Tuesday, November 3, 2009

RIP, Claude Levi-Strauss

The name "Claude Levi-Strauss" haunted my college years. I majored in anthropology and computer science, and for the former half of my time, it seemed that no matter where I went, the Frenchman's name followed me. You simply cannot talk about anthropology in the later half of the twentieth century without talking about Claude Levi-Strauss. He died on October 31; they buried him earlier today. He would have turned 101 at the end of the month.

I don't always agree with everything he wrote, of course, but Levi-Strauss had an immense impact on our appreciation of native traditions. People like me, who look to those traditions for examples of a human life well-lived, owe a great debt to Levi-Strauss. Like so many, I devoured science fiction in my youth; really, I loved the stories of wise aliens, whether benevolent or horrifying, who nonetheless had mastered that seemingly arcane secret of how to make a living in this world without destroying themselves. Without Levi-Strauss's influence, even before I ever learned his name, I might never have realized that such examples literally surround us, right here on earth.

I finished my rough draft the same day he died, and I cannot deny the influence his life and work had on this project.

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