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New Left Review I/62, July-August 1970

Claude Lévi-Strauss

A Confrontation

Paul Ricoeur: The methodological questions I should like to ask you are of three kinds; all three concern the possibility of co-ordinating your scientific method—structuralism as a science—with other modes of comprehension which are not built on a generalized linguistic model, but consist of a recovery of meaning in reflective or speculative thought, in short, what I have myself called a hermeneutic. The first question concerns the intransigence of the method—its compatibility or incompatibility with other modes of understanding. This methodological question is directly inspired by a meditation on the particular examples you use in The Savage Mind. [1] Claude Lévi-Strauss: La Pensée Sauvage, Paris, 1962; translated as The Savage Mind, London, 1966.I wonder to what extent your method’s success has not been facilitated by the geographical and cultural zone to which it has been applied, i.e. the zone of what used to be called totemism, of the ‘totemic illusion’, which is precisely characterized by the extraordinary exuberance of its syntactic arrangements, and perhaps in compensation by the great poverty of its content; is it not this contrast which explains why structuralism has such an easy victory, in the sense that its victory leaves almost nothing behind?

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