The Sceptical Epistemology of Triste Tropiques

  • Richard A. Watson
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 145)


“The truths that we travel so far to seek,” Claude Lévi-Strauss says in his self-mocking introduction to Triste Tropiques,1 are of value only when we have scraped them clean of all this fungus.... So much... that has no possible interest: insipid details, incidents of no significance” (p. 17) — the full experience of everyday life. Not in the midst of his adventures in the Brazilian jungle does Lévi-Strauss find certainty, but rather fifteen years later in Paris in his own mind. “I had wanted to pursue ‘the primitive’ to its farthest point” (p. 326), “to rediscover the ‘natural Man’ in his relation to the social state outside of which our human condition cannot be imagined” (p. 391), and he did claim to find a timeless universal, “the essence of what our species has been and still is, beyond thought and beneath society” (p. 398), that “men are... always men” (p. 326). For, when we reach the ends of the earth and dwell among exotic people, “No sooner are such people known, or guessed at, than their strangeness drops away, and one might as well have stayed in one’s own village” (pp. 326–327). We must “accept the true conditions of our human experience and realize that it is not within our power to emancipate ourselves completely either from its structure or its natural rhythms” (p. 126).


Deep Structure Human Mind Human Thought Human Freedom Natural Rhythm 
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  1. 1.
    Claude Lévi-Strauss. Triste Tropiques (Paris: Librairie Plon, 1955). Quotations are from the English translation by John Russell, A World On The Wane ( New York: Criterion, 1961 ).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Claude Lévi-Strauss. Le Crue et le cuit ( Paris: Librarie Plon, 1964 ), p. 14.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1996

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  • Richard A. Watson

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