Lévi-Strauss writes as though he were a naturalist from far away, observing our planet and the ecology of its different species, including the human species, with an Olympian lack of involvement.
He was thus interested in the human species in general terms but, because he knew that for 99% of its existence, humankind has consisted of small groups with very low population densities living in close interaction with a multitude of other living species, he considered the study of peoples such as the pre-contact Amazonian Indians to be far more important and relevant than the details of the short-lived modern industrialised world.
This approach led him to pay particular attention to Amerindian myths, the study of which was the subject of most of his writing since the 1960s. In particular, it is the subject of the four-volume Mythologiques (1964-71). For Lévi-Strauss, Amerindian myths are the Indian's speculation on the condition of interdependence of living things. Thus a myth about the origins of wild pigs is related to marriage rules and to another myth about the benefits of cooking.
This is, for him, a speculation not so much utilitarian as philosophical. Human thought is, of course, governed by the structuring capacity of the human brain but not explained by it. In this light, the myths are the record of the true history of the principal philosophical endeavour of mankind, and Lévi-Strauss not only wanted to record this endeavour, but also to join it. The myths' subject matter is his subject matter. Thus, this most aloof of intellectuals saw himself as a participant in the Amerindian dialogues he analysed without claiming any kind of precedence for himself. Because the myths are about the interrelationship of living things, it is essential for him to understand the natural history of all species in order to understand our own natural history.
Understanding, or participating, in the ecological reflection of humans such as the Amerindians is not only what he considered most important to study for himself as an anthropologist: it also coloured his values. These, from time to time, particularly towards the end of his life, he allowed himself to make public. He repeatedly expressed his distaste for the narrowness and sterility of much post-neolithic thought, and its obsession with the exploitation of other living things rather than simply reflecting on the latter's complexity and mutual relationships. As a result, he became something of a hero to certain modern ecological ideologues. For Lévi-Strauss, writing and formal education are just as likely to lead to philosophical impoverishment as to anything else.
Full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/ ... s-obituary