Monday, January 11, 2021

Summary: Totemism by Claude Levi Strauss


Before Claude Levi Strauss, the totemic phenomena was used by Western thinkers to show the primitiveness of native people. In "Totemisn" (literally: "totemism Today") Levi Strauss is trying to uproot this perception. In the past accounts of these peoples were called "the study of uncivilized peoples", he changes the name to "the study of peoples without language" and tries to show us that the totemic thinking, that we decide which animal or object is our totem, it is not because we are irrational. They choose animals because of the binary contrasts - they need to distinguish between them and the natural world, so they put them in front of the beast. The totemic thought is also a logical thought, like Western thought.

Westerners exaggerate the characteristics of the other - but in fact we are the same. But because Westerners want to glorify themselves, they exaggerate the characteristics of the non-Western. But Claude Levi Strauss reminds us that there are all kinds of people who, in order to establish their normalcy, produce the crazy, and produce the chasm between the normal and the insane. The same thing happens with Westerners in relation to non-Westerners.

Levi-Strauss presents research innovation in anthropological methodology - no longer the study of primitive tribes but a systemic inquiry, which examines the structure of myths in terms of the internal relations between their components. This system is common to the whole of human culture, without historical or cultural distinction. The fixed purpose of myths, and of the totemic myth in particular, is to moderate the tension that exists between the opposites in reality. The myth, and the stories derived from it, are a means of dealing with the existential contradictions in human life. Levi-Strauss examines the distinction between nature and culture through the theory of family and community exchanges. The phenomenon of totism, which connects an animal, concept or plant to a communal group through social feelings of worship and identification, is not psychologically or locally explained. Strauss dismisses these explanations as a religious, primitive phenomenon, in favor of the thesis that the role of culture is to replace chance with order in order to preserve the continuum of human society.

Strauss cites quite a few anthropological studies that have grouped different phenomena and tried to answer the question of totemism. He notes that the study of Linton describes making a sign of the rainbow sign is a good sign and symbol of the US military and the ruling belief that art like a rainbow, organizing households depend more than they depend on totemism name, because they do not always accompany it. The problem of totemism for Levi Strauss states that totem laws are the intervention of culture in nature in order to organize the social structure. The motivation of this intervention is economic mutual, which enables the existence of a community and prevents the cessation of social power in the possession of the nuclear family. It is the cult of the totem, whose images vary from society to society, but not so in essence, that allows for communal identification . It does not originate in religious anxiety, it is the one that creates the anxiety, which is the basis for community discipline. Thus for Claude Levi Strauss the totem has not passed and cannot pass from the world . Its structure is the human association. The concept of myth is a category of thought that man uses to explain natural phenomena, which over time become subjective consciousness. Equally totemism is an incompatible artificial unit.

The totemic illusion - The totemic illusion stems from a distortion in the semantic field to which phenomena of the same kind belong. The apparent value of phenomena originates from a poor derivation of reality, which according to Claude Levi Strauss is not inherent.


See also: Claude Levi-Strauss – The Structural Study of Myth


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