Art History Unstuffed. Claude Lévi-Strauss and Structuralism

Art History Unstuffed

Claude Lévi-Strauss and Structuralism

was posted on June 27, 2014

Even though he was an anthropologist, Claude Lévi-Strauss was one of the most important influences on philosophy in the 1950s and 1960s. Impacted by the linguistic scholar Roman Jakobson, while he was in exile in New York during the Second World War, Lévi-Strauss realized that the scholar’s ideas on the structure of language was a way to organize the vast trove of material he had gathered on myth. In the process of adapting linguistics to anthropology, Lévi-Strauss was able to put forward a theory of the workings of human culture.

 Instead of the phonemes of language, Lévi-Strauss used “mythemes” or the organizing principles for storytelling. These mythemes could be organized in paired opposites, bringing order to the multiple local myths and suggesting a universality of human thought. Using a horizontal to track temporal changes in myths and a vertical track the recurring themes, Lévi-Strauss mapped out the structure of mythologies around the world in terms of bundles of relations.

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

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