Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Levi-Strauss took up linguistics because of a level of formalism not found elsewhere

jerry the anthropologist Says: February 2, 2009 at 1:59 pm
Levi, as you know I’m both a fan of Bateson and of Levi-Strauss.

One of the better exercises in trying to understand the working of social systems (I make no claims about other sorts of systems just yet) is to compare the cybernetic acciunt of Kent Flannery (a Meso-American archaeologist of great renown) and Levi-Strauss’s notion of the order of orders in various of the published forms of his essay Social Structure. Levi-Strauss proves to have a more subtloe account, partly because women and goods can be signs (providing relations of encompassed and encompassing) while still being women and goods but also because all three women, goods and signs are being exchanged…that is put in motion and in Bateson’s terms make a difference thereby…though we should bear in mind that exchange also involves holding onto that which is not exchanged and even not to be exchanged (see S. Weiner).

Its only if we priviledge a very narrow reading of linguistics that we end up with the sorts of problems with Structuralism I gather you refer to. So I would note that Levi-Strauss took up linguistics because linguistics had attained a level of formalism not found elsewhere. The major Gestalt psychologists had died by the end of WWII. Cybernetics was still pretty raw; Bateson’s own transformative encounter with schizophrenic speech and double binds was still in the future as were many of the events in biology you referred to in another thread. At the same time Goethean and Spenglerian morphology were out of fashion, even forgotten.

One of the things I suppose I’ve been trying to do for some time now has been to reformulate something like Levi-Strauss’s order of orders using ideas from morphological understandings of how things–plants, children and so forth– grow. From such a perspective I’d take Mike’s example of tree-paper to be somewhat misleading in that growth and decay turn out to being rather like the generation or emergence of difference within the conjunction between environment and an internal or, in Bateson’s terms, tautological system.

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