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Between Belief and Transgression: Structuralist Essays in Religion, History, and Myth by

Michel Izard; Pierre Smith


Review by: Roy Wagner
American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 85, No. 3 (Sep., 1983), pp. 684-686
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
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684 AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST
[85, 1983]
consists of a core of
ethnographic
case studies
(originally presented
at the 1979 and 1980 an-
nual
meetings
of the Association for Social An-
thropology
in
Oceania)
bracketed with an intro-
ductory essay
and
concluding
discussion
by
the
editors,
Marty
Zelenietz and
Shirley
Linden-
baum,
respectively.
It is
atypical,
however,
in
that it
largely
succeeds in
avoiding
the most
common
shortcomings
of such collections.
All too often the
papers
assembled for
sym-
posia
are of
highly
uneven
quality
and
only
loosely
related to the central
topic.
In this in-
stance,
by
contrast,
the seven case studies are all
excellent. Each is a
well-written, well-edited,
thorough,
and
richly
detailed
gem
of
ethnog-
raphy,
and each
clearly
situates the
ideology
and
practice
of
sorcery (and
witchcraft in one
case)
in its context of
ongoing
social
change.
Only highlands
societies are included for main-
land New Guinea: Mendi
(Rena Lederman),
Enga (Mervyn Meggitt),
Bimin-Kuskusmin
(Fitz
Poole),
and
Agarabi (George Westermark).
The
diversity
of island Melanesia is somewhat better
represented by
Nissan Atoll
(Steven Nachman),
Southeast
Ambrym
in Vanuatu
(Robert
Ton-
kinson),
and the
Kilenge
of West New Britain
(Marty Zelenietz).
The editors contribute
stimulating essays
that
integrate
the other
papers
and relate them to
concerns which extend far
beyond
the volume's
regional
focus.
Eschewing
the
imposition
of a
particular analytical
scheme,
they adopt
the in-
ductive
approach
of
identifying emergent
themes or issues that connect the case studies.
Zelenietz finds such an issue in the use of
sorcery
to address "a basic
indigenous
concern with the
redistribution and redefinition of
power" (p. 6).
Indeed,
the case material indicates that this is a
widespread contemporary
concern in
Melanesia. We are
given
a series of well-
reasoned accounts of the
changing political
and
economic
relationships
between
groups
that are
participating unequally
in
change
and
develop-
ment. In addition to
consequent
shifts in earlier
power
relations between
groups,
it is also clear
that new tensions result within
groups
due to the
"conflict between the social ethic of redistribu-
tion and the bisnis ideal"
(p. 18),
as Lederman
expresses
a
problem
common to several of the
societies described.
This differential
participation
in
change
also
catches the attention of Lindenbaum, who
focuses
upon
how a "new
political
and economic
order now
provides
a reoriented
geography
of
danger" (p. 122),
as case after case reveals
ap-
parent
recent
changes
in
sorcery
accusations
(if
not its
practice).
Most of the authors
report
"a
shift from what
might
be called
exo-sorcery
to
endo-sorcery" (Lindenbaum, p. 119)
as kin,
neighbors,
and former
allies
are now
suspected
of attacks that
previously
were attributed to
"outsiders."
Both Zelenietz and
Lindenbaum
argue
that
these studies fill
particular
needs in the dis-
cipline
- a need for
explicit
attention to the
relationship
between use of the
sorcery
idiom in
conflicts related to social
change,
and for con-
temporary,
detailed accounts of such
ideolog-
ical
systems
in action.
They
are
correct, and
there is
grist
here for
many anthropological
mills as a number of
similarities, but also dif-
ferences,
emerge
from these
fascinating papers.
This is a first-rate collection that contradicts the
negative image apparently
held
by
so
many
commercial
publishers
that
symposium
volumes
increasingly
must seek
publishing
outlets as
special
issues of
journals
or not
appear
at all.
This is
especially
unfortunate in the
present
case
since the
papers
warrant much wider attention
than is
easily provided by
Social
Analysis-a
fine
journal
but still
readily
available to few.
General/Theoretical
Between Belief and
Transgression:
Struc-
turalist
Essays
in
Religion, History,
and
Myth.
Michel Izard and Pierre
Smith,
eds.
Chicago: University
of
Chicago
Press, 1982. xx
+ 276
pp.
$20.00
(paper). (French ed.,
1979.)
Roy Wagner
University
of
Virginia
Because Levi-Strauss is a creative
giant
of the
modern
anthropological epoch,
one
always
ex-
pected
that
somewhere,
perhaps
in France
itself, there would be a
genuine LUvi-Straussian
anthropology, preserved
as a national
style,
as
premodern Germany
had
preserved
the Kul-
turkreislehre. In this
respect
this collection is far
from
disappointing.
But it also shows how
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CUL TURAL/ETHNOLOG Y 685
vulnerable the
anthropology
of codes is to words
and their
shortcomings;
for
introspection,
in a
purely
referential world,
means that one does a
sort of chemical reduction on one's
terminology.
