Claude Lévi-Strauss has died , at the age of 100. He was, in his way, a great mind, if somewhat typical of his era—a fact made manifest by the typical response to his death, which expresses not so much surprise that he has died as surprise that he was still alive, to have died.

Without getting into the specifics of structuralism and anti-structuralism, we still have to say that such books as The Savage Mind , The Raw and the Cooked ,” and The Origin of Table Manners were compellingly interesting.

And yet . . . and yet, who killed cultural anthropology? There was a moment, of which Lévi-Strauss marks the peak, when it looked as though cultural anthropology were destined to be the premier field for understanding human beings: combining, somehow, philosophical insight, poetic analogy, and scientific method. Gone, all gone. Who now reads this stuff? Who now believes it?

There’s probably a history to be written about how postmodernism came out of anthropology, and then reached back to destroy anthropology, but I suppose Lévi-Strauss’ death is not the occasion for it.

Articles by Joseph Bottum

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