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A basic guide to the work of Claude Levi-Strauss/Claude Levi-Strauss un calismalari icin temel bir kilavuz.


Du siebst, mein Sohn, zum Raum wird hier die zeit. * (Levi-Strauss, 1992: 219)

"It s the female bird who builds the nest"

Turkish proverb

The most essential point, and the point for social sciences, is that psychoanalysis and linguistics has an innate psychological content that cannot determine human life and sociality. When we focus on the analysis of psychoanalytical theory on sexuality and when it is seen that language forms human thought, then the following result occurs: Human existence has a symbolic nature. So it cannot be argued that human-social life depends on biological nature. Instead there is a biological potential or basis that human beings fill and activate it in a symbolic--cultural universe. Levi-Strauss, in this regard, argues that human culture is founded on the differentiation from animal kingdom. For him, it can be asserted that being an animal is a major paradox for humankind (or at least having an animal nature). Man has an opportunity to rise, when he recognizes how he differs from animals. According to Levi-Strauss, all human institutions are products of the processes for mediation between the contradicting sides (culture/human--nature/ animal). In this regard it can well be understood that human existence is founded on binary oppositions for Levi-Strauss. However, if we look at the phenomenon from psychoanalytical point of view, we cannot deal with natural counterparts as male and female (of course biologically masculine and feminine sexual behaviors exist, but Freud clearly showed us that it is a cultural process, forming sexual identity in social life), rather we can talk about the symbolic values attributed by human beings to the concepts male and female. Again in this regard, we have to affirm that being biologically male/female cannot provide the conditions and necessities of being socially male/female. It is these sorts of binary oppositions or paradoxes which form culture and they are symbolic rather than being natural. Someone learns/ grasps how to be a man or a woman, or the opposition between two sides in the context of social roles, by entering the pressure through the civilization. Furthermore, man s share is to create cultural discriminations from a non-oppositional bestial unity.

Linguistics, like psychoanalysis, has demonstrated to us clearly, how human mind is forced to work in as cultural phenomena in a non-natural process. The meaning--communicative structure of human existence also supports this thought. Human behaviour is an activity for producing and transmitting meanings. Human mind perceiving the existing natural situation as binary oppositions assigns a value/meaning to the natural phenomena. The thing giving meaning to human activity, likewise structural linguistics cannot be found in the single action performed consciously. It can rather be found in the preference of the individual who preferred this thing in order to eat, wear or speak, etc. over that. (According to structural linguistics, what gives a linguistic unit its value is its reciprocal sentagmatic/in presentia or paradigmatic/ in absentia relationship with other units, for as the first one implies conscious action of the individual, hence the latter entails a storage of language and syntactic laws which is grasped unconsciously) In the areas given above, this preference is determined by the laws of culinary customs, particular traditions of fashion, or syntactic laws of the individual s society which operate on human mind unconsciously, (in general) through the opposition and substitution relationships. In this context, it can be asserted that Levi-Strauss is concerned with conscious message or behaviour because of its unconscious extensions. He confronts Saussure s sentagm--paradigm concepts in his structural analysis with metonym--metaphor twin concepts. For Levi-Strauss, these concepts are related to Saussure s semiology and evoke all the institutional human activities, like linguistic units in linguistics, to present a systematic operation.

Levi-Strauss makes a distinction between language and cultural/social phenomena and never implies a reduction of society to language. He asserts that, language as a cultural/ social institution can be regarded as a model for other systematic aspects of human culture (institutions). He, in his most essential work (1963a), emphasizes the importance of the major role of language but never implies a reduction of other institutions to it. The originality of his work, is in the claim that all systematical human activities operate through the mediation of oppositions (such oppositions as '+' and '-') and, this mode of operation originates from the structure of human mind which perceievs nature as oppositions. Due to this unconscious operation of human mind, the linguistic mode of operation becomes an objective, non-speculative and mathematical method for other cultural aspects. In this context, structural linguistics as an objective scientific method but at the same time being concerned with man, provides an opportunity for the method of social sciences regarding (relatively) objective knowledge (Levi-Strauss,1963a: 5657).

If all human actions bear meaning and the constituent element of meaning is human mind which operates by setting binary oppositions, then by this method it can be possible to isolate oppositional systems in other aspects of institutional phenomena like oppositions between linguistic units. It can be also possible to grasp objective knowledge regarding cultural--social phenomena through these oppositional systems of meaning. Levi-Strauss, asserts that, all cultural phenomena, like linguistic phenomena, depends on the unconscious meaning-conveying structure of human mind, and the method of structural linguistics is suitable to analyze this unconscious process. It is but a small step to say that the manifestations of structural linguistics provides a systematic method of expressing the unconscious realization of cultural phenomena. Levi-Strauss, asserts that the only way to raise the unconscious content (which is the main source) of cultural phenomena to the level of conscious and to transform it into a subject of scientific inquiry is the method of structural linguistics. So the proposal of Levi-Strauss, that all social sciences use the method of structural linguistics, manifests his view of cultural phenomena: For him all cultural phenomena, operates in the boundaries of human mind (in the context of operations of setting oppositions and mediating these oppositions) and consists of the variations of the structure of the mind which operates unconsciously. Levi-Strauss generated a lot of arguments on the issue of human mind and deep structural operation of human mind. But at least it the examples established by him have shown us that these thoughts cannot are not nonsense. However, the relationships and basic oppositional patterns put forward by him cannot be "proved" as universal scientific realities, But it is clear that they are not nonsense. First of all, structural linguist Roman Jacobson s work on the system of phonemic oppositions inspired him to establish basic binary oppositions as the fundamental operation of human mind. Levi-Strauss, by applying Jacobson s findings on linguistic field, to the varying cultural phenomena, could isolate some basic cultural oppositions in spite of the complexity of empirical data and by doing this, he fulfilled the great dream of Saussure s, i.e., Saussure s most important and revolutionary idea that bears ultimate significance for his successors, is the hope of establishment of semiology as a discipline applicable to the phenomena which displays languagelike characteristics in future (1985: 18-19).

