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K ing Nestor
The Wine Red Sea: Journeys of Odysseus
© Copyright 2014 -2024 by Peter J Ponzio

Background Information

Levi-Strauss on Mythology and Culture Levi-Strauss, Claude. Myth and Meaning: Cracking the Code of Culture. New York: Schocken Books, 1979. Print. Since the age of realism, men have increasingly turned to science and ignored the world of the senses. “. . . it was necessary for science to build itself up against the old generations of mythical and mystical thought, and it was thought that science could only exist by turning its back upon the world of the senses, the world we see, smell, taste, and perceive; the sensory was a delusive world, whereas the real world was world of mathematical properties which could only be grasped by the intellect and which was entirely at odds with the false testimony of the senses.” (Levi-Strauss 6) Levi-Strauss is often called a structuralist, a term which he attempts to define. Structuralism is “the quest for the invariant, or for the invariant elements among superficial differences,” (Levi-Strauss 8). According to Levi-Strauss, music, painting, and myth are related through: “. . . 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,” (Levi-Strauss 9). Mythic content appears to be arbitrary, however: “Mythical stories are, or seem, arbitrary, meaningless, absurd, yet nevertheless they seem to reappear all over the world” (Levi-Strauss 11, 12). Levi-Strauss explains that there are various rules to the myths: “ . . .and if we look at all the intellectual undertakings of mankind, as far as they have been recorded all over the world, the common denominator is always to introduce some kind of order,” (Levi-Strauss 12). Primitive versus modern thinking: “The way of thinking among people we call, usually and wrongly, ‘primitive’—let’s describe them rather as ‘without writing,’ because I think this is really the discriminatory factor between them and us. . . The first way was to consider such thinking as of a somewhat coarser quality,” (Levi-Strauss 14). Writing about the opposing viewpoint about the thought of “primitive people”: “The other fashion is not so much that theirs is an inferior kind of thought, but a fundamentally different kind of thought . . . thought that is the first entirely determined by emotion and mystic representations” (Levi-Strauss 15). Levi-Strauss’ ideas about primitive thinking: What I tried to show in Totemism and in The Savage Mind, for instance, is that these people whom we usually consider subservient to the need of not starving, of continuing able just to subsist in very harsh conditions, are perfectly capable of disinterested thinking; that is, they are moved by a need or a desire to understand the world around them, its nature and their society. On the other hand, to achieve that end, they proceed by intellectual means, exactly as a philosopher, or even to extent a scientist, can and would do. . . . It remains different [from scientific thinking] because its aim is to reach by the shortest possible means a general understanding of the universe—and not only a general but a total understanding. That is, it is a way of thinking which must imply that if you don’t understand everything, you don’t explain anything” (Levi-Strauss 16, 17).