Introduction to the Work of MARCEL MAUSS. Claude Lévi-Strauss. ROUTLEDGE & KEGAN PAUL London - PDF

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Introduction to the Work of MARCEL MAUSS Claude Lévi-Strauss ROUTLEDGE & KEGAN PAUL London First published in 1950 as Introduction à l'oeuvre de Marcel Mauss by Presses Universitaires de France This translation

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Introduction to the Work of MARCEL MAUSS Claude Lévi-Strauss ROUTLEDGE & KEGAN PAUL London First published in 1950 as Introduction à l'oeuvre de Marcel Mauss by Presses Universitaires de France This translation first published in 1987 by Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd 11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE Set in 10 on 13 point Trump Mediaeval by Fontwise and printed in Great Britain by Thetford Press Ltd Thetford, Norfolk Presses Universitaires de France 1950 This translation Felicity Baker 1987 No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in criticism British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Lévi-Strauss, Claude Introduction to the work of Marcel Mauss. 1. Mauss, Marcel I. Title II. Introduction à l'oeuvre de Marcel Mauss. English '4 GN21.M/ ISBN (p) Contents Translator's note vii Introduction to the work of Marcel Mauss 1 I 3 II 24 III 45 Notes 67 Bibliography 74 Index 85 v Translator's note L es sciences de l homme, les sciences humaines: fields of inquiry and disciplinary boundaries are marked out differently in French and Anglo-American institutions; Claude Levi- Strauss's writing internalises that difference and distance without minimising them. The essay's scope exceeds what is understood by the terms ethnology, ethnography, anthropology; the sciences of man and the human sciences are its context, and so these disciplinary groupings are not replaced by more 'naturally equivalent' names. The Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss refers a number of times to works by Mauss collected 'in this volume'. The original Introduction a l oeuvre de Marcel Mauss prefaces the earliest major collection of his writings, entitled Sociologie et anthropologie (Paris, 1950; see bibliography for details). The contents of that vii Translator's note volume are available in English as three books: The Gift, A General Theory of Magic, and Sociology and Psychology. The present translation of Lévi-Strauss's prefatory essay is therefore adrift from the volume of which the original is a part. Nevertheless, the essay's occasional reference to the absent volume, perhaps momentarily distracting for the reader, is retained in the translation as being indispensable for historical reasons. It is necessary to preserve those references even for the correct understanding of the essay itself, since it analyses and interprets Mauss's thinking on the basis of the given selection of texts which are grouped together in Sociologie et anthropologie. Certain other choices concerning the mode of presentation of this translation are governed by the work's historical purpose of documenting and clarifying Marcel Mauss's contribution to the thinking of this century. A brief explanation of some of these choices may be helpful. First, I have repeated Lévi-Strauss's own device of giving all titles of works by Mauss in italic type, in the body of the text and in the notes, despite the fact that no work by Mauss was published singly as a book in the first instance. This departure from usage, which I limit strictly to works by Mauss, is intended as a simple visual sign of the recognition of a life's work disseminated in a notoriously fragmented form, It would in viii Translator's note any case be somewhat confusing for the Englishlanguage reader who already knows a work like The Gift to find it designated here as 'Essai sur le don'. Italics are therefore used consistently, even for extremely short pieces by Mauss. To set the record straight, however, the bibliography conforms throughout to the usual convention of distinguishing articles from books by reserving italic type for the latter. For this essay's citations from the works of Mauss, existing English translations have been consulted with profit, and page references to these are given in the notes. However, for almost all these citations, I have given my own translations, only rarely adopting the already published version. That is because Lévi-Strauss sometimes slightly alters the terms to fit the structure of his own sentence (without, of course, distorting Mauss's thought). Given the depth of the essay's analysis of Mauss's thinking, I judged it appropriate to treat quotation - in the sole case of Lévi-Strauss quoting Mauss - as an element of the writing in which it is contained, and to translate it in continuity with that writing. For citations of writers other than Mauss, I have of course used any existing English versions, whether these be the originals or translations. I have added numerous reminders, in the body of the essay, of the chronology of Mauss's writings; these reminders take the form of dates Translator s note inserted in brackets, following references to the titles of these writings. The essay's task of shedding light on a masterwork whose pervasive force in contemporary thinking could otherwise have passed often unrecognised, becomes on one level a practical matter of indicating dates, of stating who published what and exactly when, and whether by the spoken or the printed word. For the translator, that practical task is increased, since the present time (1950) of the essay's organisation of its own past (the first half of the century) is now, of course, the past time of the translation and its readers. The present time of the translation, on the other hand, is the time of Lévi-Strauss's teaching; a time when Englishlanguage readers have been able to read both Mauss and Lévi-Strauss, and can fully appreciate the historical situation of this pivotal essay which itself has some of the qualities of a matrix, being composed as the making-manifest of its own matrix. I hope that the inclusion of dates through the essay will help the reader to keep this chronological layering in mind. However, most of the information needed to illustrate the diachronic character of the