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Tristes Tropiues begins with the line ‘ I hate travelling and explorers’ yet during his life Claude Lévi Strauss travelled from wartime France to the basin and the dense upland jungles of Brazil where he found ‘ human society r. Hadrian has written a nice review of this fascinating book and I will simply refer the reader to his comments I add only that this is not an academic book but a memoir and reflexion a work that will appeal primarily to the literary reader a hymn to Rousseau s bon sauvage a phrase btw that J J never actually uses and a nostalgic ode to the vanishing simplicity and goodness of Mana Man not as yet corrupted by corrosiveness of civilization Of course for L vi Strauss the primitive tribes of Brazil are not actually pure they are but the shattered remnanats of a once vibrant paleolithic culture now living like scavengers on the margins of the industrialized world Indeed as the translators point out regarding the title of this work The possible English versions such as Sad Tropics The Sadness of the Tropics Tragic Tropics etc do not uite correspond either in meaning or in implication to Tristes Tropiues which is at once ironical and poetic because of the alliteration the taut rhythm u u u and the suggestion of Alas for the Tropics It is this last that most of often infuses this charming and rambling book

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Tristes Tropiues

Educed to its most basic expression’ His account of the people he encountered changed the field of anthropology transforming Western notions of ‘primitive’ man Tristes Tropiues is a major work of art as well as of scholarship It. Tristes Tropiues is an excellent book M L vi Strauss work is part ethnography part travelogue part autobiography and part history As I m now reading the journals of Lewis and Clark I wondered what his observations would have been of that epic trek For me this is an important warning against my default ethnocentrismM L vi Strauss left us with a few important kernels among themWe have to admit that human societies can choose among a gamut of possibilities These choices cannot be compared with each other one is as good as another But then there arises a new problem for if in the first instance we are threatened by obscurantism in the form of a blind rejection of anything that is not our own there is also an alternative danger that of an eclecticism which bids us reject nothing at all when faced with an alien culture Even if that society should itself protest against the cruelty the injustice and the poverty which characterize it we must not pass judgment But as these abuses also exist among ourselves how shall we have the right to fight them at home if when they appear elsewhere we make no move to protest The man who takes action in his own country cannot hope to understand the world outside the man who takes all knowledge for his ambition must give up the idea of ever changing anything at home No society is perfect Each has within itself by nature an impurity incompatible with the norms to which it lays claim this impurity finds outlet in elements of injustice cruelty and insensitivity How are we to evaluate those elements Anthropological enuiry can provide the answer For while the comparison of a small number of societies will make them seem very different from one another these differences will seem smaller and smaller as the field of investigation is enlarged It will eventually become plain that no human society is fundamentally good but neither is any of them fundamentally bad all offer their members certain advantages though we must bear in mind a residue of iniuity apparently or less constant in its importance which may correspond to a specific inertia which offers resistance on the level of social life to all attempts at organization For what after all have I learnt from the masters I have listened to the philosophers I have read the societies I have investigated and that very Science in which the West takes such a pride Simply a fragmentary lesson or two which if laid end to end would reconstitute the meditations of the Sage at the foot of his tree When we make an effort to understand we destroy the object of our attachment substituting another whose nature is uite different That other object reuires of us another effort which in its turn destroys the second object and substitutes a third and so on until we reach the only enduring Presence which is that in which all distinction between meaning and the absence of meaning disappears and it is from that Presence that we started in the first place It is now two thousand five hundred years since men discovered and formulated these truths Since then we have discovered nothing new unless it be that whenever we investigated what seemed to be a way out we met with a further proof of the conclusions from which we had tried to escapeThis is worthwhile reading of a landscape and peoples now sadly though predictably vanished from a man who through great fortune avoided the German camps of WWII and reprehensible betrayals of his countrymen and lived to write this book with apparent euanimity

