationale common to both. In proposing to study mankind, 
          anthropology frees me from doubt, since it examines those differences 
          and changes in mankind that have a meaning for all men, and excludes 
          those peculiar to a particular civilization, which dissolve into nothingness 
          under the gaze of the outside observer.[6]

The predicament of the anthropologist between his own society and those he studies is analogous, for Lévi-Strauss, to that of Western society itself in relation to its neighbors. Gaining receptivity, for Lévi-Strauss is not merely a matter of attuning our minds; it is necessary to free ourselves—physically and intellectually—from our environment. We are, writes Lévi-Strauss, free in relation to others.

          We thus put ourselves in a position to embark on the second stage, 
          which consists in using all societies—without adopting features of any 
          one of them—to elucidate principles of social life that we can apply in 
          reforming our own customs and not those of foreign societies: through 
          the operation of a prerogative that is the reverse of the one just mentioned, 
          the society we belong to is the only society we are in a position to transform 
          without any risk of destroying it, since the changes being introduced by us, 
          are coming from within the society itself.[7]
It was Rousseau, writes Lévi-Strauss, “who taught us that, after demolishing all forms of social organization, we can still discover the principles that will allow us to construct.”  We need, however, if this is to be successful, to find the “unshakable basis of human society.”

To this quest, anthropological comparison can contribute in two ways. It shows that the basis is not to be discovered in our civilization: of all known societies ours is no doubt the one most remote from it. At the same time, by bringing out the characteristics common to the majority of human societies, it helps us to postulate a type, of which no society is the faithful realization, but which indicates the direction the investigation ought to follow…

Lévi-Strauss continues: 

          Natural man did not precede society, nor is he outside it. Our task is to 
          rediscover his form as it is immanent in the social state, mankind being 
          inconceivable outside society; this means working out a program of the 
          experiments that “would be necessary in order to arrive at a knowledge 
          of natural man” and determine the “means whereby these experiments 
          can be made within society.”  But the model—this is Rousseau’s solution—
          is eternal and universal.[8]

The oft-noted “quest structure” of Tristes tropiques—leaving the stale intellectuality of the French academy for the lush vegetation of the Brazilian interior, journeying ever more deeply through the layers of human (d)evolution, and returning, finally to that same France with a deeper understanding of the West’s relationship to the rest of humanity—becomes clearer when we read with knowledge of Lévi-Strauss as social critic and reformer. The anthropologist is, indeed, caught between two civilizations. Like travelers before him, he has an effect on both, whether he wants it or not. For the anthropologist, “less able to ignore his own civilization and dissociate himself from its faults in that his very existence is incomprehensible except as an attempt at redemption,” the need to study other societies takes on added urgency and much greater importance: he is the symbol (and perhaps the vehicle), writes Lévi-Strauss, of atonement.

More on precisely this (how does anthropology provide a vehicle for redemption?) tomorrow.

See you then.   

Click here for the other posts in this Round and Square series on Claude Lévi-Strauss's Tristes Tropiques:
Tristes 1          Tristes 2          Tristes 3          Tristes 4          Tristes 5          Tristes 6
[e] River RF
[1] Jean Jacques Rousseau, Emile [Translated by Allan Bloom] (New York: The Free Press, 1973), 1.
[2] Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropique [Translated by John and Doreen Weightman] (New York: Penguin Classics, 2012), 57.
[3] Tristes Tropiques, 57.
[4] Tristes Tropiques,58.
[5] Tristes Tropiques,392.
[6] Tristes Tropiques,390-391.
[7] Tristes Tropiques, 392. 
[8] Tristes Tropiques, 389.

Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques [Translated by John and Doreen Weightman]. New York: Penguin Classics, 2012.
Rousseau, Jean Jacques. Emile [Translated by Allan Bloom]. New York: The Free Press, 1973.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Academic Autobiography (2a)—Tristes Tropiques

One year ago on Round and Square (27 September 2011)—Styling Culture: Foreign Terms, Titles, and Emphasis
Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Academic Autobiography"
[a] Amazon headwaters RF
Click here for the other posts in this Round and Square series on Claude Lévi-Strauss's Tristes Tropiques:
Tristes 1          Tristes 2          Tristes 3          Tristes 4          Tristes 5          Tristes 6
Note: The world after 2001 makes all of this somewhat jarring for American readers. Let me just say that the opinions expressed here are my best representation of Claude Lévi-Strauss's text. This post began many years ago as an essay response for the University of Chicago Committee on Social Thought's "Fundamentals Examination." The classicist James Redfield asked a brilliant question, and this post is a less-brilliant but no less fascinated response to the literary legacy of Claude Lévi-Strauss.
                    He who knows the masculine but holds to the feminine
                    Becomes the ravine of the world
                    Being the ravine of the world,
                    He dwells in constant virtue,
                    He returns to the state of the babe.
                                                            —Daodejing 28
In the closing pages of his multi-layered anthropological narrative, Tristes tropiques, Claude Lévi-Strauss provocatively states that “the West lost the opportunity of remaining female" through its militaristic contact with Islam. He notes:
          In Taxila, in Buddhist monasteries bristling with statues because of the 
          influence of Greece, I was aware of the slim opportunity of remaining united 
          which is open to our Old World; the schism is not yet complete. A different 
          future is possible, the very future that Islam opposes by erecting its barrier 
          between the West and the East, which, without it, would perhaps not have 
          lost their attachment to the common ground in which their roots are set.[1] 
For Lévi-Strauss, the femininity that the West has forsaken is closely attached to the Daoist conception of receptivity. Lévi-Strauss portrays Buddhism and nascent Christianity as quintessentially responsive doctrines, capable of growing through contact with an other. Lévi-Strauss’s Islam, on the other hand, is the very embodiment of Daoism’s extreme male principle—hard, unyielding, certain of itself, and wary of contact with outsiders. As Lévi-Strauss puts it, the Arab soul has always been associated with the qualities of jealousy, pride, and heroism.

