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French Anthropologist Marks 100th Birthday

Posted November. 29, 2008 04:09,   


French social anthropologist and the founder of structuralism Claude Lévi-Strauss marked his 100th birthday yesterday.

In a statement issued a day before his birthday, the French Academy said Lévi-Strauss is its first member to live to 100 in the 384-year history of the French academic society.

Incorporating diverse interests ranging from philosophy and anthropology and music to art to cuisine into his pursuit of learning, he is hailed as the most erudite scholar in French intellectual history since Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Lévi-Strauss is well-known for ending Western chauvinism by proving that the mythical thinking of a primitive man is as logical as the scientific thinking of a modern Westerner.

The French government held yesterday the opening ceremony of the Lévi-Strauss Hall at Musée du Quai Branly, a museum of primitive art, and an exhibit and colloquium to mark his centennial birthday.

A combined 1,478 artifacts donated by Lévi-Strauss are on display at the museum. He collected them in expeditions to the Amazon forests to study primitive tribes as a visiting professor at the University of São Paulo in the 1930s. Based on his expeditions, he wrote “Tristes Tropiques (The Sad Tropics),” a critical reflection on civilization that gave him worldwide fame.

Attending the colloquium were Bernard-Henri Levy, Julia Kristeva, French Culture Minister Christine Albanel and Research Minister Valerie Pecresse.

Arte, a French-German cultural television network, aired retrospective programs of him for 12 hours Thursday. One of them was a collection of interviews with Lévi-Strauss since the 1960s.

TV5 of France also devoted its airtime to Lévi-Strauss to celebrate his birthday Monday by airing a film by Brazilian anthropologist Marcelo Fortaleza Flores, who lived with the Nambikwara ("pierced ear") tribe, the protagonist of “Tristes Tropiques,” for five years. In the film, Fortaleza asks an old Nambikwaran whether he remembers a white man who came to visit his village 70 years ago. To this, the man said, “Sure, We got along well. He showed interest in everything we made.”

After publishing “Regarder, Écouter, Lire (Look, Listen, Read)” in 1992, Lévi-Strauss virtually stopped writing. Since then, the music buff, who has taken a liking to Jean-Philippe Rameau and Richard Wagner, has stayed in Paris watching operas.

Lévi-Strauss never wrote his autobiography, however. Instead, French philosopher Didier Eribon published “Conversations with Claude Levi-Strauss” in 1988 based on interviews with him. The book, a comprehensive account of Lévi-Strauss’ life, was republished this year to celebrate his birthday.

Lévi-Strauss’ works were included this year in “Bibliothèque de la Pléiade,” a renowned French collection of books. Every French writer yearns for his or her works being included in the collection. With most of the works in the collection listed posthumously, entry into the collection by a living writer is considered a prestigious honor. Attracted to Asian culture in his later years, Lévi-Strauss expressed an interest in Buddhism in his last interview in 2005.

Lévi-Strauss visited Korea in 1981 at the invitation of the Academy of Korean Studies and toured Korea’s ancient city of Gyeongju and Tongdo Temple for 20 days.