His scheme was implemented in a table of oppositions or polarities, or mutual relationships. The basic opposition, or relationship, was between nature and culture. On the one hand, there were in nature certain realities such as species of animals or plants and specific animals or plants. On the other hand, there were in culture various groups and individuals who identified themselves with particular species or with specific animals or plants. The first holds good, for example, for the Australians, for whom natural things are associated with cultural groups moieties, sections, subsections, phratries, clans, or the association of persons from the same sex.
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This review is also an unedited mess. Most of this book is a critique of other philosophers and anthropologists who study totemism. Most of the basis of what Levi Stauss says comes from an iteration of what someone else said. It is important to realize that Levi Strauss wrote this book with an enormous amount data, which he and others collected. Some of the concepts he describes are better understood with charts than with prose. Levi Strauss shies away, himself, from defining totemism.
Totemism to him, it seems, is not just one thing. He even goes so far as to compare how Yin and Yang is loosely similar to connecting humans to how we conceptualize even the most abstract and metaphysical organizational structures in nature.
He even raises how Scandinavians created Loki as a mischievous god and compares him to how a particular animal is seen in another culture. So first and foremost, I think his point is that totemism is a broad range of behavior that allegorically connects humans to animals, and structures human society around these allegories, to different degrees, like with patrilineal and matrilineal societies, prohibitions on diet, and other societal structures.
Human interaction and observation, not just on a physical level, with what Levi Strauss calls the spiritual aspect of nature is most important to totemism. To us, the way humans who are very totemic view animals and their spirits is a very complicated and highly structured, multi-step process. That is part of what makes it so hard to define.
While he tacitly asserts that everyone is totemic in some way, he mostly exemplifies totemism with cultures in which totemism pervasively occupies most parts of societal structure. There are layers of totemism and each society may or may not have a certain layer, and each layer in each society is different on some level. Levi Strauss barely touches on why the human mind thinks this way, in the circumstances people who use totemism do.
He does not call totemism an old way of thinking. Levi Strauss still finds a shred of totemism in modern and civilized society. People use semiotics to structure themselves. They find auspices based on symbols they associate themselves with. They change their behavior based on superstition associated with symbols. They said "I am a Rainbow" like a savage person would have said "I am a potato.
Actually she and her friend are both like cats. They are similar. If you want to understand totemism better and receive the full impact of this book, you can research things like an Ogala Sioux Buffalo Dance, or something like that.
This book is begging for supplementary exposure to totemism, and not just through other thinkers. It would really help to have some familiarity with things like a few mythical stories from totemic cultures, which Levi Strauss also recants in the book.
He also presupposes that the reader has some familiarity with other anthropologists. He does not help the reader much in explaining what other anthropologists thought. This is not a criticism because the book can be read on its own. My one huge criticism is that he, or the translator, makes a serious mistake in introducing a term for a particular type of totemism, on a couple of occasions. He uses the term "individual totemism" a few times, and each time, it means something different.
This makes a lot of what Levi Strauss says evanescent. Totemism, and I mean the field and the book, is a terminological nightmare. Levi Strauss and other anthropologists often deny the existences of observations of earlier totemic experts. Totemism was good but not nearly as good as The Savage Mind, which I think encompasses a lot of what he says in this book, and more. Again, this book talks about thinkers ranging from J.
Rousseau, who had some commentary on totemism, without calling it that, to Radcliffe-Brown. You could even read some of what Immanuel Kant said in "Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals" and form your own ideas on what totemism is. Levi Strauss draws from many sources to describe this way of thinking, which, in the end, seems to be too elusive to specifically define.
What Levi Strauss has done, is identify it as a societal structure. I am convinced of this after reading The Savage Mind and Totemism. Patiently laying the foundation for what was then the new theory of structuralism, Levi-Strauss summarizes, criticizes, and deflates, in a lucid and credible manner, the theories of Boas, Van Gennep, Evans-Pritchard, Malinowski, and Like the effects of a powerful yet beneficent dose of LSD, this book, "Totemism," by eminent anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, slowly builds to a climax that will reveal to you the dawn of a new and profoundly wise way of looking at the phenomena of Totemism.
Patiently laying the foundation for what was then the new theory of structuralism, Levi-Strauss summarizes, criticizes, and deflates, in a lucid and credible manner, the theories of Boas, Van Gennep, Evans-Pritchard, Malinowski, and others on the subjects of totemism, exogamy, and taboo. Through this patient yet still stimulating elucidation the reader is prepared for the final two chapters where the final philosophy of structuralism is revealed by exposing its precursors, Bergson and Rousseau.
Here the ideas introduced by Levi-Strauss, that the nature of Totemism is produced by the very structure of the human mind, and is to be found in both primitive and modern societies, come to fruition, setting off in the reader a cascade of bliss that is comparable to the effects of the aforementioned illegal drug.
Containing a kernel of truth? For sure. Either way, one must read this book in order to understand trends and ideas that have influenced the course of the history of ideas. You also learn quite a bit about primitive man.
This is a good book!