Far from presenting a “survey” of world religion in the resonant closing chapters of Tristes tropiques, Lévi-Strauss pares each complex doctrine down to its essentials, looking not so much at the historical development of their teachings as at the “inner core” that gives them their power. He sees in the compassion of Buddhism and the openness of Christianity the fundamentally receptive quality of femininity; in Islam, he perceives only self-doubt and xenophobia:

          This great religion is based not so much on revealed truth as on an inability 
          to establish links with the outside world. In contrast to the universal kindliness 
          of Buddhism, or the Christian desire for dialogue, Muslim intolerance takes 
          an unconscious form among those who are guilty of it; although they do not 
          always seek to make others share their truth by brutal coercion, they are 
          nevertheless (and this is more serious) incapable of tolerating the existence of 
          others as others. The only means they have of protecting themselves against 
          doubt and humiliation is the “negativization” of others, considered as witnesses 
          to a different faith and a different way of life.[2] 

Islam is the West of the East, writes Lévi-Strauss; he sees in the intolerance of Islam the most serious danger confronting twentieth century Europe, particularly France. Although he never adequately explains what be means by such phrases as “Christian desire for dialogue,”[3] or the precise manner in which contact with Buddhism would have “Christianized us still further and…made us all the more Christian in that we would have gone back beyond Christianity itself,[4] he perceives an essential unity in the two that lies outside of history, outside of time.
There is an elemental similarity in both doctrines, and the civilizations they represent. Lévi-Strauss, like Rousseau before him, characterizes this ahistorical similarity in strikingly temporal terms. Beyond that, he encases his description in Christian imagery of the fall:
Mankind has made three major religious attempts to free itself from the persecution of the dead, the malevolence of the Beyond, and the anguish of magic. Over intervals of approximately five hundred years, it originated in turn in Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam; it is a striking fact that each stage, far from constituting an advance on the previous one, should be seen rather as a regression…

          Now I can see, beyond Islam, to India, but it is the India of the Buddha, 
          before Mohammed. For me as a European, and because I am a European,
          Mohammed intervenes with uncouth clumsiness, between our thought and 
          Indian doctrines which are very close to it, in such a way as to prevent East 
          and West joining hands, as they might well have done, in harmonious 

Lévi-Strauss continues:

          The two worlds are closer to each other than either is to the Muslim 
          anachronism. Rational evolution would have been the converse of what 
          actually occurred historically: Islam cut a more civilized world in two, he 
          states. What appears modern to it belongs to a bygone age; it is living with 
          a time lag of a thousand years…Islam fertilized actuality and sterilized 
          potentiality: it brought about a form of progress that is the reverse of 
          a project.

          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…   
          It was then that the West lost the opportunity of remaining female.[6]
Lévi-Strauss, in the space of only a few pages, divides the world into three major religious systems, refines their doctrines to a limited number of key oppositions (such as masculinity-femininity, intransigence-receptivity), denies the importance of historical change in the doctrines, and finally—in richly historical terms—describes the relationship between all three.

          The West lost the opportunity of remaining female by opposing a doctrine 
          that is, as characterized by Lévi-Strauss, by its very nature insecure and 
          pugilistic. Opposition is a masculine and confrontational term, used quite 
          consciously by the author in this manner; osmosis is fundamentally feminine 
          and receptive. Lévi-Strauss speaks of two very different kinds of change here, 
          and the historical necessity of choosing one over the other has, he argues, 
          profoundly altered not only the history of the West, but its religious and 
          (hence) cultural orientation as well.[5]

Lévi-Strauss quite forcefully states the problem. Moreover, he alludes to the possibility of resolution—“the schism is not yet complete; a different future is possible. Nowhere, however, does he state explicitly what is to be done. Lévi-Strauss’s resolution lies in the narrative of Tristes tropiques, not at any single, definable point in the text. For a resolution to the problem, for a return to the “natural” receptivity of the Christian West, we must return to origins; for this return the discipline of anthropology is an ideal vehicle.

Click here for the other posts in this Round and Square series on Claude Lévi-Strauss's Tristes Tropiques:
Tristes 1          Tristes 2          Tristes 3          Tristes 4          Tristes 5          Tristes 6
[e] Return RF
[1] Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques [Translated by John and Doreen Weightman] (New York: Penguin Classics, 2012), 406.
[2] Tristes Tropiques 403-404.
[3] Tristes Tropiques, 403-404.
[4] Tristes Tropiques, 403-404.
[5] Tristes Tropiques, 409.
[6] Tristes Tropiques, 408-409.

Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques [Translated by John and Doreen Weightman]. New York: Penguin Classics, 2012.