Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Baseball and Claude Levi-Strauss

For the most part, these two things wouldn't be mentioned in the same breath, but today, it is inevitable. Because it's the World Series (game 6, Yankees vs. Phillies, or as the kid of one of my coworkers refers to the team, the Philistines!) tonight, and famed anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss died only a few weeks shy of his 101st birthday.

Social science majors, and anthropology majors in particular, will tell you that few classes pass by without a mention of Levi-Strauss' works. Cultural anthro wasn't my focus, but I read his work nonetheless (because honestly, you can't take an anthro class without reading Levi-Strauss), and it's only in retrospect that you can truly understand how broad the man's scope was in looking at human society and culture. (I could swear I remember some comment he made about baseball, but could I find it? Of course not.)

From the piece from The New York Times:
"His legacy is imposing. Mythologiques, his four-volume work about the structure of native mythology in the Americas, attempts nothing less than an interpretation of the world of culture and custom, shaped by analysis of several hundred myths of little-known tribes and traditions. The volumes — The Raw and the Cooked, From Honey to Ashes, The Origin of Table Manners and The Naked Man, published from 1964 to 1971 — challenge the reader with their complex interweaving of theme and detail.

"In his analysis of myth and culture, Levi-Strauss might contrast imagery of monkeys and jaguars; consider the differences in meaning of roasted and boiled food (cannibals, he suggested, tended to boil their friends and roast their enemies); and establish connections between weird mythological tales and ornate laws of marriage and kinship."

I always found the differentiation between why one cannibal boils and why one roasts to be illuminating and inspiring. It makes you see the world differently, doesn't it?

That's why it's good to be an anthro major, kids, especially if you want to be a writer: You get to explore the world in a whole new way.

Eilis Flynn
ECHOES OF PASSION, on sale now