It can be said that, Roman Jacobson is the person who made possible Levi-Strauss' application of linguistic analysis' frame to the cultural phenomena through the moulding of his thoughts regarding the relationship between language and culture--linguistics and social anthropology. So we can say that Jacobson s (and in general Prague Linguistics Circle s) analyses regarding acquisition of language, forms Levi-Strauss' view of social phenomena and scientific methodological approach. Levi-Strauss obtained the linguistic basis he needs, from Jacobson s approach. So in this context, rising on this point, he uses the systems and the relative laws obtained through the linguistic analysis (as a methodological device) in order to analyze other cultural phenomena. If it is possible to reduce the evolution of the structuralist methodology to the will of objectification of knowledge in social sciences--keeping in mind that for Levi-Strauss, the worst order is preferable to the best disorder (2000b: 41)--it would be acceptable to use linguistic mode of analysis on every cultural phenomena.

Briefly, Jacobson, focuses his linguistic studies on its constituent element: phonemes. Phoneme is a basic element of language like atom. It is possible to create a linguistic system only through phonemes. Jacobson and his colleagues, focused on the distinctive phonetic units that operate as constituent elements in language. If it would be possible to discriminate and isolate the distinctive units in a linguistic system, it would also be possible to define more complex linguistic entities. In this context, linguistics came to be a closer point that even Saussure predicted. Then Jacobson and colleagues, identified the twelve universal, distinctive phonemic units used to create meaningful linguistic units in their works. Saussure s suggestion was to search linguistics to identify valid, universal regularities in language. Jacobson and colleagues' efforts achieved that. As cited by Gardner: "Saussure and his associates searched for the basic building blocks of a language, the qualities of the emitted sound which they termed "distinctive features". Once the distinctive features in a domain were isolated and defined, more complex linguistic entities could be described simply as a combination of a certain set of distinctive features. After years of painstaking inquiry, the followers of Saussure postulated a small set of a dozen or so distinctive features required to produce a sound; these features could, when combined in various ways, account exhaustively for all sounds used in the languages of the world" (Gardner, 1973: 45-46). Through their studies, they found out that, complex oppositional systems of phonemes common in all languages can be reduced to a simpler form of an oppositional system of phonemes. That is to say, these complex oppositional systems are expansions of a simpler form of oppositional system of phonemes. Jacobson claims that in all known languages, the apparent complexity and variety of phonemes is no more than the elaboration of a more simple system common to all of them, which consists of twelve oppositions between such features as vocalic and non-vocalic, consonantal and non-consonantal, voiced and voiceless, tense and lax and so on. The same system of twelve basic discriminations is set to underlie all languages, and Jacobson attempts to demonstrate this and to show how children acquire them. They are assumed to be universal and hence in some sense 'natural'. Jacobson is interested in the atoms of any language rather than with the structure of any particular language in which these are combined (Glucksmann, 1979: 62). In order to understand the effects of Jacobson s works on Levi-Strauss, the basic vovel--consonant opposition which Leach theorized, would provide an economical apparatus. Jacobson asserts that "children could able to control basic vowel--consonants in order to create significant vocal patterns in the process of acquisition of language. Child first improves basic vowel--consonant opposition through differentiating the intensity of the voice. Jacobson s approach can be best demonstrated by vowel--consonant double triangle. This schema of vowels and consonants are differentiated as close / open and high-pitched / low-pitched" (figure 1) (Leach, 1985: 31).

To deal with Levi-Strauss' application of Jacobson s vowel--consonant oppositions to culinary system, would be a good opportunity to demonstrate the applicability of basic linguistic oppositional system to cultural phenomena. This, on the other hand, by inferring an oppositional system from multitude of meal preparing and serving techniques (despite the complexity of empirical data about culinary traditions all over the world) provides a good example for Levi-Strauss methodology. At this point it is necessary to appeal Leach s formulations.

