Top 52 Quotes & Sayings by Claude Levi-Strauss

Explore popular quotes and sayings by a French scientist Claude Levi-Strauss.
Claude Levi-Strauss

Claude Lévi-Strauss was a French anthropologist and ethnologist whose work was key in the development of the theories of structuralism and structural anthropology. He held the chair of Social Anthropology at the Collège de France between 1959 and 1982, was elected a member of the Académie française in 1973 and was a member of the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris. He received numerous honors from universities and institutions throughout the world.

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The scientific mind does not so much provide the right answers as ask the right questions.
The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he is one who asks the right questions.
Our system is the height of absurdity, since we treat the culprit both as a child, so as to have the right to punish him, and as an adult, in order to deny him consolation.
I have never known so much naive conviction allied to greater intellectual poverty. — © Claude Levi-Strauss
I have never known so much naive conviction allied to greater intellectual poverty.
Just as the individual is not alone in the group, nor any one in society alone among the others, so man is not alone in the universe.
Language is a form of human reason, which has its internal logic of which man knows nothing.
The world began without man, and it will complete itself without him.
The wise man doesn't give the right answers, he poses the right questions.
I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact.
Nor must we forget that in science there are no final truths.
Not all poisonous juices are burning or bitter nor is everything which is burning and bitter poisonous.
How can my old photographs fail to create in me a feeling of emptiness and sorrow? They make me acutely aware that this second deprivation will be final this time.
Since music is the only language with the contradictory attributes of being intelligible and untranslatable, the musical creator is a being comparable to the gods, and music itself the supreme mystery of the science of man.
The dogma of cultural relativism is challenged by the very people for whose moral benefit the anthropologists established it in the first place. The complaint the underdeveloped countries advance is not that they are being westernized, but that the westernization is proceeding too slowly.
Scientific knowledge advances haltingly and is stimulated by contention and doubt. — © Claude Levi-Strauss
Scientific knowledge advances haltingly and is stimulated by contention and doubt.
Music is a language by whose means messages are elaborated, that such messages can be understood by the many but sent out only by few, and that it alone among all the languages unites the contradictory character of being at once intelligible and untranslatable - these facts make the creator of music a being like the gods.
The anthropologist respects history, but he does not accord it a special value. He conceives it as a study complementary to his own: one of them unfurls the range of human societies in time, the other in space.
The only phenomenon with which writing has always been concomitant is the creation of cities and empires, that is the integration of large numbers of individuals into a political system, and their grading into castes or classes. It seems to have favored the exploitation of human beings rather than their enlightenment.
There is one fact that can be established. The only phenomenon which, always and in all parts of the world, seems to be linked with the appearance of writing
I think that a society cannot live without a certain number of irrational beliefs. They are protected from criticism and analysis because they are irrational.
Our students wanted to know everything: but only the newest theory seemed to them worth bothering with. Knowing nothing of the intellectual achievements of the past, they kept fresh and intact their enthusiasm for 'the latest thing'. Fashion dominated their interest: they valued ideas not for themselves but for the prestige that they could wring from them.
[Serialism] is like a sailless ship, driven out to sea by its captain, who has grown tired of its being used only as a pontoon, and who is privately convinced that by subjecting life aboard to the rules of an elaborate protocol, he will prevent the crew from thinking nostalgically either of their home port or of their ultimate destination.…
Understanding arises from reducing one type of reality into another.
There is today a frightful disappearance of living species, be they plants or animals. And it's clear that the density of human beings has become so great, if I can say so, that they have begun to poison themselves. And the world in which I am finishing my existence is no longer a world that I like.
For everything is history: What was said yesterday is history, what was said a minute ago is history. But, above all, one is led to misjudge the present, because only the study of historical development permits the weighing and evaluation of the interrelationships among the components of the present-day society.
Being human signifies, for each one of us, belonging to a class, a society, a country, a continent and a civilization; and for us European earth-dwellers, the adventure played out in the heart of the New World signifies in the first place that it was not our world and that we bear responsibility for the crime of its destruction.
The image a society evolves of the relationship between the living and the dead is, in the final analysis, an attempt, on the level of religious thought, to conceal, embellish or justify the actual relationships which prevail among the living.
I can't help thinking that science would be more appealing if it had no practical use.
