Tristes Tropiques

27 May

We will celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Claude Levi-Strauss. In 1955, his book had the effect of a bomb. In a racy style (what beautiful prose!), After confessing in the first pages (see sample) his aversion to travel, the author led to a finding at least disillusioned: the arrogant Western civilization seems to bring war and destruction everywhere, causing the extinction of many tribes “primitive” and devastating the ecosystem.

From this perspective, the tropics seem very “sad”, because travel show finally “launched our junk in the face of humanity” … Poignant book, Tristes Tropiques carries the guilt of the West and the difficult position of the ethnologist, torn between irreconcilable worlds.
Prophetic, no?

I hate traveling and explorers. And here I am telling my expeditions. But that time to myself to do! Fifteen years have passed since I left for the last time Brazil and during all these years, I often planned to undertake this book, each time a sort of shame and disgust I have been prevented. Eh what? Should we tell the menu so many details insipid, insignificant events? The adventure has no place in the profession of ethnographer, it is only an easement, it weighs on the effective work of weight for weeks or months lost on the way, the idle hours while the informant escapes ; of hunger, fatigue, sometimes the disease and still, a thousand chores that eat day in wasted lives and reduce danger in the heart of the rainforest to an imitation of military service … Fault that so much effort, and fruitless expenditure to achieve the object of our study provides no value to what we should rather consider the negative aspect of our business.

The truths that we seek so far are only of value stripped of this matrix. We can certainly spend six months of travel, deprivation and fatigue sickening collection (which will take a few days, sometimes within hours) of a myth scholarship, of a new marriage rule, a complete list of clan names, but this slag from memory: “At 5 pm 30 am, we entered in the harbor of Recife while squealing seagulls and a flotilla of exotic fruit vendors thronged along the hull, a memory so poor he deserves that I lift the pen to fix it? Yet this kind of story encounters a favor that is inexplicable to me.

The Amazon, Tibet and Africa invaded the shops in the form of travel books, records and shipping photo albums where concern for the effect dominates too much for the reader to appreciate the value of the evidence that it brings. Far from his critical awakening, he always asks more of this pasture, he wolfs down enormous quantities. It’s a job now than to be an explorer; business which consists, not, as one might think, to discover after years of studious facts remained unknown, but to travel a total mileage and collection of still and moving projections, preferably in color, whereby we will fill a room several days later, a crowd of listeners that platitudes and banalities seem miraculously transmuted into revelations for the sole reason that rather than stand out there, the author will be sanctified by a term of twenty thousand kilometers.

What do we in these conferences and that we read in these books? The retail boxes removed, the misdeeds of small dog on board, and, mixed with anecdotes, snippets of information faded, dragging the past half-century in all the textbooks, and a dose of impudence uncommon, but in proper relationship with the naivety and ignorance of consumers, is not afraid to present as evidence, nay, an original discovery. No doubt there are exceptions, and each time has experienced travelers honest amongst those who now share the public favor, I could name one or two willingly. My goal is not to expose hoaxes or grant degrees, but rather to understand a moral and social phenomenon, very particular to France and has appeared recently, even among us.

We rarely traveled, some twenty years, and they were not five or six rooms Pleyel attic that once hosted the storytellers of adventures, but only place in Paris for such events, the small amphitheater dark, cold and dilapidated old who holds a flag at the end of the Jardin des Plantes. The Friends of the Museum organized there every week-maybe organizes she always – lectures on natural science. The unit sent on a projection screen too, with lamps too weak, vague shadows which the speaker, nose pressed to the wall, managed to collect bad shape and that the public could distinguish little damp patches blurring walls. Fifteen minutes after the time announced, we still wondered anxiously if there were listeners, and more familiar with the few scattered silhouettes filled the bleachers. When they despaired, the room was filled to half of children accompanied by mothers or good, some greedy, a free change, others weary of noise and dust from outside. Given this mix of ghost moths and impatient brats – supreme reward of so much effort, care and work – it was using the right unpacking a treasure of memories forever frozen by such a meeting, and that speaking in penumbra was felt detach itself and fall of one by one, like pebbles at the bottom of a puits.Tel was the return, barely more sinister than the solemnities of departure: banquet hosted by the France-America in a hotel Avenue is now called Franklin Roosevelt remains uninhabited, where, for the occasion, a caterer came two hours before setting up his camp stove and dishwasher, with no ventilation has managed to serve early the location of a smell of desolation So unaccustomed to the dignity of such a dusty place that it gave off boredom, sitting around a table too small for a large room which we had just enough time sweep the central part actually occupied, we took for the first time contact with each other, young teachers who had just barely started in our high schools in the province and a bit perverse whim of Georges Dumas would abruptly raise the The wet winter in hotels catering sub-prefecture, impregnated with the smell of grog, cellars and vines cool, tropical seas and luxury boats, all experiences, moreover, intended to offer a far cry from inevitably distorts the image, by the fatality own travel, we are fermions déjà.J ‘had been a student of Georges Dumas the time of the Treaty of psychology.