Cuisine as a Language

Leach, formulates Levi-Strauss' culinary triangle in the form of Jacobson s linguistic triangle and through this formulation, he illustrates the parallelism between these two analogical approaches. Levi-Strauss asserts that, in the world there are no societies that exist without either a language and a culinary tradition. In this context, from the standpoint of language-like structural orderlinesses, Levi-Strauss asserts that various existing meal preparing and serving techniques in the world, depend on the basis of structural relationships of limited variants. Behind all the differences in meal preparing and serving traditions and etc. there exists the operations of rotting, boiling and roasting techniques which depends on the basic opposition between the raw and the cooked. Why do human beings need to cook their food while all high primates do not? And why classify food in a social context? In other words, why are some food seen suitable only for children, for the aged and/or for the diseased while some are not and why are some seen suitable only for feasts, etc. These circumstances show that even the consumption of foods that is usually associated with the carnal aspects of mankind, are mediated by the fundamental culture--nature opposition (figure 2) (Leach, 1985: 33-35).

Leach schematizes this culinary opposition eligible to Jacobson s tripartite linguistic opposition. This schema demonstrates the bond between linguistics and social anthropology established by Levi-Strauss, despite the multiplicity of culinary traditions and food preparation techniques in all world cuisines. All preparations can be included in the various forms offered by this schema. In this context, the standpoint which demonstrates this schema and the notion of "binary oppositions" is; the emphasis on the roasted food (especially meat) as main meal, while boiling (of meat or etc.) is accepted as subsidiary meals generally.

If it is possible to carry out for the example of roasting, (using only the cultural product fire) Levi-Strauss puts that, using only fire to cook meat, means to consume it roughly and in a non gastronomical manner (so to speak to destruct and to lose it). Hence, to cook/roast meat/food directly on fire evokes the aristocratic manner in cuisines as opposed to boiling, which connotes to the acceleration of the putrefaction of the said material by decomposing it into its nutritional components. The former connotes one side of opposition (culture) and the latter to the other side (nature). Levi-Strauss, through his work on cuisines, accommodates "food consuming" (as a cultural phenomenon) into a system as Saussure s sentagm--paradigm relationship and by undertaking it as a linguistic entirety, he achieved a reduction; "activity of eating" to a fundamental system of oppositions, acceptable for almost every culinary tradition. Levi-Strauss, by performing a similar work on kinship, again reduces affiant terms into a four sided oppositional system despite the multiplicity of them in every culture. He, as a conscious follower of Psychoanalysis, transcribes Freud s basic terms into his own works. Then the fundamental aspect that corresponds Freud and Levi-Strauss' main scientific concern, on the basis of nature--culture opposition, is that, "how did Homo come to be sapiens?" (Leach, 1988b: 161).

Kinship as a Language

In this area, Levi-Strauss worked on kinship terms. He established a four sided opposition of kinship terms. According to this frame in all the societies over the world, the kinship systems appear to be the combinations of these four sided opposition. Levi-Strauss analysis depends on the findings among Cherkess of the Causassus and Natives of Trobriand. The main pattern that forms the germ of the system of kinship among these societies consists of the opposition between two sets of kinship terms: father / son, uncle / sister s son. If one of these oppositions is known, then it is possible to render its counterpart, because these oppositions display a mutuality. This pattern or the oppositionional relationship is valid for other societies as well. According to Levi-Strauss, in order to reach a universal system of kinship terms, the oppositional system of this basic pattern must be widened. In Structural Anthropology (1963a) he states, "When we consider societies of the Cherkess and Trobriand it is not enough to study the correlations of attitudes between father / son and uncle / sisters son. This correlation is only one aspect of a global system containing four types of relationships which are organically linked, namely: brother / sister, husband / wife, father / son and mother s brother / sister s son. The two groups in our example illustrate a law which can be formulated as follows: In both groups, the relation between maternal uncle and nephew is to the relation between brother and sister as the relation between husband and wife. Thus if we know one pair of relations, it is always possible to infer the other." (1963a: 42). The main point in these establishments emphasized by Levi-Strauss, is the language like qualities of kinship terms which tend to be taken as a system of oppositions. Unless the elements of these oppositions were taken in a systemic pattern, it would be impossible to grasp the universal structure of kinship terms.

