Structural anthropology yesterday and today : 100 years of Claude Lévi-Strauss I
Source document: Religio. 2009, vol. 17, iss. 1, pp. -36
ISSN1210-3640 (print)2336-4475 (online)
License: Not specified license
The aim of this two-part article is to summarize and critically evaluate the thought of Claude Lévi-Strauss and its importance for the study of religion. Part one introduces Lévi-Strauss' notion of savage thought, focusing mainly on myth as its purest expression. After giving a basic presentation of mythical structures and their transformations with the help of examples from Greek mythology, the rest of the paper discusses the meaning and nature of these structures. While Lévi-Strauss' use of linguistic terminology sometimes creates the impression that myths are to be read as "signifiers" pointing to some sort of "signifieds", in actuality his theory only makes sense if we take it for granted that mythical structures signify nothing in themselves, being just neutral relational matrices whose semiotic emptiness allows them to resonate with all levels of human experience, imposing order upon them and making transitions between them possible. From this point of view, no interpretation of myth (whether etic or emic) is ever able to uncover its "true core"; rather, what all interpretations do is to carry on the narration of the myth, transferring its structures to further semantic levels. Thanks to this myth appears as an inexhaustible fount of meaning, for its empty structures can be related to ever new aspects of human life, giving us a chance to view it through their prism.