Following James
A. Boon's
eloquent
introduc-
tion,
and a
preface by
the editors,
Jean
Pouillon
asks "What can we mean
by
'belief?" He con-
cludes with an
appeal
to context and to dif-
ferential cultural
assumptions.
"Where is the
boundary
between
religion
and
superstition?"
Nicole Belmont
inquires
in the second
essay
and
locates a dialectic between internalization
(superstition)
and externalization
(religion),
each
necessitating,
and therefore
producing,
the other. In a more
traditionally
structuralist
vein,
Olivier Herrenschmidt contrasts the role
of sacrifice in Brahmanic and
"testamentary"
(i.e., Christianity, Judaism, Islam) religions,
and concludes with an
arrestingly
Dumontian
transform between "rite" and "covenant,"
and a
correspondingly
vitiated notion of "sacrifice."
"Is
myth recognizably
the same
thing
in all
cultures?" Marcel Detienne examines the
histories of Western
(19th-century) explication
and the
post Xenophanes (ca.
530
B.C.)
Greeks,
who made a
"myth"
of
myth by coining 'myth-
ology"
as a kind of
pejorative,
and concludes
that the
category myth
is itself an artifact of
writing, interpretation,
and
scholarly
exclusion.
Whatever the
category, Georges
Charachidze
provides
in the
following essay
a brilliant ex-
emplar
of
mythic
inversion and transformation;
the
eagle
that torments Prometheus for
stealing
fire from heaven in Greek
mythology
becomes,
in
Georgian
folklore,
the rescuer of the hero
Amirani for his return of the subterranean
waters. The
eagle
is
transposed,
as it were, into
the
"key
of water." And with this venture in
mythic translatability,
the book modulates into
the
key
of
Levi-Strauss,
with the
modeling,
rather than
debating,
of a world
through
its
codes.
Marshall Sahlins's "The
Apotheosis
of
Cap-
tain Cook" does this
by way
of
discovering
another Prometheus,
the
great explorer
who,
martyred
as
such,
died for his executioners "in
the
key
of Lono," the Hawaiian
deity,
and
brought
them,
through
his
metamorphosis,
the
legitimation
of
English power
for the formation
of an
indigenous
state. What is achieved,
in a
piece
of clean and
nonindulgent prose,
is a
realization of structure as
history,
and of both as
the
supreme irony
of a rationalist who died as a
god
so that a
people
would
ultimately deny
their
religion.
Pierre Smith follows this with a
thoughtful
and
eminently
L~vi-Straussian
essay
on
religion, critically examining
some function-
al and
symbolic approaches
to a number of
African rituals and
offering
a kind of structural-
ist caveat based on the situation of such
usages
within a total cultural
(and
even a
global)
con-
text.
Patrice Bidou's "On Incest and Death"
returns the discourse more
explicitly
to Levi-
Straussian scholasticism. In a shrewd treatment
of
Tatuyo (Northwest Amazonia) myth,
the
neo-Rousseauian "sexual contract" of Elemen-
tary
Structures is carried to an
(unsurprising)
conclusion: the structural
consequence
of incest
is death.
Morality
becomes a matter of media-
tion,
the
point
of
power
where the
mixing
and
mediation of
things
can lead to death and
decomposition
or to
curing.
In Francoise
Heritier's "The
Symbolics
of Incest and Its Pro-
hibition,"
this notion of
"mixing"
becomes fur-
ther
particularized
as the
mixing
of like with
like,
and universalized. Heritier draws
especially
on
examples
of "second order incest,"
the
mediated association of
consanguines through
a
third
party,
and on the
procreation ideology
of
the
Samo
(Upper Volta)
to
develop
a universal-
ist
theory
of incest as a
special
case of the com-
bination of likenesses. Alfred Adler's "The
Ritual
Doubling
of the Person of the
King"
mixes structuralism with a
very
different sort of
classical
problem,
the Frazerian
cryptology
of
meaning
codification in ritual. This
essay
is con-
structed almost
entirely
of
ethnographic
detail
so that,
as often with Frazer,
analysis
itself
becomes an act of
bricolage.
Patrick
Menget's
"Time of Birth,
Time of
Being:
The
Couvade,"
returns to the "universe of
rules,"
in this
case,
the incestlike rules that surround the birth of a
child. The "couvade"
among
the Txikao
(Ama-
zonia) emerges
as
part
of a broader
system
of
substances in the
body
that,
together
with
incest-prohibition,
is a
precondition
for "the
language
of
kinship." Among
the Gourmantche
(Upper Volta),
in Michel
Cartry's
"From the
Village
to the
Bush,"
the
vulnerability
of the in-
fant is linked to
space,
rather than substance.
The discourse between
village
and bush is
"humanized"
through
the relation of an infant
with its
placenta,
and of
twinning
with the
placenta-shrouded pola,
"natural" twins who
invade the
village
with the
duality
of
placental
being.
