Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Remembering Claude Lévi-Strauss

Marrakech, Morocco

The news of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s passing brought back memories of his visit to the University of California at Berkeley in autumn 1984, when I was finishing the coursework for my doctorate in the Anthropology Department.  A sign-up sheet for 15-minute meetings with him was circulated among graduate students, and I was quick to put my name down for a slot. I remember being ushered into his office in the Kroeber Building and sitting down to a brief discussion about the importance of the classification of nature as a subject of anthropological enquiry.  Lévi-Strauss had included a few notes on Amazonian ethnobotany in Tristes Tropiques, his philosophical autobiography published in 1955.  In The Savage Mind, which appeared in 1962, he explored – among many other topics – the classification of plants and animals by diverse indigenous peoples.  As this was the subject of my pending fieldwork in Mexico, I was curious to hear what Lévi-Strauss thought about continuing the debate on ethnobiological classification. In sum, he appeared to think it was a relatively passé subject that he had left in his past.  Of course, it was 22 years after his book on the subject …

1 comment:

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