Claude Levi-Strauss – dead at 100!

One of the greatest minds of the twentieth century, Claude Levi-Strauss, passed from this life on 30 October, 2009, having lived for 100 years.

Levi-Strauss’s long and productive life seems a fitting reward for his outstanding contribution to new ways of understanding across cultural boundaries.

His work as an anthropological-thinker covered a wide range of areas, including how kinship transcends biology (“The Elementary Structures of Kinship”); demolishing the illusion ‘totemism’ (so close to the hearts of modern Australian anthropologists); demonstrations of how the human mind worked (the poorly translated title “The Savage Mind”) by the use of signs; how the ‘non-sense’ of myth had its own logic (his work on South and North American mythology) and much more.

A vitally important part of his work made it impossible for the old stereotypes of non-Western peoples to be taken seriously. (See also his UNESCO lectures on “race” and culture.)

While Levi-Strauss’s commitment to a modern idea of science makes him a man of his time, so much of his own work took him out of those times, and allowed many others to follow paths he marked out during trailblazing explorations which reached into the rarest parts of our noosphere.

Those post-modernists and post-structuralists who prefer to dismiss his work without taking the effort to read it miss out on one of the real intellectual treats of the twentieth century – by which we may come into contact with the thinking of other peoples.

Thank you Professor Levi-Strauss. It will take us some time to digest all the ‘goods for thinking’ you provided us with.

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