Levi-Strauss' notion of the structure of kinship owes much to Psychoanalytical hypothesis of "unconscious operation of human sexual behaviours and the hypothesis of restriction of civilized charges only within conscious life". He adjoins the term incest taboo, as a dominant term, into his analysis of kinship, decalring that incest is not denied by our bestial nature (which is in common for mammals). Formerly it is stated that all human activities depend on the transfer of meanings. In this context it is possible to argue that all human activities can be reduced to the communication of meanings. Levi-Strauss, referring to Marcel Mauss' revolutionary work of The Gift, in which the modes of exchange in archaic societies are discussed, puts the dominance of reciprocity in inter-human relationships, (as well as kinship relations) and combines kinship system with incest taboo. He depends on this thought while asserting of dependence of human life to three communicational systems. The first of these three systems is language (as an institution), which depends on the exchange of words, the second is economy, which depends on the exchange of goods and services, and finally the third which depends on the exchange of women: Kinship (Levi-Strauss, 1963a: 42). He, through his reduction of kinship into a system of exchanges, gets the advantage of abstracting and/or formulating kinship system structurally to an extent not seen before. In this context, he puts forth that it s the incest taboo which provides the circulation of women, namely communication, (in other words) civilization. When mankind was in the stage of (Freudian term) primordial horde or in the times when human evolution continues, it was incest taboo that enabled us to communicate (namely kinship) with other groups and provide emotional stability in our own group by prohibiting dominant male s sexual rights to the females of the group, including his own biological mother, daughters. (On this point it must be stressed that there s a difference between Freud s and Levi-Strauss' use, of the terms primordial horde and incest taboo which is followed in this paper,. Freud acknowledge these terms as historical and real processes. However these terms appear to be metaphorical and symbolic in Levi-Strauss, in order to analyze the process through which mankind differentiates himself from nature. Therefore these metaphors provide a good opportunity to distinguish the opposition and unity between bestial and cultural aspects of human nature). Otherwise it is not imperative for someone (biologically) to avoid sex with his/her first degree relatives. To talk frankly, if a man had his sister and/or mother as his wife, he would not have any aunts, uncles, brother-in-laws, etc. because of not having. With NO incest prohibition, all known kinship terms and systems then disappear in favor of a state of bestial chaos. In this context, the important thing for Levi-Strauss is the structural system preceding kinship systems and language, as well. Levi-Strauss,--unlike Durkheim, who puts collective consciousness, and Marx, who puts economical infrastructure as fundamentals, finds structural basis in the basic operation of human mind which consists of collective unconscious. In fact, collective conscious, economical infrastructural relationships and other terms as such, are outcomes of this basic operation. From this point of view, it can be said that the basic operation of human mind depends on a communicational nature which operates through the ability of setting oppositions. For that reason, institutions (language, economy, kinship, etc.) depend on several types of--inter individuals or inter groups--exchange.

Structural Epistemology

In order to clarify Levi-Strauss' understanding of human mind, let us review Leach s schematization of Levi-Straussian epistemology for intellectual structures through the example of the traffic lights (figure 3). He stresses the fact that all colors are continuous in the nature. So to speak, it s the intersection of optical nature and physical qualities of human sight which causes us to perceive white light in a spectrum of different colors. Changes in brightness and wavelength of light, determines the physical formation of colors. These changes are, in fact continuous in space and time and it is difficult to distinguish a certain point of transition from one color to the other exactly. It is physical reality which forms different colors but, it is human sight that determines the border between, for example, green and red. We use this property in everyday life in order to arrange something like traffic jam. The relation between the colors red, yellow and green in a traffic light is used to arrange a definitely human order. Red color signifies stop, the yellow caution and the green proceed. For a structuralist, these combinations cannot be characterized as accidental. If so, then it can be asked why not pink to mediate green and red instead of yellow? Leach formulates these colors (as in the culinary triangle) in a Jacobson sort of triangle according to the oppositions on the level of brightness and wave length. This formulation demonstrates that it is not accidental to choose some certain colors in order to symbolize some human--social orderlinesses, and demonstrates that it is the unconscious operation of human mind that determines the structure of these sorts of combinations. From the standpoint of basic operation of human mind --by constituting oppositions in nature and mediating them through a moderator term--it is possible to ask why yellow is chosen to mediate the oppositions stop (+), and proceed (-). If an opposition between red and green is set, then it is necessary to mediate them through yellow. Because yellow is at the midpoint between the colors red and green on the color spectrum. In this regard, the value of the mediating element in cultural phenomena can be better understood (as well as the oppositions). Yellow is not accidental because it was chosen by human mind, in order to mediate the opposition set by human mind--unconsciously--as well. This example provides structuralists an evidence for the unconscious operation of human mind (Levi-Strauss, 1963a: 83).

Through this epistemology Levi-Strauss, establishes a coherent epistemological and at the same time methodological context. Because, if it is possible to argue that structuralism aims to get the relatively objective knowledge, then it would be possible to argue that Levi-Strauss' reduction of cultural phenomena to the concrete operation of human mind, means that social structures (institutions, systems) are mere manifestations of unconscious processes of oppositions and mediations (of those oppositions) and those structures can be shown through mathematical formulations (Leach, 1985: 24-26). Through this idea, Levi-Strauss misuses subjectivist methodological tendencies in social sciences and reduces cultural phenomena to a finite number of patterns, by stressing common characteristics of human mind. In this regard he has been criticized by many social scientistsfor being an idealist and characterized even as a Kantian without a transcendental subject (Leach, 1985: 39-41). He neither searched the genesis, the development nor the evolution of these structures, because he was not interested in them. In this regard he, by asserting that these structures proceeds human mind (although in the context of a material / biological determination, anyhow refers to a kind of metaphysics), posits a transcendental subject in fact. What is the source of this kind of objectivism which directs Levi-Strauss to a transcendental subject? I mentioned before that his use of the term unconscious, represents his objectivistic tendency on methodological stage. He always avoids subjectivist intentions which focus on and explain individual s conscious according to his belief in science and the intellectual heritage he shares (Continental European / French social thought tradition). This approach can be found in the works of Rousseau (who is the exemplary representative of this tradition) which namely inspired Levi-Strauss to deal with social Anthropology. Rousseau, with his thoughts and works, fostered Levi-Strauss in his use of the term unconscious (keeping in mind the effects of Freud on Levi-Strauss, too). He, who preceded the debates on epistemology in science, negates Cartesianist conscious-centered motto; 'cogito ergo sum', which fundamentally determined social science/thought tradition at that time. This expression of Rousseau, demonstrates how Cartesian type of conscious, rational subjects (and a conceptualization of society of rational order depending these sort of subjects) fades in favor of a subject conceptualization (and a society including these subjects) that can never ever be sure of the causes of his/her intentions entirely and a society that has a collective content that exceeds the limits of rational order (at least at a social-scientific stage). This conceptualization of this of subject, in fact smoothed the path for structuralist social science apprehension: "There is another, thinking inside me, and I doubt that this is me" (Morris, 2004: 426-427).

