Before we begin, there are two things that I want to mention. The first is that a very close friend of mine has recently bought me a present: a copy of the final book of the Mythologiques series, L’Homme Nu, in the original French. This may seem to be an odd thing to mention, but this was not any random copy of that book. Rather, it was the very copy that belonged to the late Marcel Hénaff, who wore the twin hats of philosopher and anthropologist. While I know many people that were far more close to him than I, it still would be hard to quantify my debt to Marcel Hénaff. He was the sort of person who always was willing to make time to meet, to check in how the career is advancing, to see what you were arguing with, to hear about what it was that was next on the horizon. (Whenever I saw him in San Diego when I was back from the University of Edinburgh, he would always greet me by loudly saying in his inimitable French accent, “How is my European friend?”) He was the person who first taught me about Gilles Deleuze, who’s work has had an oversized effect on my thoughts. And, most of all, he as the author of Claude Lévi-Strauss and the Making of Structural Anthropology. That book, a wonderful précis of Lévi-Strauss’s intellectual career, was one of the books that I read most assiduously in the opening days of graduate school. This was not because Lévi-Strauss had any particularly outsized importance in my department. Rather, it was because of Lévi-Strauss’s lack of weight in that milieu that I turned to him, and particularly to Marcel Hénaff’s distillation of him. A careful reading of a careful thinker, I remember how I would flip through it at night before I went to sleep, reading it not so much as model of what to think, but of how to think, of what rigorous thinking looks like. It was a model of deliberate, carefully attentive grace. I have never been captured by the cognitivism inherent in structural anthropology (this will probably become increasingly clear as we go deeper in our readings), but the desire to see all variation as paradigmatic expressions of the same complex – a desire also seen in Freud’s brave (albeit it probably mistaken) suggestion that the same processes are responsible for both neurotic and non-neurotic thought – struck me as a vital insight.
All this is to say that this gift of L’Homme Nu is a weighty one. All the more so because L’Homme Nu is the final book of the Mythologiques cycle. My friend bought it because of this status – he said it was his hope that it would give me “courage” in my reading of the series, as well as “motive to drive to the conclusion.” It does give me courage, though I have to say that the conclusion is honestly something that I can’t envision. Which is not to say that I will not try to reach the conclusion; rather that at least in this point in time, it’s the voyage which is the horizon against which I think this project.
Second, a more comedic note. I just want to mention in passing that WordPress has been sending me all sorts of messages about how I could monetize this blog. I suspect that they either haven’t looked at its contents, or alternately feel much stronger about high structuralism than I would have guessed.
I apologize for the asides. Well, I apologize, but I’m not going to debase myself. If we are to treat Mythologiques like it is Trieste Tropiques, then moments like this are inevitable. And more to the point, they are desirable. If reading in this manner is to have any point – and I have no idea what ‘this manner’ is, other than a gradualist one that denies any kind of total mastery because it unfolds in real time – then that reason is to see what is summoned up outside of the text through encounters with the text.
Now, back to makin’ big WordPress money and readin’ Mythologiques.