Just as the individual is not alone in the group, nor anyone in society alone among the others, so man is not alone in the universe.
In the old days, people used to risk their lives in India or in the Americas in order to bring back products which now seem to us to have been of comically little worth, such as brazilwood and pepper, which added a new range of sense experience to a civilization which had never suspected its own insipidity... From these same lands our modern Marco Polos now bring back the moral spices of which our society feels an increasing need as it is conscious of sinking further into boredom, but that this time they take the form of photographs, books, and travelers tales.
Enthusiastic partisans of the idea of progress are in danger of failing to recognize the immense riches accumulated by the human race. By underrating the achievements of the past, they devalue all those which still remain to be accomplished.
The police are not entrusted with a mission which differentiates them from those they serve. Being unconcerned with ultimate purposes, they are inseparable from the persons and interests of their masters, and shine with their reflected glory.
The work of the painter, the poet or the musician, like the myths and symbols of the savage, ought to be seen by us, if not as a superior form of knowledge, at least as the most fundamental and the only one really common to us all; scientific thought is merely the sharp point more penetrating because it has been whetted on the stone of fact, but at the cost of some loss of substance and its effectiveness is to be explained by its power to pierce sufficiently deeply for the main body of the tool to follow the head.
In the case of European towns, the passing of centuries provides an enhancement; in the case of American towns, the passing of years brings degeneration. It is not simply that they have been newly built; they were built so as to be renewable as quickly as they were put up, that is, badly.
I hate travelling and explorers — © Claude Levi-Strauss
I hate travelling and explorers
I am the place in which something has occurred.
Animals are good to think with.
Civilization has ceased to be that delicate flower which was preserved and painstakingly cultivated in one or two sheltered areas of a soil rich in wild species ... Mankind has opted for monoculture; it is in the process of creating a mass civilization, as beetroot is grown in the mass. Henceforth, man's daily bill of fare will consist only of this one item.
The musical emotion springs precisely from the fact that at each moment the composer withholds or adds more or less than the listener anticipates on the basis of a pattern that he thinks he can guess, but that he is incapable of wholly divining. . . .
[Photography] remains servile to a thoughtless vision of the world... As the term snapshot suggests, photography seizes the moment and exhibits it.
All the essentials of humanity's artistic treasures can be found in New York.
Anthropology found its Galileo in Rivers, its Newton in Mauss.
With all its technical sophistication, the photographic camera remains a coarse device compared to the human hand and brain.
The musical emotion springs precisely from the fact that at each moment the composer withholds or adds more or less than the listener anticipates on the basis of a pattern that he thinks he can guess, but that he is incapable of wholly divining. If the composer withholds more than we anticipate, we experience a delicious falling sensation; we feel we have been torn from a stable point on the musical ladder and thrust into the void. When the composer withholds less, the opposite occurs: he forces us to perform gymnastic exercises more skillful than our own.
No contact with savage Indian tribes has ever daunted me more than the morning I spent with an old lady swathed in woolies who compared herself to a rotten herring encased in a block of ice.
While I complain of being able to glimpse no more than the shadow of the past, I may be insensitive to reality as it is taking shape at this very moment, since I have not reached the stage of development at which I would be capable of perceiving it. A few hundred years hence, in this same place, another traveller, as despairing as myself, will mourn the disappearance of what I might have seen, but failed to see.
Not only does a journey transport us over enormous distances, it also causes us to move a few degrees up or down in the social scale. It displaces us physically and also for better or for worse takes us out of our class context, so that the colour and flavour of certain places cannot be dissociated from the always unexpected social level on which we find ourselves in experiencing them.
The order and harmony of the Western world, its most famous achievement, and a laboratory in which structures of a complexity as yet unknown are being fashioned, demand the elimination of a prodigious mass of noxious by-products which now contaminate the globe. The first thing we see as we travel round the world is our own filth, thrown into the face of mankind.
Natural man did not precede society, nor is he outside it. — © Claude Levi-Strauss
Natural man did not precede society, nor is he outside it.
Teaching and research are not to be confused with training for a profession. Their greatness and their misfortune is that they are a refuge or a mission.
These facts make the creator of music a being like the gods, and make music itself the supreme mystery of human knowledge.
Freedom is neither a legal invention nor a philosophical conquest, the cherished possession of civilizations more valid than others because they alone have been able to create or preserve it. It is the outcome of an objective relationship between the individual and the space he occupies, between the consumer and the resources at his disposal.
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