Once a week I do not know if it was Thursday or Sunday morning, he met students of philosophy in a room of Sainte-Anne, the wall opposite the windows were completely covered with cheerful paintings of the insane. We already felt himself exposed to a particular kind of exoticism, a platform, Dumas set up his strong body, craggy, topped with a bumpy head, which resembled a large root bleached and stripped by a stay at the bottom seas. For his sallow face and unified white hair that he wore a brush cut and very short, and beard, also white, growing in all directions. This curious plant wreckage, still bristling with its rootlets, suddenly became human by a smoky eye accentuating the whiteness of the head, continued opposition by that of the white shirt and starched collar and folded back, contrasting with the wide-brimmed hat The lavaliere and costume, always black. His lectures were not learning much; he never prepared one, he was aware of the physical charm exercised upon his audience the play of his expressive lips deformed by a sneer mobile, and especially his voice hoarse and melodious voice of real siren with strange inflections did not refer only to his native Languedoc, but, even more than regional particularities in very archaic ways of the music of spoken French, so that voice and face evoked sensitive in both orders the same style at once rustic and incisive: the humanists of the sixteenth century, physicians and philosophers which, by the body and mind, he seemed to perpetuate the race.

The second hour, and sometimes the third, were devoted to presentations of patients; was taking place has extraordinary numbers between curly and practitioner trained subjects by years of asylum to all such exercises, knowing full well what was expected of them, producing disturbances to the signal, or tough enough for the trainer to provide an opportunity for bravura. Without being duped, willingly left the audience enthralled by this show of virtuosity. When we had deserved the attention of the teacher, we were rewarded by the confidence that you had a patient for a private interview. No handshake with wild Indians do me more nervous that morning spent with an old lady surrounded sweaters who compared himself to a rotten herring within a block of ice: apparently intact, but threatened to disintegrate soon as the protective casing fondrait.Ce learned a bit mystifying, host of synthetic works whose purpose remained ample in the service of a rather disappointing critical positivism, was a man of great nobility, and he was showing me later, after the armistice and shortly before his death, when, nearly blind and already retired to his native village of Lédignan, he has given careful and write me a letter which had no other discrete be possible to show solidarity with the first victims of événements.J’ve always regretted not having known him in his youth, when, tawny brown and has the image of a conquistador and quivering scientific perspectives that opening the psychology of the nineteenth century, he had gone to the spiritual conquest of the New World. In this kind of lightning was going to happen between him and the Brazilian company has certainly shown a mysterious phenomenon, when two fragments of a Europe four hundred years old – some essential elements were preserved, but of a share in a southern Protestant family, the other in a very refined bourgeoisie and a little decadent, living in slow motion in the tropics – met, recognized and almost re-welded. The error of Georges Dumas is never truly realized Archaeological this juncture. Brazil alone he had seduced (and to which a brief stint in power was to give the illusion of being the real one) was one of those landowners gradually moving their capital into industrial investment with foreign participation, and seeking an ideological cover in a parliamentary system in good company; them the same as our students, from recent immigrants or gentry related to land and ruined by the fluctuations of world trade, called the gran fino with resentment, the great end, that is to say the top of the basket. Curious thing: the founding of the University of Sao Paulo, great work in the life of Georges Dumas, was to allow these classes to begin their ascent modest obtaining diploma and administrative positions, so our mission university helped form a new elite, which would break away from us insofar Dumas, and the Quai d’Orsay after him, refused to understand it was our most precious creation, even if it got down to the task of debunking a feudal system that we had certainly introduced in Brazil, but to serve as part of bail, and another hobby. But the evening’s dinner France-America, we were not even my colleagues and I – and our wives who accompanied us – to measure involuntary role we would play in the evolution of Brazilian society. We were too busy watching us from each other, and watch our faux pas possible, because we had been warned by Georges Dumas need to prepare ourselves to live the life of our new masters: that ie attend the Automobile Club, casinos and racetracks. It seemed extraordinary to young teachers who previously earned twenty-six thousand francs a year, and even – as candidates for expatriation were rare, after they had tripled our treatments “Above all, we had said Dumas, it will be well-dressed “anxious to reassure us, he added with a rather touching candor that it could be done very economically, not far from Les Halles, in an establishment called A Cross Jeannette he had always had to rent when he was young medical student in Paris.

Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques, Plon, 1955

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Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Uncategorized


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