It can be added that Rousseau, in this context, in fact reveals the other in himself. This expression leads to an intelligent stage as a significant effect for social--scientific interests or in other words, the thing objectifiable in subjectiveness. This expression also comprises Freudian psychoanalysis. If two stages can be gathered, it would be then possible to say that, the term unconscious sets a mediation between firstly empirical epistemology and rational epistemology, secondly, in a social scientific methodological context, applied empirical works and theoretical works, third and lastly, between the collective and the individual. It is possible to distinguish Rousseau's works from Cartesian way of scientific inquiry (this differentiation might have a positive effect on understanding Levi-Strauss' social anthropology): "Where Descartes had concentrated on the rational and logical aspects of human cognition, Rousseau emphasized the affective, sentimental and emotional portions of the human psyche. Where Descartes was content to focus on the individual, and, indeed, on the particular Frenchman, Rousseau took into account the range of human societies, exhibiting special empathy with peoples from the remote past and on distant shores. And where Descartes' interest was restricted to the mature thought and action in the developed adult, a principal treatise of Rousseau's concerned the education of the naive child" (Coward & Ellis, 1985: 40). The humble ethnology of Levi-Strauss seems to originate from Rousseau; for "when he wonders why people choose to leave their own society and travel half way across the earth to study others, it is invariably Rousseau that he turns to, for comfort and inspiration, since for him the greatness of Rousseau is due to his respect for and identification with others as men, his humility, and his recognition that the understanding of other cultures would lead one to question the worth of ones own" (Gardner, 1973: 18). The objectivism or to say non-subjectivistic approach of Levi-Strauss, makes him and his humble anthropology free from his own cultural conditionings.

Structural Analysis of Totemism

This freedom from his own cultural conditionings provided him an opportunity to grasp the most authentic explanations for primitive social organizations, such as totemism, before a list of social scientists dealing with primitive institutions. He, through considering / explaining totemistic belief and practices structurally, critised Malinowski, Frazer, Le Bon and Levy-Bruhl's etc. explanations for being ethno-centrical and non-scientific. Levi-Strauss, explained totemistic organization, more realistically than ever before.

Levi-Strauss, through his explanation of totemistic belief and practices, established a premature kind of ecologism, regarding the authentic native life. He, in his famous work la Pensee Sauvage, posits that savages are not pupils or imbeciles, and it is an ethno--centrical stupidity to call them so. The outcome rendered here is that the difference between savage and Western operation of mind is (not on a qualitative level) in fact superficial. He, in la Pensee Sauvage, in general, asserts that savage mind, for being in a life totally surrounded by natural order, developed a harmony with the nature. Classical tradition of anthropology, which is best exemplified by Lucien Levy-Bruhl, takes formal logic as a result of the universal evolution. If a savage states "I am a parrot", then classical tradition tends to call this situation as a logical contradiction (in the name of the denial of the law of identity) namely a prelogical state, through the criterion grasped from its own cultural (Western) conditions. For them, this situation is named prelogic by violating the "A is A" postulate. Because of this violation, savages can be labeled as having an immature mind. According to Levi-Strauss, despite the differences amongst theories, it can be argued that this is the common characteristic of classical theories in anthropology (Glucksmann, 1979: 55-56). The term primitive represents this attitude very well ... This attitude leads the way to call savages lunatics or pupils and in this context it is possible to treat totemistic belief and practices as an out of time residue of former evolutionary stages. Another renown approach towards totemism is Bronislaw Malinowski s functionalist theory. For Levi-Strauss, despite the differences, this theory shares the same ethno-centrisist view with Levy-Bruhl's. Malinowski (for being in a life so primitive) equates totemist belief and practices of primitive peoples to natural needs as feeding, sheltering, etc. According to this approach, the main characteristic of primitive conceptual life is the passiveness in front of nature through asserting that the mind of primitive consists of biological needs, namely and allegorically, it depends on stomach. For him, the species that are chosen by primitives as totems are being chosen because of being functional on the biological level, i.e. they must be either food sources, or at least connotations of them (Levi-Strauss, 1986: 7). Levi-Strauss' structural anthropology criticizes these sort of approaches by this differentiation: Western operation of mind bears an abstraction--formal character, whereas savage operation of mind bears no significant difference from West but, for being surrounded by a natural habitat, it is shaped by the reality of that habitat. On this point Levi-Strauss proposes the term science of the concrete to make the matter more understandable. He arrives this term by the huge detailed botanic and zoological nomenclatureclassification that has been established by several savage peoples. This situation displays that savage mind can grasp causal abstractions from empirical reality as reasonably and rationally as modern peoples.

