Claude Lévi-Strauss has died last week, at 100. He was a renowned French anthropologist and ethnologist, and for many he revolutionized anthropology and sociology; his study of primitive tribes deeply modified the accepted view of primitive societies being inferior to the so-called civilized societies. Lévi-Strauss was a great thinker and an explorer, even if the work done by the often called “father of modern anthropology” is far from having unanimous support among his fellow colleagues. But everyone agrees on the fact that Claude Lévi-Strauss’ studies had a huge impact on defining common patterns of behavior and thought in all human societies. Others’ cultures are not so different from ‘ours‘.
And it is what has caught my attention when I started to get interest in Claude Lévi-Strauss writings. From an early age, I had the chance to have friends coming from many different countries, and French was not necessarily their mother tongue. I was always amazed to discover their traditions and I considered a richness to be ‘different’ while living in the same country. I thought diversity was what brought us together. On the other hand, I also heard adults saying these people were ‘different’ but the term was used in a complete different way, the pejorative one. This is when I started to think about the definition of ‘being different’ as I was baffled by the studied indifference expressed by people supposed to have experienced the diversity of our world.
If you don’t know the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss, maybe you should take the time to read his book: ‘Tristes Tropiques’ (maybe you noticed the pun intended with the title of this post) which has been on my shelf for years, it is a masterpiece and easy to read if you are afraid of philosophy. And also ‘The Raw and The Cooked’. One can’t sum up his whole work with only two books, so I invite you to learn more about him by yourself. He was a nostalgic and sometimes bitter about our crazy societies. I remember he once said in an interview in 2004 (Esprits Libres, French television) something which had a profound impact on me: ‘What I see is the current devastation, the frightening disappearances of living species, be they plants or animals. Because of its current density, the human species is living in a type of internally poisonous regime’ followed by (often truncated): ‘I’m thinking about now and the world I’m ending my days, this world that I do not love’.
The death of Claude Lévi-Strauss is a loss to the whole of humanity. The world has lost one of its greatest thinker but his studies will always be up to date. His main message was clear and comprehensible by everyone. I am not into structuralism and my point of view may differ from what he stated, but I am a great admirer of the tremendous work he did and what he brought to our societies. Many people die everyday. Some people we knew for years, some people who held an important place in our live. Claude Lévi-Strauss was definitely someone who held an important place in my life, and I hope closed-minded people will learn from him, eventually.