Sunday, November 8, 2009

Claude Lévi-Strauss, 28 Nov. 1908 - 20 Oct. 2009

Claude Lévi-Strauss died last week just short of his 101st birthday. The anthropologist believed and wrote that societies share human experience equally, evidenced by myth and storytelling. Lévi-Strauss is credited with co-creating the theoretic underpinnings of structuralist thought. He pioneered that anthropology is not just the study of direct kinship by descent, but also about alliance, as when women marry into another family unit. His work emphasized it is not possible to separate the meaning of human existence from its history.

Influenced in the early 1940s by Franz Boas, who taught at Columbia and is considered by many to be the father of American anthropology, Lévi-Strauss adopted Boas' distance from cultural evolution, which considered that societies all unilaterally develop from primitive to civilized, using Western civilization as the cultural and technological benchmark.

Lévi-Strauss' open mind, humanistic approach, beautiful prose and quiet demeanor were evidenced later in his life with meditations on poetry, music and art. La Pensée Sauvage (a pun not translated well into The Savage Mind. The author thought "Pansies for Thought" would have been a more accurate title) has a line that softly implies that magic and science aren't aware how closely related the subjects are.

The French Foreign Minister eulogized Lévi-Strauss: "At a time when we are trying to give meaning to globalization, to build a fairer and more humane world, I would like Claude Lévi-Strauss' universal echo to resonate more strongly."

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