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Forever in blue jeans

Claude Lévi-Strauss, 20th century intellectual titan, died last week at the age of 100. He was buried yesterday in his native France.

Biography Resource Center has six narrative  biographies for Lévi-Strauss, including two in the Lives & Perspectives Collection.

In 1955, Lévi-Strauss published Tristes Tropiques, the highly acclaimed memoir of his life in Brazil. Viewed by many as a literary work, Lévi-Strauss’s beautifully written book is replete with nostalgic, melancholy reminiscences about the vanishing natives cultures of Brazil. While frequently focusing on strictly anthropological issues, Tristes Tropiques is a work in which Lévi-Strauss supplements his scientific insights with both personal and philosophical reflections, with specific emphasis on the fundamental sadness associated with the essentially solitary and transient destinies of individuals and societies.

In The Savage Mind, which, as scholars maintain, should have, in keeping with the author’s choice of term, been translated as Savage Thought, Lévi-Strauss attacked the traditional dichotomy of “primitive” and “modern” thought. For Lévi-Strauss, “primitive” (or mythical) and “scientific” thought are merely two distinct systems of organizing the world, neither one “superior” or “inferior” in relation to the other. Lévi-Strauss defined mythical thought as concrete, object-oriented–in a literal sense–but bound, just like scientific (theoretical) thought, to rigorous logical laws. A mythological world view may, according to Lévi-Strauss, rely on a set of rules that would not work for scientific thought, but the inner logic of mythology is in no way less rigorous than that of science.

In an odd bit of coincidence — or not, depending on how strongly you believe in the rule of “things come in threes” — Spanish intellectual Francisco Ayala also died this week. He was 103. We have one narrative biography for Ayala, whose ouevre includes Tragicocomedia de un hombre sin espíritu and Los usurpadores.

We advise any other European intellectuals out there who have passed the century mark and are still living to please be careful when crossing the street or eating chicken for the next few days.

“Claude Lévi-Strauss.” Notable Scientists: From 1900 to the Present. Online. Detroit: Gale Group, 2008.

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Posted on: November 4, 2009, 9:59 am Category: Factoids Tagged with: , ,

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