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