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Is a memoir of exuisite beauty and a masterpiece of travel writing funny discursive movingly detailing personal and cultural loss and brilliantly connecting disparate fields of thought Few books have had as powerful and broad an impa. Ok so let me first say for a book that starts with the line I hate travelling and explorers Tristes Tropiues gave me this intense restless urge to travel to see everything that s mentioned the 365 churches of Bahia the slopes of the Corcovado Jehangir s tomb in Lahore the Taj Mahal the markets of Calcutta New Delhi Karachi Dacca the Pantanal the largest swamp in the world An urge to learn as much as I can about the creation myths of every culture in the world their beliefs about the afterlife their music their food their concepts of value and exchange their languages their ways of adapting to the environment etc But even though this urge is real I feel it so concretely and I m sure Levi Strauss did too one of the main themes of Tristes Tropiues is a skepticism towards the value of travel in all forms Anthropology is one of those forms Why do we travel why do we want to learn about other cultures than our ownSo Levi Strauss sets out on his mission to find humans at their most basal state He thinks that if he can find a group of people that has never made contact with Western culture he can find the secrets underlying human nature and maybe develop some sort of universal theory But I think it is a grand error to see the Nambikwara for example as an example of the most elementary social structure How could it be elementary if they have their own independently developed language system of myths rituals taboos etc that have gone through thousands of years of evolution just like any other culture we see today It just seems elementary because it is adapted for something different their evolution was oriented toward goals very different from those of the westOver and over again throughout his journey to the interior of Brazil Levi Strauss laments not being able to access real culture but rather one that was already tainted by Western influence The places he visits only carry vestiges of a vanished reality But is this not reality itself What makes one place real than another Sometimes reality isn t as exotic as you thought it might be This doesn t make it any less real but maybe it makes it less valuable to you according to your expectations I wished I had lived in the days of real journeys he says When it was possible to see the full splendour of a spectacle that had not yet been blighted polluted and spoilt I mean I do too It sucks that these cultures are disappearing so that I can t enjoy them in all their authentic different than me glory But is every other really just another spectacle Is anthropology just another form of tourism When was the best time to see India Levi Strauss asks as if it is the aurora borealis or the dolphin show at SeaWorld He sees travelling to these pristine places as a form of escapism from what The unreality of the west Unfortunately for him he is disappointed everywhere he goes Polynesia is covered in concrete Sao Paolo looks like a movie set the Taj Mahal is full of British newlyweds on their honeymoons shanty towns have spread across Africa wah He laments this cultural loss because now nothing is left for him to take in the form of anthropological study He never laments the sociopolitical conditions that forced people to live in these monocultures in the first place Sometimes not even the most basic needs are met and people are dying from hunger and all sorts of diseases But hey I guess that s not his job to be political he s supposed to be an Objective ObserverHere is the crux anthropologists are trained to be objective towards the cultures that they study yet it s perfectly acceptable to be subjective about one s own culture They re trained to look at cannibalism pestilence etc as objective features of a particular society without making any value judgement But why should we be objective about these things if people are suffering I m not saying that I have a one size fits all solution that is applicable to every case nor should we impose a particular western ideal of wellbeing onto other cultures But why are some cultures OK to criticize and others no Levi Strauss takes a stand on this uestion The society we belong to is the only society we are in a position to transform without any risk of destroying it since the changes introduced by us are coming from within the society itself But idk about this at all First of all it maintains the assumption that societies are these discrete immutable units and further that individuals only ever belong to one society Finally it assumes that transforming a culture is destroying it and that this is a risk which must be avoided But culture is not a static thing it is always in a process of change So what makes one culture better than another I think this is the Unanswerable uestion because anyone answering it will always already be imbued with a particular social background Also is there any inherent value in preserving the traditions authenticity or reality of a culture in the face of constant change For the western anthropologist yes But for the individuals belonging to the constantly shifting cultures themselves This throws Levi Strauss into an existential hole in the final chapters Why did I come here Was it a trick on my part a clever diversion which would allow me to resume my career with additional advantages for which I would be given credit Or did my decision express a deep seated incompatibility with my social setting so that whatever happened I would inevitably live in a state of ever greater estrangement from it The value that the anthropologist attaches to foreign societies has no independent foundation it is a function of his disdain for the customs prevailing in his native setting Anyways I m giving this book 5 stars because Even though there are lots of things I disagree with that disagreement is productive Levi Strauss writes beautifully Tristes Tropiues is much like literary nonfiction than legit anthropology whatever that is He has a profound appreciation of the sublime making detailed observations about mountains jungles plant ecosystems etc some passages reminiscent of the final chapter of Darwin s Origin of Species He even has a whole chapter just about sunsets and their characteristics Levi Strauss really just makes me want to learn and experience as much as I can before I die


10 thoughts on “Tristes Tropiues

  1. says:

    This is like Holden Caulfield does anthropology Immediately bitchy

  2. says:

    Hadrian has written a nice review of this fascinating book and I will simply refer the reader to his comments I add only that this is not an academic book but a memoir and reflexion a work that will appeal primarily to the literary reader a hymn to Rousseau's bon sauvage a phrase btw that J J never actually uses and a nos

  3. says:

    Nice combination of travel memoir anthropology and confession

  4. says:

    Every effort to understand destroys the object studiedin favor of another object of a different nature;this second object reuires from us a new effortwhich destroys it in favor of a third and so on and so forth until we reach the one lasting pr

  5. says:

    I don't think I can say it any better than SS Tristes Tropiues is one of the great books of our century It is rigorous subtle and bold in thought It is beautifully written And like all great books it bears an absolutely personal stamp; it speaks with a human voiceOnly forty pages in and I already sense that this will be

  6. says:

    Tristes Tropiues is an excellent book M Lévi Strauss' work is part ethnography part travelogue part autobiograp

  7. says:

    I can't say I'm a fan of Levi Strauss' anthropological theory by and large I find it to be generalistic and while it makes broad claims about innate human nature it provides no scientific data to back these claims up I do like his idea of bric

  8. says:

    A classic work or book by Claude Levi Strauss one of the leading guys who studied other guys from other cultures This book is about guys from Br

  9. says:

    Ok so let me first say for a book that starts with the line “I hate travelling and explorers” Tristes Tropiues gave me this intense restless urge to travel to see everything that’s mentioned the 365 churches of Bahia the slopes of the Corcovado Jehangir’s tomb in Lahore the Taj Mahal the markets of Calcutta New Delhi Karachi Dacca; the Pantanal the largest swamp in the world An urge to learn as much

  10. says:

    Rather an important book A seeming gallimaufry of anthropological excursions delightfully short of the appallingly academic memoirs tr

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