Tag Archives: the Environment

Levisprout, the Anthropomon

After the rekindled debate over anthropology’s moral core, the erudite discussion about the politics of recognition, and the fascinating report on the genealogy of racial categories, here is a bit of fun.

Reported by Boing-boing, Tyler Bletsch has posted a new breed of pokemon-like characters called “Philosophomons.”

Among the pokemonized philosophers are Decartes, Nietzsche, Kant, Rousseau, and Thoreau.

These philosophomons may remind SM readers of the caricatures of animals as humans printed in our namesake book, Claude Levi-Strauss’s Savage Mind. In it he explores “the totemic logic of classification” and looks at how totems line up with social categories in a given community.

I wonder if the creator of these philosomons had in mind of trying to match philosophical temperament of the thinkers to the structural position of the creatures in the pokemon pantheon. Decartes is a bit slow in moving but very powerful like a Squirtle, and Aquinus, as Aquinix, I guess is huge, rocky, and earthen like an Onix.

Anyway these humanized animals (or the other way around?) bring Levi-Strauss to a discussion about individual names, in which he stretches the Saussurean theory of signs to its very limit: that proper names, even of individuals like Decartes or Nietzsche, has inherited the the way “primitive” classificatory systems work. His argument I think prefigures that of Barthes and Foucault who both in different ways ring the death knell of “the author.”

Here is what Levi-Strauss says:

Insofar as [individual names] derive from a paradigmatic set, proper names thus form the fringe of a general system of classification: they are both its extention and its limit. When they come on to the state the curtain rises for the last act of the logical performance. But the length of the play and the number of acts are a matter of the civilization, not of the language. The more or less ‘proper’ nature of names is not intrinsically determinable nor can it be discovered just by comparing them with the other words in the language. It depends on the point at which a society declares its work of classifying to be complete. To say that a name is perceived as a proper name is to say that it is assigned to a level beyond which no classification is requisite, not absolutely but within a determinate cultural system. Proper names always remain on the margins of classification. (215)

I had always been puzzled by this passage, because he seems to want to go in opposite directions. Persons (especially famous ones) are like totems in that both enjoy a special “beyond compare” status yet they have to be somehow classified so that the individual becomes “proper,” that is, to gain some sort of a proper-ness and become a sacred symbol. Yet this kind of having to want both ways has, at least for me, some frightening consequences: the only kind of society that “declares its work of classifying to be complete” would be a totalitarian one with a cultural-nationalist bent.

Perhaps this gloomy conclusion about the fallen state of our civilization is what Levi-Strauss was pointint to.

So in the spirit of bricolage and savage thinking, and in the hopes of bringing some light-heartedness to the structural weight of classificatory systems, here is my first anthropomon, called Levisprout.

Levisprout is like a Bellsprout, except instead of the vine whip he lashes his opponents with repeating narrative structures and binding incest taboos.

Levisprout, I choose you!


Now anyone have suggestions for other anthropomons?