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Claude Lévi-Strauss:  1908-2009

LX:79 | The Shamans and Sorcerers. The Psychoanalysts. The Artists.

Since the shaman does not psychoanalyze his patient, we may conclude that remembrance of things past, considered by some the key to psychoanalytic therapy, is only one expression (whose value and results are hardly negligible) of a more fundamental method, which must be defined without considering the individual or collective genesis of the myth. For the myth form takes precedence over the content of the narrative. This is, at any rate, what the analysis of a native text seems to have taught us. But also, from another perspective, we know that any myth represents a quest for the remembrance of things past. The modern version of shamanistic technique called psychoanalysis thus derives its specific characteristics from the fact that in industrial civilization there is no longer any room for mythical time, except within man himself. From this observation, psychoanalysis can draw confirmation of its validity, as well as hope of strengthening its theoretical foundations and understanding better the reasons for its effectiveness, by comparing its methods and goals with those of its precursors, the shamans and sorcerers. (204)


Source

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Structural Anthropology.  Trans. Jacobson, Claire and Brooke Grundfest Schoepf.  Basic Books 1963. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

Sublimation
Le Monde Perçu
Training of the Self By Oneself
White
The Analyst as Artist

Works and Days

It's Hard To Say

Documents

 


Notes

 


LX:78 | The Individual Myth

It was exactly this sort of contrast between elements of an individual’s biographical vocabulary and formal, organizing principles that would interest the anthropologist Clause Lévi-Strauss. Although the constituents of a biography or a myth were infinite, why should the forms they took turn out to have a limited number of structures? In his paper “The effectiveness of symbols,” published in 1949, he argued that whereas the preconscious consisted of an individual lexicon “where each of us accumulates the vocabulary of his personal history,” the unconscious “structures it according to its laws and thus transforms it into language.” The unconscious “is as alien to mental images as is the stomach to the foods which pass through it. As the organ of a specific function, the unconscious merely imposes structural laws upon inarticulate elements which originate elsewhere - impulses, emotions, representations and memories.”1

Lévi-Strauss’s article was important to Lacan in a number of ways. As well as introducing the idea of what Lévi-Strauss called an “empty unconscious,” it elaborated a subtle comparison of the work of the psychoanalyst and the shaman. The shaman appeals to myth to reintegrate what a patient may experience as arbitrary and incoherent physical pain. The appeal to the symbolic system of myth can serve to situate this in a framework of meaning, giving the patient a language in which to express his or her psychic state. But whereas the shaman’s patient receives a social myth which does not correspond to a “former personal state” (a physical disorder), the Western neurotic starts out with “an individual myth” made up of elements drawn from his or her past.

This myth would consist of elements from the patient’s personal history - their vocabulary - structured by the symbolic function of the organizing principles of the unconscious. “The form of myth.” says Lévi-Strauss, “takes precedence over the content of the narrative.”2 This would explain the fact that, following Freud, there are a limited number of complexes, although the diversity of patients’ experiences is obviously unlimited. The complex moulds the multiplicity of cases, and is equivalent to what Lévi-Strauss calls the individual myth.


[1] Claude Lévi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology, trans. Claire Jacobson and Brooke Grundfest Schoepf (New York: Basic Books, 1963), p. 203

[2]Lévi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology, p. 204.


Source

Leader, Darian.  "Lacan's Myths."  The Cambridge Companion to Lacan.  Ed. Rabaté, Jean-Michel.  Cambridge University Press, 2003.  37-38. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

Training of the Self By Oneself
Stultitia

Works and Days

It's Hard To Say

Documents

 


Notes

 


LX:65 | Get Off the Bus

The reader of Lévi-Strauss’s other books who is foolish enough to seek a punch line is likely to be disappointed. The formula that the author often provides at the end of a book, holding it up proudly for us to see, like a cat that brings its master a half-masticated mouse, is anticlimactic; often it ends up by bleeding the myth of all its meanings. But before he gets to that end, Lévi-Strauss reveals to us more complex levels of meaning. He tells the stories, and tells about the stories, and suggests many rich patterns of interpretation before boiling it all down to a set of logical symbols.

The trick is to jettison Lévi-Strauss right before the moment when he finally deconstructs himself. It is a point that is hard to gauge and calls to mind the story of the woman on the bus who, when asked by a stranger about a particular stop, advised him, “Just watch me and get off one stop before I do.” We must jump off Lévi-Strauss’s bus one stop before he does. And once we have jumped off, we usually find that we are not there yet. We have to get on another bus (theological, psychological), or, indeed, several busses. We need a lot of transfers on the mythic journey. But if we know where to look, Lévi-Strauss provides those transfers, too. In Myth and Meaning he provides a great number of such transfers in the form of clues to his understanding of human experience, and this time the windows are cleaner and you can see out, as well as in.


Source

Doniger, Wendy. Foreword.  Myth and Meaning: Cracking the Code of Culture.  By Claude Lévi-Strauss.  Schocken Books, 1995. xiii - xiv. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

A Kind of Refusal of Understanding; This Permanent Dissonance

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes

 


 

 

LX:22 | Quest for the Invariant

Probably there is something deep in my own mind, which makes it likely that I always was what is now being called a structuralist. My mother told me that, when I was about two years old and still unable to read, of course, I claimed that actually I was able to read. And when I was asked why, I said that when I looked at the signboards on shops - for instance, boulanger (baker) or boucher (butcher) - I was able to read something because what was obviously similar, from a graphic point of view, in the writing could not mean anything other than ‘bou,’ the same first syllable of boucher and boulanger. Probably there is nothing more than that in the structuralist approach; it is the quest for the invariant, or for the invariant elements among superficial differences.

Throughout my life, this search was probably a predominant interest of mine. When I was a child, for a while my main interest was geology. The problem in geology is also to try to understand what is invariant in the tremendous diversity of landscapes, that is, to be able to reduce a landscape to a finite number of geological layers and of geological operations. Later as an adolescent, I spent a great part of my leisure time drawing costumes and sets for opera. The problem there is exactly the same - to try to express in one language, that is, the language of graphic arts and painting, something which also exists in music and in the libretto; that is, to try to reach the invariant property of a very complex set of codes (the musical code, the literary code, the artistic code). The problem is to find what is common to all of them. It’s a problem, one might say, of translation, of translating what is expressed in one language - or one code, if you prefer, but language is sufficient - into expression in a different language. (8-9)


Source

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Myth and Meaning: Cracking the Code of Culture.  Schocken Books, 1995. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

The Red Ink
A Fundamental Quality of an Act
Training of the Self By Oneself

Works and Days

It's Hard To Say

Documents

 


Notes