Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Man Of The Century

Imagine living to see your 100th birthday. Then imagine that during that lifetime you produced some of the most important anthropological work of the 20th Century. What a life that would have been right? Claude Levi-Strauss, French anthropologist and the “father of structuralism,” lived that life. Levi-Strauss’ approach to anthropology was so far removed from other thinkers of his time, because he looked at different cultures through a unique lens – instead of trying to pinpoint all of their differences, he “argued that history and experience were far more important in shaping human consciousness than universal laws.” By analyzing myth and culture, Levi-Strauss challenged many theories which reduced tribal behavior and society as primitive, and solely based on tradition. The NYTimes ran a great article about his life and work today, and what struck me the most about the article was Levi-Strauss’ interpretations of modern living: “With the fading of myth’s power in the modern West, [Strauss] also suggested that music had taken on myth’s function. Music, he argued, had the ability to suggest, with primal narrative power, the conflicting forces and ideas that lie at the foundation of society.” For a man who devoted his life to exploring humanity, and who at one point taught in a local high school in Paris where fellow teachers included Jean-Paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir, he was incredibly in touch with the realities of the world.

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