The popularity of Lévi-Strauss, in the words of the editors of this collection of current essays and reviews, resides “in his seeming rejection of history and humanism as privileged and unique, in his view of the human mind as programmed, in his emphasis on form over content, and in his insistence that the savage mind is not inferior to the civilized.”
This collection discusses the controversial anthropologist/ethnologist's place in contemporary thought and philosophy.
Lévi-Strauss is perhaps best known for his doctrine of “structuralism,” which he has defined as “the search for unsuspected harmonies... [and] the discovery of a system of relations latent in a series of objects.” Structuralism is used by Lévi-Strauss as the key to the study of human culture in its origins and in all its variety. He applies it to economics, social customs, language in its origins and in all its variety. He applies it to economics, social customs, language, and mythology. An exact observer and a tireless collector of facts, in his overall view he presents cultural phenomena as a language to be decoded and interpreted on the basis of laws that are inherent to the structure of the mind.
Some of the contributors to this volume include George Steiner, who discusses the philosophical and historical implications of Lévi-Strauss's work; and Susan Sontag, who focuses on the anthropologist's antihistorical approach and its relatedness to what she terms the “intellectual homelessness” portrayed in modern literature. Peter Caws contributes an essay on the outgrowths of Lévi-Strauss's writings and the application of structuralism to other fields; Robert L. Zimmerman and Lionel Abel add essays that discuss the relevance to the Lévi-Strauss canon to the humanities. Edmund Leach examines recent developments in the analysis of myth. Colin Turnball interprets the nature of Lévi-Strauss's reality. H. Stuart Hughes analyzes the relations between society and structure. David Maybury-Lewis defines Lévi-Strauss's science by association.
The purpose of this compilation is not so much to criticize or praise a prominent world figure in contemporary thought as it is to present the many sides of an original mind and to lead readers to study his writings. The articles themselves, which often include lengthy quotations from the works of Lévi-Strauss, support the editor's basic intentions.