Our Master, Our Brother: Lévi-Strauss's Debt to Rousseau

Essay Excerpt

Both Rousseau and Levi-Strauss combine the dreamer's mysticism with abstract analytical reasoning. Both are riddled with paradox and contradiction. But whereas Rousseau most deeply felt the split between his theory and his experience, Levi-Strauss, who does not make that split, feels that contradiction within himself. He seeks the nature of his own being through the medium of society; he believes that anthropologists are maladjusted in their own societies and unaccepted in the ones to which they flee. The doyen of social anthropology, he finds his peace, alone, in the heart of the mountains. As a scientist, he is intuitive, as a social critic, he seeks solitude; as an individual, he yearns to lose himself within a larger whole. In the span of Rousseau's thought and his musings on his own experience Levi-Strauss can identify his contradictions and find them recombined. (Luhrmann, 411)

About the Author

Tanya Luhrmann is a Professor of Anthropology at Stanford University. She is the Watkins University Professor in the Stanford Anthropology Department. Her books include Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft (Harvard, 1989); The Good Parsi (Harvard 1996); Of Two Minds (Knopf 2000) and When God Talks Back (Knopf 2012). In general, her work focuses on the way that ideas held in the mind come to seem externally real to people, and the way that ideas about the mind affect mental experience. One of her recent project compares the experience of hearing distressing voices in India and in the United States.

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