The final
strophe
in this
dialogue
be-
tween Amazonia and
Upper
Volta,
twin col-
onies, as it were, of structuralism, is Michel
Izard's
"Transgression, Transversality,
and
Wandering,"
in which
village
and bush, the
social and the wild, take their
places
in a hierar-
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686 AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGIST
[85, 1983]
chy
of structures and antistructures - those of
earth
(the
settled
peasantry), power (domina-
tion),and
force
(kingship).
Structural
analysis
resolves this into a
system
of
dizzying
but en-
chanting complexity.
Dan
Sperber's appendix,
"Is
Symbolic
Thought
Prerational,"
involves the issue of the
priority
of rational
(conventional?)
as
against
"symbolic" (iconic, etc.) "processing."
To a
large degree
that issue
begs
a
question (that
of
priority)
that most
anthropologists
do not seem
to need. But it does set
up Sperber's
answer:
that
symbolic thought
occurs at the
point
where
rational
thought
is
overloaded,
and the mind
goes seeking.
And what better coda could we
ask for but a set of "overloaded" variations
brought strenuously
within the
key
of
LUvi-
Straussian rationalism?
The Naked Man: Introduction to a Science of
Mythology,
Vol. 4. Claude
Le'vi-Strauss.
New
York:
Harper
&
Row, 1981.
746
pp.
$35.00
(cloth). (1st
ed.
published
in the French
1971.)
Peter Roe
University
of Delaware
This is the
culminating
volume of the four
Mythologiques,
the
vastly
erudite and fecund
product
of
eight years
devoted to the elucida-
tion of
myths.
Yet this is not an
undertaking
in-
terested
solely,
as its subtitle
proclaims,
in
establishing
a science of
mythology.
L6vi-
Strauss seeks to
accomplish
more than this
book's
apparent
conclusion that all Amerindian
mythology
forms one coherent
system (p. 523).
He continues the move from South into North
America
begun by
the third volume
by showing
that the
myths
of the tribes between the
Klamath and Frazer rivers of the Northwest
share the same armature
(p. 500)
as the tribal
myths
of the Southern Brazilian
plateau
with
which he
began
the first two volumes. He does
this
by showing
how two
key myths,
the Bird
Nester,
represented
as a weak form in South
America,
and the Loon
Woman, found in a
strong
form as the North American war be-
tween the celestial and terrestrial
worlds,
invert
each other
(p. 112).
To contrast the Yana and Bororo
myths,
respectively,
we see a human male tricked into
climbing
a tree
by
a male
jaguar
and reduced to
bones while excrement falls on his head from
above,
versus a man who
accidentally
falls from
above,
and is reduced to bones inside the earth
by
a female loon who bursts hearts from within.
These and 283 other
variants,
like two
sym-
metrically
inverted
myths (the strong
form of
the star wife of a terrestrial man in South
America and the weak form of the terrestrial
wives of celestial stars, the sun and the
moon,
in
North
America)
are scattered about the New
World in four areas as a demonstration of the
primacy
of
logical
over
culture-geographical
connections
(p.
593,
Fig. 34).
They
all reduce to the
relations,
woman:
earth::man:sky,
the heart of the "vast
system,
the invariant elements of which" are "a conflict
between the earth and the
sky
for the
possession
of fire"
(p. 598),
derived from the
culinary
metaphor
that
organizes
all four volumes
(p.
610).
It
generates every
social
relationship,
beginning
with
marriage (p. 624).
Continuing
an affirmation of the
applicabil-
ity
of the tenets of the
Prague
School of
linguis-
tics to
mythology,
Levi-Strauss asserts that
myth
says nothing
"instructive about the order of the
world, the nature of
reality
or the
origin
and
destiny
of mankind"
(p. 639).
Moreover,
mythic
symbols
themselves are devoid of innate mean-
ing.
Like neutral code elements
they
derive
significance
from their
interrelationships
with
other
symbols (p. 261)
in transformational
systems (p. 247)
where the smallest
apparently
arbitrary
details are
strictly
motivated
(p. 562).
They
constitute the "one
myth only"
of his last
chapter,
the ultimate
myth
maker of which is
LUvi-Strauss
(p. 563)!
Intrinsically,
that
myth
reveals
nothing
of
history (p. 606),
nor culture
(p. 184).
Rather,
its
basal
message
concerns Mind
(p. 603),
not
just
Levi-Strauss's
mind,
but
through
the
psychic
unity
of
mankind,
the American Indian Mind
(p. 453),
and
ultimately
the "Human Mind"
(p.
639).
He
argues
not about the structure of
Mind, but its
dyadic functioning
as a manifes-
tation of a more basic
process,
the DNA mole-
cule
coding
life
(p. 676)
as universal intelli-
gence.
This and his use of
metaphor
not as a
discovery technique
but an
explanatory
device
(p. 594)
constitute most
anthropologists' objec-
tions to
Levi-Strauss--the suspicion
that he is
really
not
doing anthropology,
but rather
psychology,
art,
or
perhaps
even
biology.
Despite lip
service to
unraveling
human nature
through
the
comparative
method,
anthropology
usually
describes human cultural
diversity.
In
materialist hands this reveals a tabula rasa
epistemology requiring
Prime movers like
calories, or technoeconomics to
generate
that
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