Claude Levi Strauss: The Poet in the Laboratory

Author(s): Patrick Wilcken

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Claude Levi-Strauss, author of the modern classic "Tristes Tropiques", was one of the most influential intellectuals in the second half of the twentieth century, whose ideas and methods inspired the work of Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes and Jacques Lacan and arguably changed the face of Western thought. He grew up in Paris in the early twentieth century, in a secular Jewish home and in the midst of a flourishing avant-garde. By the age of ten, he could recite long extracts from Don Quixote from memory, and was soon painting 'cubist' works and composing music. He graduated at the top of his year and later studied with Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Simone Weil, among others. By the 1930s he was in the Brazilian interior, blooding himself as an ethnographer, while the 1940s found him in New York - a Jewish exile from Nazi-occupied France, mixing with dissident intellectuals, artists and poets from all over Europe. Tracing the evolution of his ideas, Wilcken describes Levi-Strauss' key meeting with Roman Jakobson, the pioneer of structural linguistics, and shows how his development of structuralist ideas in the field of anthropology has influenced a generation of thinkers, ultimately capturing the intellectual high ground from Camus, De Beauvoir and Sartre in the 1960s. Drawing on interviews with Levi-Strauss himself, research in his archives now held at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and conversations with contemporary anthropologists, Wilcken explores and explains his ideas, revealing the man behind them to be a writer and artiste manque, who injected an artistic sensibility into academia, using imagery and ideas worthy of a poet. He remains a giant of the twentieth century.


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Published to coincide with the first anniversary of Claude Levi-Strauss's death at 101 in 2009. Wide review coverage of this full biography of this intellectual giant guaranteed. Essential for those interested in the development of ideas, and fascinating for anyone who studied humanities at university in the 1980s and '90s when structuralism was at its height

PRAISE FOR 'EMPIRE A DRIFT': 'Wilcken's perceptive and skilful narration of the extraordinary culture clash between New and Old Worlds is fascinating, at times hilarious and helps explain why modern Brazil turned out so differently from its South American neighbours' Alex Bellos 'A brilliant account ... Empire Adrift is a model of historical writing, erudite yet lively, maintaining narrative vigour while accurately rendering complex events at different times in different continents' Guardian

Patrick Wilcken grew up in Sydney and studied at Goldsmiths College and the Institute of Latin American Studies in London. He has contributed Brazil-related reviews and features to the Times Literary Supplement and the Guardian. He is the author of Empire Adrift: He has spent lengthy periods in Rio de Janeiro and now lives in Battersea, London, with his wife and child.

General Fields

  • : 9780747583622
  • : Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • : Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • : November 2010
  • : 234mm X 153mm
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Patrick Wilcken
  • : Hardback
  • : 1
  • : 384