Friday, June 29, 2012

Why Lévi-Strauss is Important

From Patrice Maniglier, Claude Lévi-Strauss, 1908-2009: A Lévi-Straussian Century, published in radical philosophy:
Whether we think of Lacan, Barthes, Althusser, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, Lyotard, or even Badiou, and no matter what philosophical resources directly inspired them, they all inherited problems (and often concepts) set up by Lévi-Strauss. More importantly, they also inherited the terrain upon which their daring speculative constructions could be deemed to touch directly on practices, in particular scientific ones. However, while the reputation of all these authors is now well established in philosophical circles, Lévi- Strauss remains comparatively little known and little read. This neglect, regrettably, contributes directly to the increasingly marked tendency to ‘normalize’ these practices and speculations and to confine them anew in somewhat solipsistic dialogue within a philosophical tradition that is once again locked within itself, taking away from themnot only their specificity but also a great deal of their intelligibility and interest. It is symptomatic that the English-speaking academic world (which prides itself so much, relative to its French counterpart, in ‘taking seriously’ these subversive thinkers, both as a source of inspirationand as objects of interpretation, if not veneration) has remained largely silent about Lévi-Strauss, while more and more works are devoted to him in French.... 
Lévi-Strauss proposed no small number of new philosophical constructs – take, among many others, the concept of ‘floating signifier’ which has had such a long career from Lacan to Deleuze, Derrida, Badiou, Spivak, Žižek, Laclau… He insisted, however, that such constructs were tobe treated as nothing more than ad hoc tools to solve particular anthropological or ethnographic problems, a strategy which did little to win over some of his philosophical colleagues.
In conclusion:
I don’t know whether the next century might one day be recognized as Deleuzean (or Badiouian, or anything else), but if it is, I’m sure that it that it won’t be so without us first realizing that the one which ended so recently has been Lévi-Straussian. It is time to start rereading his work, if we seek to find new ways to allow philosophical constructions to accomplish their real and most fundamental promise: to act upon the world they confront.

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