Monday, April 2, 2012

Claude Levi-Strauss – The Structural Study of Myth – summary, review and analysis – part 2: on mythemes

Claude Levi-Strauss – The Structural Study of Myth – summary, review and analysis - part 1 - part 2 - part 3 - part 4

In his "The Structural Study of Myth" anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss argues that myth is like language. One might suppose that myth is a subdivision of language (a specific form of using language) but according to Levi-Strauss myth has its own characteristics which distinguish it from its language and which make myth a language in itself. This special attribute of myth is revealed according to Levi-Strauss in the attempt to translate a mythical narrative form one language to another. Unlike other form of language, and especially poetry, which lose a lot in translation, myth retains its capacities even when poorly translated. According to Levi-Strauss, this is due to the nature of the structural components which make up a myth which are irreducible and recurrent across myths.
These structural components of myths, which Levi-Strauss terms "mythemes" are not important in themselves and have no intrinsic value but rather, much like the nature of the linguistic sign according to de-Saussure, depend on their structural alignment in order to gain meaning. Every mytheme receives its meaning form its position in the myth and its relations with other mythemes.

In "The Structural Study of Myth" Levi-Strauss is curious how different mythemes group together and reproduced as an underlying structure of myth. The method Levi-Strauss suggests for the study of myth is supposed to address exactly this concern.

According to Levi-Strauss, a myth should by analyzed into its mythemes which are subsequently classified and visually sorted in columns. The horizontal axis of the mythemes chart represents diachronical development in the myth. The vertical column represents variations on the same subject. Thus a map of relations between mythemes is received which enables the anthropologist to see both temporal and thematic relations. Only is reading the myth with both these aspects taken together into account can the meaning of the myth be deciphered.

Suggested reading:



Claude Levi-Strauss – The Structural Study of Myth – summary, review and analysis - part 1 - part 2 - part 3 - part 4    

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