Here on Savage Minds we are gearing up for Levi-Strauss’s birthday. Strong has been posting LS quotes for the past few days, and we are hoping to get some high-octane people to talk about the event. All of this preparation, however, has really gotten me thinking about what it would mean to celebrate the Levi-Strauss centenary.
Who is Levi-Strauss to anthropologists today? In my experience students regard him with a mixture of awe and horror, amazed at his ability to channel massive amounts of intellectual energy into brain-twistingly complex analyses that seem, to them, radically removed from anything that matters. Even those of us who think of him as an important figure also think of him as a historic one. Can anthropologists who received their Ph.D.s after, say, 1980, boil with anger when Levi-Strauss sees women as tokens to be exchanged by men, or thrill at the way that his analyses of myth open new horizons for analysis? Could it be that hommage is just another way of saying that this work does not particularly matter to us any more?
I’m particularly worried by the American tendency to fetishize French thinkers — do we find Levi-Strauss fascinating just because he is old and kooky and French? Of course the French have been busy fetishizing him themselves — in Paris this summer LS’s upcoming birthday was covered in magazines and newspapers, and a new edition of his biography appeared in paper.
I don’t doubt that Levi-Strauss should be remember and celebtrated, even if celebration brings debate (I like debate, you may have noticed!). But I’m not quite sure, yet, what it would mean to celebrate the Levi-Strauss centenary. Are you?