The twentieth century’s most famous anthropologist might well intimidate any prospective biographer. Claude Lévi-Strauss, who died two years ago, denied that he possessed any individuality of interest. He could remember little of his own past, he said, and did not even feel he had written his own books. He was just a ‘passive crossroads’ where ‘things happened’— ‘I never had, and still do not have, the perception of feeling my personal identity. I appear to myself as the place where something is going on, but there is no “I”, no “me”’. Nor were such claims mere personal avowals. His intellectual system was based on a radical dismissal of the significance, even reality, of the subject. Such a double barrier might seem obstacle enough to a biography. But it could be thought to rear still higher from the fact that Lévi-Strauss was also, paradoxically, the author of a memoir, Tristes Tropiques, by any reckoning a literary masterpiece, in which he set down what he represented as the decisive experiences of his life. Who could hope to improve on it? Certainly no conventional chronicler. In Francophone culture, where the art of biography has long been noticeably weak, the one attempt at a full-length portrait, by Denis Bertholet in 2003, is testimony enough to that.
’My institution subscribes to NLR, why can't I access this article?’
By the same author:
The Centre Can Hold
How did Emmanuel Macron become President of France virtually overnight? What are the likely consequences of his rule? The long epoch of collusive alternation between Centre-Left and Centre-Right, and its abrupt ending; the realities of Le Pen’s Front National, and the riposte of Mélenchon’s La France insoumise. Has neo-liberalism finally arrived in force in Paris, and if so what are the implications for Europe?
Passing the Baton
Leaving the White House with record ratings, why couldn’t Obama’s efforts secure it for his former Secretary of State? The legacy that helped Trump into office—and prospects for America’s newest left.
The Heirs of Gramsci
Transformations of the Prison Notebooks’ fertile problematic of hegemony by a quartet of thinkers—Hall, Laclau, Guha, Arrighi—from Jamaica, Buenos Aires, Bengal, Milan. Coercion and persuasion, ideology and economic interest, national and inter-state systems as means for thinking Thatcherism’s ascendancy, populist strategies, peasant rebellion, post-colonial rule and the geo-political logics of American power.
The House of Zion
The fate of the Palestinians and the fortunes of Israel, after fifty years of occupation, and American and European collusion with it. Realities behind the official tropes decorating a ‘two-state solution’, and hesitations of nascent debate over a single state in the territory once ruled as a mandate by Britain.
With the collisions over Ukraine, the contradictions in Russia’s relations with the West have been sharpened by sanctions and economic crisis. Perry Anderson on the spectre of Great Power status that still informs the post-multinational nation—and why, despite all the Kremlin’s attempts at integration with the US–EU, the country remains indigestible.
Retrospective on the liberated life and work of Alexander Cockburn, whose last book, A Colossal Wreck, completes a dazzling triptych. Shaping influences of family, place and political epoch on a singularly radical temperament, and the keen-edged prose in which it found expression.
Deadlocks of American politics viewed within a longer optic, as outcomes of interlocking determinants—regime of accumulation, sociological shifts, cultural mutations, catalytic minorities—within an all-capitalist ideological universe.
Ronald Fraser, 1930–2012
Tribute to the author of Blood of Spain, locating the impulse behind his oeuvre in a commitment to explore lived experience. Reconstructions
of work, war, politics and subjectivity, from Napoleonic era to post-Fordist present.