Lévi-Strauss, Anthropology, and Aesthetics (Ideas in Context)

Lévi-Strauss, Anthropology, and Aesthetics (Ideas in Context)

Boris Wiseman

Language: English

Pages: 264

ISBN: 2:00228676

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

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In a wide-ranging 2007 study of Claude Lévi-Strauss's aesthetic thought, Boris Wiseman demonstrates not only its centrality within his oeuvre but also the importance of Levi-Strauss for contemporary aesthetic enquiry. Reconstructing the internal logic of Lévi-Strauss's thinking on aesthetics, and showing how anthropological and aesthetic ideas intertwine at the most elemental levels in the elaboration of his system of thought, Wiseman demonstrates that Lévi-Strauss's aesthetic theory forms an integral part of his approach to Amerindian masks, body decoration and mythology. He reveals the significance of Lévi-Strauss's anthropological analysis of an 'untamed' mode of thinking (pensée sauvage) at work in totemism, classification and myth-making for his conception of art and aesthetic experience. In this way, structural anthropology is shown to lead to ethnoaesthetics. Lévi-Strauss, Anthropology and Aesthetics adopts a broad-ranging approach that combines the different perspectives of anthropology, philosophy, aesthetic theory and literary criticism into an unusual and imaginative whole.


"Wiseman's astonishingly thorough, sympathetic, and comprehensive study is a most persuasive tribute to the work of anthropology's towering centenarian." - Museum Anthropology Review

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sociological code that constitutes the next level of reading of these myths, the opposition between near and far, light and dark, disjunction and conjunction becomes – is transformed into – that between an excessively close marriage (i.e. incestuous) and an excessively distant one (i.e. with a foreigner or enemy), a situation myths evoke in the motif of the marriage of a male hero and an animal, where marriage occurs beyond even the limits of the human species. These are the two excesses

86 Le´vi-Strauss, Anthropology and Aesthetics world. This mediation functions at a number of different levels: aesthetic, as we shall see, but also ideological (sign systems are systems of values; classifications imply hierarchies) and ontological. As Le´vi-Strauss comments: ‘the diversity of species furnishes man with the most intuitive picture at his disposal and constitutes the most direct manifestation he can perceive of the ultimate discontinuity of reality. It is the sensible expression

expression: Just as a dream inhabits its own proper atmosphere, so a conception which has become a composition needs to move within a coloured setting which is peculiar to itself. Obviously a particular tone is allotted to whichever part of a picture is to become the key and to govern the others. Everyone knows that yellow, orange and red inspire and express the ideas of joy, richness, glory and love: but there are thousands of different yellow or red atmospheres, and all the colours will be

minimalism . . . the work of destruction has been ruthlessly complete’ (Wollheim 1968: 398). Caduveo art may also be seen, from the decentred vantage point of Western art, in terms of a privileging of a work of destruction inherent in the ‘creative’ process (in many ways, modernist art has turned this work of destruction into its own subject matter). The originality of Caduveo body painting, in this respect, is that it is the human body itself, not the canvas or the sculpture, that is the support

element in the field to another by the application of a transformational rule, such as the inversion of the respective positions assigned to nature and culture in the constitution of music and painting’s primary levels of articulation. The field is open to the introduction of new elements, which entails its reordering. One can see in this scheme a further mark of Le´vi-Strauss’s Kantianism, here in the form of an attempt to grasp a priori conditions of different kinds of aesthetic experiences.

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