But the question still remains. How does Levy-Bruhl's term participation and Malinowski s functionalist theory explain why savage peoples have chosen some species for totemic representations? In addition, how to we explain the superficial differences between modern--western and savage minds? Levi-Strauss leaps over these questions by stating that savages use concrete species, etc. instead of formal concepts while thinking. To prove that there is no qualitative difference, let me say a gap, regarding savage and modern minds, Levi-Strauss makes this analogy: He gives the relationship between scientific thought (in order to represent modern--western mind) and bricolage (representative for savage mind) as an example of the difference ascribed between savage and modern operation of minds. Scientific thought is in fact a symbolic activity. In this context, to deal with something scientifically means to deal with some abstract formulations. So when a scientist works on a formal--abstract level, a bricoleur strives with concrete junk material, which limits his activity, directly with his own hands, in order to satisfy the current need, without keeping or following a plan or any kind of abstract (theoretical) pattern in mind. That is what a savage does in allegorical stage. A savage grasps intellectual apparatus from his surroundings (from living species and non-living things that are used instead of formal concepts and classifications) in order to think (Levi-Strauss, 1963b: 89). At the same time this helps to interpret Levi-Strauss' ecologist anthropology because with this approach he brings up not only an adaptation with material environment in conversation, rather savage--totemist people s full (intellectual and material) adaptation to their environment. This use of species and things as concrete concepts, namely the relationship between these species and things, makes totemistic peoples aware of their own geo--strategical situation (by making their relation to other peoples, understandable to them). This use of (especially) species is also current in ideological--religious stage. Savage peoples use these concrete components in their cosmology and cosmogonies as conceptual representations. Levi-Strauss explains the seasonal movements of native peoples of Americas in this context by stating that these peoples move to different locations in order to be sure that their cosmos is still valid (Levi-Strauss, 2000b: 42-45). In short, the only thing that makes life meaningful to them is their material environment (abstract and/or concrete). Levi-Strauss, states with an irony to the theory of Malinowski that totems are not bonnes appetit (good to eat) to the savages, they are rather bonnes a penser (good to think) to them (Levi-Strauss, 1990: 560). Briefly there are no essential differences between modern and savage mind. But the superficial difference between them resembles the difference between using an abacus to calculate something and not using one. If it is possible for a modern man, in everyday life, to transfer his mental activity to computers, then it is possible too for savages, to use surrounding concrete material while thinking. Furthermore, they do this through a full harmony--material and mental as well--with their environment, despite the alienation of modern man (Levi-Strauss, 1963b: 89).

From this standpoint it is possible to assert that Levi-Strauss interprets totemism not as a residue of former evolutionary stages, he rather takes totemistic patterns of thought synchronic to the modern patterns. Leach s one comparative example makes the matter clear for us. Leach, by displaying the indifference between modern and magical/totemistic thoughts (can be ascribed as a savage form), clarifies that these two forms are not successive or diachronic, but rather synchronic. Namely, this example of Leach s negates the one way--evolutionist s approach in anthropology. This example of Leach highlights Levi-Straussian method of implying linguistic synchronic analysis. The use of the term primitive, is no longer applicable in social sciences. Now it is the time to give Leach s example of the magic: Before Levi-Strauss, as cited above, the activity of magic in primitive peoples, was studied by numerous social scientists in an evolutionist manner. For example Frazer, asserted that primitive use of magical practices are seen as an altered or immature kind of causality and he puts the insufficiency of the primitive mind as the reason for this situation. For example, when a primitive cast a spell on somebody in order to cause him physical harm, because of being ignorant of universal law of causality, he tends to expect the results of his practice upon him to inflict harm, as the cause-and-effect process takes place in natural order. On the other hand, Leach proposes to take this situation not as a failure or ignorance, synonymic to the inferiority, but rather as an innocent misjudgment that can be seen in everyday life of a modern man. If this situation is viewed in relation to the Levi-Straussian terms of metonymy and metaphory, then it would be clear. When a savage uses his victim s hair in order to effect him / her, he misjudges when he takes the hair as a metonymy (in behalf of taking it as a metaphory) of his victim. As cited above, savage sorcerer takes hair and his victim in presentia relation. So the sorcerer expects, from a distance, with the hair of the victim to cause an effect on him/her by only depending on the information of "this is the hair of X" statement. So the sorcerer fails to take a metaphorical symbol as a metonymical sign, which would trigger the evil consequences on the victim, following the magical action. Leach stresses that this erroneous act cannot be understood as a quality of savage mind. In our everyday life, we can encounter this sort of erroneous confusions of metaphors and metonyms. Leach s first example is in the field of modern politics. For example, in an occasion of a political coup in Latin America, everything called a coup concludes in few hours. The overthrown leader retires to a comfortable exile. In this respect, role of the hair in the former example was replaced by presidential palace. An assault on presidential palace and occupation of it, is thought as metonym to the sovereignty. Everything done is in fact symbolic rather than technical. And in our houses, when we step into a dark room, we examine the wall by touching in order to reach the light knob (without having any information on electrics or electrical installation) because of the experience we had in years that there would be a knob and if it is switched on then the lights turn on. In this example the knob is metonym to the light, like the hair in sorcery (Leach, 1985: 91-92).

