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Schechner, R. (1971-72). Incest and Culture: A reflection on Claude Levi-Strauss. Psychoanal. Rev., 58(4):563-572.

(1971-72). Psychoanalytic Review, 58(4):563-572

Incest and Culture: A reflection on Claude Levi-Strauss

Richard Schechner, Ph.D.

Let me start by laying my low hand on the table. I am not an anthropologist, and this is not a review of Lévi-Strauss's The Elementary Structures of Kinship (first published 1949, revised 1967, translated into English 1969). It would be more foolish than presumptuous of me to get enmeshed in the network of kinship terminologies and relationships that Lévi-Strauss discusses in his massive book. Lévi-Strauss himself, in his preface to the second edition, admits that the book's “very bulk … involves certain weaknesses.” It is a book in the Grand Manner, a kind of War and Peace of cultural anthropology. It is also a “first book”—a work into which all sorts of things are crammed; a keynote reaching out toward future achievements. That it has just recently reached us in English is an ironic turnabout. For now Léi-Strauss's career seems capped by not his last, but one of his first, works.

Within the book's webs and complexities a single dominating pattern comes to view, almost more clearly from a distance than close up, as is the wont with monumental works: the definition of and distinctions between nature and culture. It is not by contrasting and comparing the behavior of great apes and man, nor by evolutionary schemes of progressive intensity, complexity, urbanization, and so on that Lévi-Strauss defines the difference. Nor is it thru the identification of a “paleologic” or even the unconscious.

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