Tag Archives: Claude Levi-Strausse

Far Afield

This book was published in French under the title L’Adieu au voyage. This phrase is an allusion to the last page of Tristes Tropiques, in which Claude Lévi-Strauss invites us to seize the essence of humankind not through geographical or anthropological explorations of the planet (“fond farewell to savages and explorations!”), but through the ephemeral contemplation of the works of nature: a crystal, a perfume, or, famously, the eye of a cat. In my mind, this phrase did not refer to such a project, and even less to some historical moment: the farewell to journeying does not designate some historical realization through which, after explorations and empires, the West would observe with bitterness the end of exoticism or the vanishing of differences (these topoi date back at least to the eighteenth century). It designates rather a moment within ethnography, through which the anthropologist relinquishes any idealized conception of difference. It is thus not only a farewell to some idealized Other, but also a farewell to oneself, in other words the redefinition of the relationship between subject and object. Like in Lévi-Strauss’s original phrasing, the farewell to the journey does not point to any conclusion, or disenchantment, but to the reconfiguration of a relationship, a twofold process of objectivation and subjectivation.

— From the Preface to the English Edition of Vincent Debeane’s Far Afield: French Anthropology Between Science & Literature