In this context, again it can be asserted that, the fundamental term of Levi-Straussian anthropology, based on Saussureian, and linguistic as well, paradigm (perpendicularin absentia)--sentagm (horizontal-in presentia) relationships, is unconscious operation of human mind. Like in a musical piece, the horizontal arrangement of notes forms its melody while perpendicular arrangement of them forms its harmony. Even a musical piece is played by the lesser values of its each notes, it is possible for human mind to grasp which melody (if it is known) is playing and the thing that enables one to do this is the underlying structure or paradigm--harmony of the piece played. Therefore, human mind can perceive structures unconsciously (Leach, 1988a: 29-31).

Levi-Strauss' theory of totemism also depends on this idea. The process has taken place in totemistic belief and practices are the metonymic and/or metaphoric relationships established with other species. He stresses that the ability to distinguish the special differences, which is common for all animals, is enlarged to cover the social relationships for human beings. From this standpoint, he argues that totemistic practices constitute a pattern which can also be seen in modern life. This thought puts Levi-Straussian theory aside when compared with other evolutionary--historicist theories because of being in search for the universal and timeless qualities of human mind. He provides examples of this totemistic pattern in modern English naming practices. English, as other societies, use this totemic (establishing metonymical--metaphorical relationships between species, between human race and other animal races, and between elements of several races) pattern while naming species and/or individual animals. As an example of this, he gives the practice of naming birds, dogs, cows and dogs in English society. This practices for him is far from being arbitrary and bears an unconscious systematic of metonymic and metaphoric relationships. It is amazing that some animals have similar names to humans while some have not. For example birds are more agreeable for human names than dogs because they as species have characteristics fully different from humans; they have feathers, wings, they lay eggs, etc. Because of this clear differences in shape, birds can be taken metaphorical as humans. So bird society is thought to be a metaphorical counterpart to human society. In contrast to this, humans don t identify strongly with dogs or farm animals, such that they would give them human names. To give a dog or a cow a human name is thought improper by humans. Because of being in a relationship of domination with humans, dogs, cows, etc. They are hardly metonymical to humans. So to speak they are metonymical humans (Levi-Strauss, 1963a: 211-212). This approach of Levi-Strauss which unites the fields of linguistics, fashion and naming practices can be shown (in figure 4).

The matter stressed here is the tendency of the operation of human mind to find suitable apparatus from surrounding nature, which constitutes the basis of totemism, in order to convey meanings. And for Levi-Strauss, this forms a structure which is universal and beyond history. Lastly the difference between Levi-Strauss' and classical theories of totemism can be represented by the example provided by Levi-Strauss. The selection of eagle as a totem by savages according to the classical theories, depends on the natural--biological factors that this species bears or shares with humans in its own habitat. But according to Levi-Strauss this relationship is not that simple. For him, "the question could be reframed: 'why should a society consider that each of its constituent groups stands in a special relationship to a different species of animals?' Now it is the whole set--and not just one--of the dyadic (i.e. twofold) relationships between social groups and animal species that is taken into account. This opens up a choice of perspectives: the overall picture can be redrawn as a single dyadic relationship between the two sets: of social groups and animal species. Animals can now be considered as emblems of proper names used to individuate human groups. The social set is mapped on to the animal set to this end. This is the beginning of an explanation but it is not yet sufficient. If these were all, why not use arbitrary names? Why use animals? Why so much content when pure form would do just as well? Levi-Strauss points out that, the human-animal relationship can be understood in a third, even more systemic way: neither as a set of dyadic relationships between individual items, nor as a dyadic relationships between individual items, but as a second-degree dyadic relationship between two sets of firstdegree relationships..." (Levi-Strauss, 2000b: 211-212).

The concern of Levi-Strauss on orderlinesses (beyond history) can be regarded in this context. As cited above, the most essential thing in his theory is the possibility of relatively mathematical, objective, scientific knowledge on the level of unconscious. This kind of knowledge can be possible only as a result of a fundamental structure which is non-historical, universal and unconscious--Which is attributed by Levi-Strauss to the term human mind on the occasion of the debate on the relationship between language and culture--(Sperber, 1992:31).

The Three Mistresses

Consequently he states that he had three mistresses which symbolize his scientific concerns in his entire life: Geology, Marxism and Psychoanalysis. The point common in all these three mistresses is the stress on the determinative levels underneath the flowing reality which is dominated by these infrastructures. Marxism, although its concern with history is central, at least ushers a structural analysis of human society. Psychoanalysis alike, focuses on individual s unconscious (including tongue twisters, fantasies, dreams and etc.) rather than conscious life, in order to isolate a structural explanation or structure of human psyche (such as Oedipus complex, sexuality, violence and etc.) which is valid for all times. Lastly geology in Levi-Strauss' own words, alludes these thoughts: When two different kinds of plants observed by a geologist on two sides of a gap, it would be possible for him to predict which geological substratums exist and dominate below them, through the knowledge of the plants' habits--only through the superficial aspects shown in the plants. This demonstrates the meeting of temporal and geographical differentiations of million years on a point: Time and space come together and loose importance (Levi-Strauss, 1963a: 71). If the quotation from Wagner's Parsifal (via Levi-Strauss) in the beginning is remembered, now the relation between this two instances can be better understood: This quotation reveals the context regarding time (history) and space (geography) in Levi-Strauss' thought. For him, the differences over time and space can be bound together and ignored in the context of structural analysis and through this process, the relatively objective knowledge could be grasped.

