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Myth and Meaning: Cracking the Code of Culture

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Myth and Meaning: Cracking the Code of Culture

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    Available in PDF Format | Myth and Meaning: Cracking the Code of Culture.pdf | English
    Claude Levi-Strauss(Author)
Ever since the rise of science and the scientific method in the seventeenth century, we have rejected mythology as the product of superstitious and primitive minds. Only now are we coming to a fuller appreciation of the nature and role of myth in human history. In these five lectures originally prepared for Canadian radio, Claude Levi-Strauss offers, in brief summations, the insights of a lifetime spent interpreting myths and trying to discover their significance for human understanding.
The lectures begin with a discussion of the historical split between mythology and science and the evidence that mythic levels of understanding are being reintegrated in our approach to knowledge. In an extension of this theme, Professor Levi-Strauss analyzes what we have called "primitive thinking" and discusses some universal features of human mythology. The final two lectures outline the functional relationship between mythology and history and the structural relationship between mythology and music.

If someone who had just heard Levi-Strauss s name for the first time asked me to explain . . . what he was all about, I would pick up Myth and Meaning and start reading it out loud . . . Only here does one have a lucid, candid, personal exposition of the major ideas that have driven him all his life.from the Foreword by Wendy Doniger, University of ChicagoThere is no easier or quicker way than through this book into that heart of darkness Levi-Strauss calls the totalitarian ambition of the savage mind as it throbs beneath the surface of the civilized mind.Philip Rieff, Professor of Psychiatry, Medical College of PennsylvaniaIf in the end you cannot tell everyone what you have been up to, your life s work has been in vain, Edwin Schrodenger told us. In this eloquently slim volume, Levi-Strauss delivers on Schrodinger s implied request exquisitely. If every major thinker could summarize his or her conclusions this clearly, the fragmentation that threatens to reduce understanding to incoherence would be tempered considerably.Huston Smith, University, Berkeley, and author of Forgotten Truth and Beyond the Post-Modern Mind""If someone who had just heard Levi-Strauss's name for the first time asked me to explain . . . what he was all about, I would pick up Myth and Meaning and start reading it out loud . . . Only here does one have a lucid, candid, personal exposition of the major ideas that have driven him all his life."--from the Foreword by Wendy Doniger, University of Chicago "There is no easier or quicker way than through this book into that heart of darkness Levi-Strauss calls the 'totalitarian ambition of the savage mind' as it throbs beneath the surface of the 'civilized' mind."--Philip Rieff, Professor of Psychiatry, Medical College of Pennsylvania "'If in the end you cannot tell everyone what you have been up to, your life's work has been in vain, ' Edwin Schrodenger told us. In this eloquently slim volume, Levi-Strauss delivers on Schrodinger's implied request exquisitely. If every major thinker could summarize his or her conclusions this clearly, the fragmentation that threatens to reduce understanding to incoherence would be tempered considerably."--Huston Smith, University, Berkeley, and author of Forgotten Truth and Beyond the Post-Modern Mind

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Book details

  • PDF | 80 pages
  • Claude Levi-Strauss(Author)
  • Schocken Books; 1st Pbk. Ed edition (1 Mar. 1995)
  • English
  • 7
  • Society, Politics & Philosophy

Review Text

  • By Lacancan on 16 March 2004

    This volume arrived with a postman’s knock and packaged in reinforced cardboard. Disappointment is therefore too weak a word to describe the discovery that the book is so thin that it could have been popped into an envelope and slid under the door. For a book entitled Myth and Meaning that promises insights into human existence, forty eight pages of well spaced text that can be read comfortably in an hour, certainly makes you think profoundly…about your lost tenner!If you can stomach the price for such a miniscule intellectual snack then the Levi-Strauss lectures reproduced here will not spoil your digestion. Divided into five, lets say ‘bite sized chunks’, the author explicates a little of his notion of science and its relationship to anthropological and structural analysis of myth. Debunking the idea of the ‘primitive’ Levi Strauss endeavours to show certain correspondences between societies ‘without writing’ and methods of science in the modern western world. We can not think of ‘primitive’ societies as backward, rather through myths they develop often sophisticated and communally shared symbolic orders of meaning. Some of these such as the pan-American myths discussed in the second and third chapters, contain elements that describe manners of thought that we are dimly aware of in the west because our cultures and social circumstances have not demanded the development of this mental sector. As such the myth of the Skate and the South Wind of the American Indians is related to binary processes in computers and tribal narratives have parallels with the science of history.The type of explanation Levi Strauss gives of these myths is at best tenuous but some of his suggestions are delightfully innovative and sincere and the fieldwork is of interest in itself. However, the lecture context is altogether too ephemeral to allow one to see the extent to which the various explanations arise out of systematic treatment rather than authorial whim. The case is not helped by at least three lazy editing mistakes that obscure the meaning of the argument, and dare it be said some needless repetition, which if omitted would make this poor emaciated script even thinner.

