Claude dit:

What disappears with the death of a personality is a synthesis of ideas and modes of behaviour as exclusive and irreplaceable as the one a floral species develops out of simple chemical substances common to all species. When the loss of someone dear to us…moves us, we suffer much the same sense of irreparable privation that we should experience were Rosa centifola to become extinct and its scent to disappear for ever. From this point of view it seems not untrue to say that some modes of classing, arbitrarily isolated under the title of totemism, are universally employed: among ourselves this ‘totemism’ has merely been humanized. Everything takes place as if in our civilization every individual’s own personality were his totem: it is the signifier of his signified being.

Savage Mind, p. 214


Christopher M. Kelty is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has a joint appointment in the Institute for Society and Genetics, the department of Information Studies and the Department of Anthropology. His research focuses on the cultural significance of information technology, especially in science and engineering. He is the author most recently of Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke University Press, 2008), as well as numerous articles on open source and free software, including its impact on education, nanotechnology, the life sciences, and issues of peer review and research process in the sciences and in the humanities.

3 thoughts on “Claude dit:

  1. I’ve been whizzing by these L-S moments, but while waiting for the rain to ease so I can step out for a sandwich, I’ll bite.

    I wonder what drew you to this one?

    My first thoughts were that the statement centralised is dubious. But it later struck me how the reading ‘us’ is both expected to understand to what Rosa centifolia refers, and, more significantly, to have always and already a cultivated sensory appreciation of it. Kneejerk response was a chin stroke and an “aha! The reader is classed!”; more contemplative was to draw a comparison between this and stuff I’ve been reading lately on environmentalism and indigeneity. It has criticised environmentalists for assuming that because they value x species, other populations automatically do too. But I’m conscious of attaching that to one statement, and I’m struggling to move from that to really grasping the rest of the passage.

  2. actually, I was just thinking of how Rex smells, and how sad it would be to not have that in my life.

    (reading the rest of the passage in SM might help… it’s a classic example of L-S demonstrating how the science of the savage mind is applicable to contemporary society if we only change the terms, in this case totems = personalities)

  3. I very much like the idea of (our) personality as a unique synthesis of ideas and modes of behavior – the materials are common but not their arrangement. And the last bit on individuality as totem is as nice a gloss of Durkheim from _Division of Labor_ to _Elementary Forms_ as I’ve seen.

    For those of us who can’t smell Rex firsthand, I wonder if some kind of scratch-and-sniff could be produced for mass distribution?

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