Lastly, it can be asserted for Levi-Strauss' approach that it is possible to investigate or explain the deep structure of human mind without a historical way of inquiry. If there could be a coherent synchronically analyzed actual human group, then it could be possible to get more reliable knowledge than a historical analysis. For Levi-Strauss, the reason of absence of totemic practices in huge civilized parts of Asia and Europe, lies in the fact that these peoples chose to present/ explain themselves through history. Levi-Strauss' interest on totemic peoples depends on this point: it is these groups' conscious, not yet violated by historical consciousness, which abolishes former totemistic content in favor of an evolutionist pattern. This is because history molds, unites events and narratives into an evolution in a former--successor relationship (Levi-Strauss, 2000a: 58). For him, myth represents unconscious content for these types of societies and only mythical peoples can be investigated through structural analysis, peoples who have a history which is indeed not a history.


The structural anthropology of Claude Levi-Strauss generally stresses the qualities of human mind beyond history. In this regard, as a profound follower of Durkheimian school, he draws a distance between himself and this trend. By establishing the term human mind, Levi-Strauss puts a complete psychology into his anthropological analysis (2000b: 274-276). Then, it is possible to state that he neglects history. So to speak, despite his effort for isolating structural patterns from complex empirical data from particular indian tribes, his ultimate aim is to establish an objective-scientific (but never through a biological or naturalistic determinism) explanation model, or an ideology that would lead a comprehension of empirically different social entities. While carrying out this aim, he never confuses his major distinction between content and form.

In spite of these establishments, it can be said that Levi-Strauss' structural method cannot provide an ordinary social scientist with a standardized, objective methodological apparatus. It is impossible for one to make an analysis following his method. A scientist who intends this kind of an inquiry, is likely to be intimidated by Levi-Strauss style that is full of esotericism, intellectual ambushes, metaphorical subordinate subjects and endless orations (Morris, 2004: 422). Despite these critiques, his sui generis linguistics inspired method, must be appreciated for isolating structural patterns from flowing empirical data. His works could not establish an integrated theory but, at least reduced ultimate empirical ambiguity to a relatively lesser degree. So lastly, we have to hail his intellectual efforts in his approximately a hundred years of life, much spent as a passionate follower of objective knowledge in social sciences.

Works Cited

Coward, Rosalind. Ellis, John. Dil ve Maddecilik. Translation. Esen Tarim. Istanbul: Iletisim Yayinlari, 1985.

Gardner, Howard. The Quest For Mind. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1973.

Glucksmann, Miriam. Structuralist Analysis in Contemporary Social Tought: A Comparison of the Theories of Claude Levi-Strauss and Louis Althusser. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979.

Leach, Edmund Ronald. Levi-Strauss. Translation. Ayla Ortac. Istanbul: Afa Yayincilik, 1985.

Leach, Edmund Ronald. Culture and Communication: The Logic by Which Symbols are Connected. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988a.

Leach, Edmund Ronald. The Structural Study of Myth and Totemism. London: Tavistock Publications, 1988b.

Levi-Strauss, Claude. Structural Anthropology. Translation. Claire Jacobson & Brooke G. Schoepf. New York: Basic Books Inc., 1963a.

Levi-Strauss, Claude. Totemism. Translation. Rodney Needham. Boston: Beacon Press, 1963b.

Levi-Strauss, Claude. Mit ve Anlam. Translation. fien Suer & Selahattin Erkanli. Ed. Hilmi Yavuz. Istanbul: Alan Yayincilik, 1986.

Levi-Strauss, Claude. The Naked Man. Translation. John-Doreen Weightman. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Levi-Strauss, Claude. The View From Afar. Translation. Joachim Neugroschel & Phoebe Hoss. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Levi-Strauss, Claude. Huzunlu Donenceler. Translation. Omer Bozkurt. Istanbul: Yapi Kredi Yayinlari, 2000a.

Levi-Strauss, Claude. Yaban Dusunce. Translation. Tahsin Yucel. Istanbul: Yapi Kredi Yayinlari, 2000b.

Morris, Brian. Din Uzerine Antropolojik Incelemeler. Bir Giris Metni. Translation. Tayfun Atay. Ankara: Imge Kitabevi, 2004.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. Genel Dilbilim Dersleri. Ed. Charles Bally & Albert Sechehaye. Translation. Berke Vardar. Ankara: Birey ve Toplum Yayinlari, 1985.

Sperber, Dan. "Claude Levi-Strauss". Structuralism and Since: From Levi-Strauss to Derrida. Ed. John Sturrock. Guildford: Oxford University Press, 1992: 19-51.

* You see my son, here time turns into space. Quoted from Parsifal, Richard Wagner's famous musical drama.

Halil Saim PARLADIR *

* Sosyoloji Bolumu, Edebiyat Fakultesi, Ege Universitesi, 35040, Izmir, Turkiye 0-232-3880110 / 2221; Fax: 0-232-3881102
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Author:Parladir, Halil Saim
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Date:Mar 22, 2008
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