  • By Doctor Zeke on 20 May 2012

    Anyone looking for a tome comparable to Joseph Campbell's output or an update on Bulfinch's encyclpaedia will be disappointed. For those, however, who are interested in reading Levi-Strauss' expository essays into some aspects of how myth and popular culture intersect, will be rewarded. This thin book contains 5 essays, entitled 1. the Meeting of Myth and Science 2. 'Primitive' Thinking and the 'Civilized' Mind 3. Harelips and Twins: The Splitting of a Myth 4. When Myth Becomes History 5. Myth and Music. Each was thought-provoking and got me contemplating how I conduct myself as a member of society, how I interpret the scientific evidence given to me, and how we collude in the perpetuation of historical reality. The final essay was more personal reflection than exposition, and thus was a bit disappointing. There are more revealing pieces written about how myth and music are related (or as Levi-Strauss argues, two branches of the same tree).

  • By Mr. Bde Wall on 15 December 2009

    This book is very short, and generally a bit expensive considering its length, but if you want a bite-size introduction into the world of structural anthropology, their are few better and more interesting places to start than here. What is the relationship between babies born feet first and harelips? Can their be meaning in chaos? Could people of some cultures literally see venus in the sky? If these things strike you as interesting, do get it and enjoy, you will read it over a good few times and short, as it is, it will retain it's freshness.

  • By Lark on 11 October 2011

    I think this book is costly for its length but I cant complain about that too much since I enjoyed it so much. It proved very readable and can stand a rereading easily.It has a contents page, which breaks down as follows:- The 1977 Massey Lectures; An Introduction; 1. The Meeting of Myth and Science; 2. 'Primitive' Thinking and the 'Civilised' Mind; 3. Harelips and Twins: The Splitting of a Myth; 4. When Myth Becomes History; 5. Myth and Music.The preface, The 1977 Massey Lectures, has a chapter by chapter breakdown and questions which prompted the response which constitutes each chapter. As the preface says these chapters are the insights of Levi-Strauss social anthropologist who has been part of the intellectual trend towards a "fuller appreciation of the nature and role of myth in human history", Strauss' central thesis, which features in one way or another throughout the seperate chapters is that despite their variegated appearence and the seperations of geography there is a structure to be discovered in all cultures. This impetus in his thinking is clearest in the chapter The Meeting of Myth and Science and perhaps, I felt, is stretched to its limits in the chapter Harelips and Twins: The Splitting of a Myth (an idea tested to destruction almost).This is an premise within Jung, particularly his book Man And His Symbols but throughout his interpretations of spiritualism, world religions and world mythology with the insights he believed provided by modern psychology. In fact I would recommend this book to fans of Jung in particular and anyone who has enjoyed Jungs books which are available in the Routledge Classics range I believe could or would enjoy this book.It should also appeal to anyone interested in anthropology's classics and Sex and Repression in Savage Society (Routledge Classics) is mentioned in the chapter contrasting "primitive" and "civilised" cultures. I think that Levi-Strauss makes some useful observations about value judgements with respect to cultural difference and diversity without embracing a relativistic outlook or supposing that there exists equivalence.The pace and style of writing is good and it is a book which I felt was engaging and interesting, also, in some ways, heart warming and encouraging. Levi-Strauss uses myths and a story telling style to illustrate his points about underlying structures and the purpose and service of myths. It is disappointingly short but as an introduction to Levi-Strauss it brilliant.

  • By Ms. KJ Rowberry on 10 August 2014

    This is a very quick read and does what it say's on the tin. I wouldn't claim it is the be all and end all of understanding Myth and Meaning but a definite must read for anyone researching this area.

  • By Rachael Douglas on 18 January 2017

    A brilliant book and easy to understand.

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