Tristes Tropiques

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Demographically, it contains various populations of European descent and immigrants from neighboring South American countries. It is also the economic center of the country and headquarters for many foreign, multi-national companies. Unfortunately, I too was disappointed with what I found. Agriculture had been a matter of looting for quick profits.

It was not their intention to develop Brazil as an independent nation or even a territory but to extract as much of the natural resources of the country for profit as possible. Even today this mentality continues to exist within Brazilian society and remains its dark, unspoken legacy.

He writes,. They were as close to me as an image seen in a looking-glass. I could touch, but not understand them. He must decide to travel with men that to some extent share his own western culture, men whom he can communicate with, or among those whose language is incomprehensible to him. It is here that he realizes the importance of a command of the native language to his research. For language is the portal by which the realm of cultural investigation and analysis is opened to the ethnographer.

In order to accomplish this, it sometimes takes years.

Entrevista a Levi Strauss sobre "Tristes trópicos"

Even with fluency in a language, it still can take considerable time to understand the content or meaning that is latent within a particular linguistic expression. My own research has revealed that the importance of a command of the native language to ethnographic research cannot under any circumstances be overstated.

Within the already complex relationship between language and symbol, it is also important to understand the inflectional system of a language. It not only indicates the necessity for understanding how to communicate in the language in general but secondarily the value of the manner in which representation is modified radically. For example, there are those languages whose verbs, pronouns, articles and conjunctions are modified by gender — giving the masculine and feminine attributes precedence. Also, significance in some languages can be divided between two variables — certainty and probability.

And, it is here that the variables of representative relationships become important. First, there is the certainty of the relationship: i. Second, there is the type of relationship: language may belong to that which denotes or describes. And, the third variable is the origin of the relationship: language may be naturally derived or conventionally conceived. Further, my own experiences as an anthropologist in a foreign country has prepared me to confront with more objectivity the fact that when we attempt to understand and reveal how human beings live in the world, we are necessarily obligated to engage them on their own terms in a relatively undirected way.

A lot of water has gone under all the bridges that cross the Seine since it appeared in Many —isms and many schools of thought have come and gone.

Tristes Tropiques: Revisited

No one ever wrote another book like this one. Its mix of anthropology, travelogue, social criticism and autobiography fits no specific genre. The year it was published, the jury for the French Goncourt literary prize apologized for not selecting it only because it was not a work of fiction.

Perhaps they missed their chance to redefine what fiction was about to become. The book is filled with the tension between a world of things and actions and behaviors and the mind of a writer who thinks in terms of ideas and methods and analysis. The reader can see something that maintains a cloak of invisibility in his other works — the birth of a technique and the formation of an attitude that is part affinity, part training and part rebellion. He addresses his French audience directly.

As he tells his life story, I get the sense that irony is natural to the way his mind works, as the imperfections of European culture threaten to intrude on the universal analytic thought process he was trained to practice. His writing consists of pivoting, shifting movements between descriptive metaphor and logical analysis. The book is divided into nine parts, but this is the lower level of its structure. Above the details, the work is the dramatic monologue of a memorist, a theatrical performance, divided into three acts. The first act Part One through Part Four describes his French education and experience of traveling to and from Brazil as a teacher of anthropology.

The time is the s, but the narrative is cyclical, with later memories intruding on earlier ones. This first confrontation with the New World draws to a close with observations of the newly formed state of India in the s.


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His observations of these alien cultures form a summary of the present state of humanity. The second act Part Five through Part Eight is devoted to ethnography. He returns to and describes the four Brazilian Indian groups he visited and studied during his field work. The third act Part Nine is a coda. In the present, he is back in India, meditating on several thousand years of human experience. He relates his experience of the beliefs, material culture, kinship systems and aesthetics of the New World to religious and social systems of the Old World.

I first read the book in If I remember correctly, my encounter was not during the spring of , when some solar wind blowing from East to West and back again disturbed the adrenaline and testosterone of large groups of people in their twenties. I did not read it in the spring watching urban riots in Washington, participating in campus occupations in New York, fleeing police massacres in Mexico City, facing Soviet tanks in Prague, displaced by the Red Guards in the Chinese countryside or stoned out on a country commune in Vermont where the veneer of suburban refinement gave way to maggots churning in the compost and mice rattling the rafters over the bed.

No, it was in the confusing fall of that same year when I returned to the village in Ohio that was my chosen college town, the place fate dropped me through a series of bait-and-switch operations I was too slow to catch. The entire structure of civilization seemed fragile by then.

It was like a thin mesh of glass filaments, rigid and brittle. Everywhere I looked people were disobeying orders, crossing lines that were not meant to be crossed, walking through walls. Each time it happened to me or my peers, we were not sure our molecules would reassemble in the same way on the other side.

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Tristes Tropiques

In the back seat of a Volkswagen Beetle, sliding down the interstate network that connected every major city and suburban development with every other city and suburban development — for the greater good of homogenization and access to shopping malls — the speed at which the molecules of my body and the bodies of those beside me accelerated towards some future position illuminated by the twin headlights was greater than or equal to the sound of a drum solo playing on the radio. We were looking for the answer buried beneath the trivia already embedded in the waxy DNA of young media-drenched minds, and hoping that somewhere down the road we would find someone who would tell us where to find it.

That fall I took an elective class in the religion department from a newly-arrived and very young professor named Jee-Gook Kim. The class had a vague title, something like comparison of religions. Jay, as people learned to call him, was Korean-American and had recently graduated from a college in Staten Island. I grew up around New York and thought I was pretty sophisticated. I knew where Staten Island was. I knew that Korea was where we won a war against Communists around the time I was born, much like the war that was going on in Vietnam that we all wanted to avoid.

This small town in Ohio contained only one thing, a school that had begun as an Episcopal seminary in the early nineteenth century and become a liberal arts college for men. We all took our meals in a Great Hall modeled on an Oxford college, with stained glass depicting authors from the pantheon of British Literature.

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The last group of Anglican seminary students had abandoned the place the year before. Attending the church had been optional for decades and, as one student after another refused to wear a tie and jacket for this or any other occasion, the formal Sunday lunch meant to follow services was rapidly degenerating into just another meal. In this aquarium, where all the fish swimming about knew each other by sight if not by name, Professor Kim did not fit. No one was surprised but some of us were disappointed when he did not come back for a second year.

He had little patience with the way students responded to his teaching style. The books he assigned us were difficult because they were not about any form of religion we knew. But the most difficult part was that he expected us to read and discuss these books without telling us what we were supposed to say about them. The title certainly caught our attention. The sexual life of college students was a constant subject of discussion. Reading about an anthropologist making notes on the sex life of people in the South Pacific was more interesting than reading Plato or Kant and easier than reading Chaucer.