Michael Taussig

  • Anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss in Brazil ca. 1936. Photo: Apic/Getty Images.


    Only a handful of modern thinkers have had so profound an impact on our understanding of the world as Claude Lévi-Strauss, whose revelatory application of linguistic theory to the field of anthropology—in tracts such as The Elementary Structures of Kinship (1949), Tristes Tropiques (1955), and The Raw and the Cooked (1964)—gave birth to a structuralist model that forever transformed the studies of art history and literature, psychology and sociology. In the opening decades of the twenty-first century, his rethinking of global cultures and circuits of exchange has never been more relevant. When Lévi-Strauss died this past October, at the age of one hundred, we asked art historian THOMAS CROW, anthropologist MICHAEL TAUSSIG, and cultural theorist SYLVÈRE LOTRINGER to consider his life and legacy. Taussig’s contribution appears below. For Crow and Lotringer’s considerations, pick up the April issue of Artforum.

    MY MOST DISTINCT MEMORIES of Claude Lévi-Strauss and the structuralist earthquake he introduced in the United States shortly before I first arrived here as a lecturer in 1971 are these:

    A youngish man from the art school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in my regular café, engrossed day after day in a book called Structuralism (by Jean Piaget, as I later learned). Not much of a memory, you say, but the intensity of that young man’s concentration sticks in my mind, emblematic of the extraordinarily exciting, almost religious passion then sweeping the University of Michigan campus. No one really knew or


    A TALISMAN IN THE FORM of a postcard I stuck onto a sheet of paper in 1984 in New York placed by my IBM Selectric and soon covered with appointments, telephone numbers, and a reminder to deposit money. And here it still is, the paper curled, the names passed away, the money spent, but Kandinsky's image fresher than ever, mindful of works accomplished and a history we now share. Not an object of art-historical study but a revelation when unthought things were piling up awaiting their turn at the writer's table, waiting because the words were going one way but the music another. Over and over I