essay has been relegated to the bibliography, in which I have tried as far as possible to give, on the one hand, precise details of first publication dates, and on the other hand, up-to-date details of accessible editions or English translations. In instances x Translator's note where new work was first made public in lectures, spoken communications at conferences, and so on, I have worked on the assumption that the description of that event completes the title of the piece, and have therefore reproduced such descriptions as they are given in reference works, not translating those which are given in French; this applies to papers by Roman Jakobson, as well as by Mauss. Translating involves as much 'giving, receiving, returning' as any other kind of writing, and the exchange could never be limited to that most sustained one between the original and the translation. I gratefully acknowledge the enlightening discussions I have had, about the translating of this essay's conceptual shifts from the fields of phonology and algebra to ethnology and sociology, with a linguist, a mathematician, and an anthropologist conversant with mathematics: G. C. Lepschy, J. C. Amson and F. L. Brett. The bibliography was completed with the valuable assistance of K. E. Swarbrick. Felicity Baker xi Introduction to the work of Marcel Mauss The tea c h in g of Marcel Mauss, which remains highly esoteric while at the same time exerting a very deep influence, was one to which few can be compared. No acknowledgment of him can be proportionate to our debt, unless it comes from those who knew the man and listened to him. Only they can fully appreciate the productiveness of his thinking, which was so dense as to become opaque at times; and of his tortuous procedures, which would seem bewildering at the very moment when the most unexpected itinerary was getting to the heart of problems. I will not expand here on his role in French ethnological and sociological thinking; that has been examined elsewhere.1 It is enough to recall that Mauss's influence is not limited to ethnographers, none of whom could claim to have escaped it, but extends also to linguists, psychologists, historians of religion and orientalists; so 1 Introduction to M arcel Mauss that a whole constellation of French researchers in the social sciences and the human sciences have in some way got their bearings from him. For others, the written work remained too scattered and often hard to obtain. A chance meeting or a chance reading could generate lasting echoes: we could quite likely recognise some of these in Radcliffe-Brown, Malinowski, Evans-Pritchard, Firth, Herskovits, Lloyd Warner, Redfield, Kluckhohn, Elkin, Held and many others. On the whole, the work and thought of Marcel Mauss have not taken effect directly, in spoken or written form, but rather through the mediation of colleagues and followers who were in regular or occasional contact with him. A collection of essays and lectures now remedies this situation:2 a very incomplete record of Mauss's thought, which we must hope is only the first in a series of volumes in which his life's work can be apprehended at last in its full form - including everything already published and still unpublished, everything he wrote on his own or in collaboration with others. Practical considerations determined the selection of studies grouped together in this first volume. However, certain aspects of a thought- system can already emerge from that random choice, and its richness and diversity are illustrated very well by these writings, even if not perfectly. 2 I Th e f ir s t thing that strikes us about Mauss's thought is what I would like to call its modernity. The essay L Idée de mort (1926a) takes us to the heart of matters which psychosomatic medicine, as it is called, has only made topical in recent years. Of course, W. B. Cannon's physiological interpretation of the disturbances which he called homeostatic is based on work which dates from the First World War. But only much more recently did the famous biologist include in his theory those peculiar phenomena which seem to put the physiological and the social into unmediated contact.1 From 1926 onwards, Mauss had been drawing attention to those phenomena; not, of course, as their discoverer, but as one of the first people to stress how genuine they are, how widespread, and above all, how extraordinarily important they are for the correct interpretation of relations between the individual and the group. 3 Introduction to M arcel Mauss Les Techniques du corps (1934) is also inspired by that concern with the relations between individual and group (it is the dominant concern of contemporary ethnology). In stating the crucial value, for the sciences of man, of a study of the manner in which each society imposes a rigorously determined use of the body upon the individual, Mauss was announcing the most up-to-date concerns of the American Anthropological Society today, as expressed in the work of Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead and the majority of the young generation of American anthropologists. The social structure leaves its imprint on individuals through the training of the child's bodily needs and activities: 'Children are reared... to master their reflexes... fears are inhibited... the postures of the body, both at rest and in motion, are selected.'2 The investigation of the way the social is projected on the individual must go right down to the deepest layer of conventions and modes of behaviour; in this area, nothing is futile, gratuitous or superfluous: 'Child-rearing is full of what are called details, but they are actually essentials.'3 And again: 'The physical training of all ages and both sexes is made up of masses of details which pass unobserved; we must undertake to observe them.'4 So Mauss set out what has been the programme of modern ethnology for these last ten years; at the same time, he perceived the most significant 4 Introduction to M arcel Mauss consequence of this new orientation of research, which is the bringing together of ethnology and psychoanalysis. For a man issuing from that intellectual and moral background - the pudicity of the neo-kantianism which reigned in our universities at the end of the last century - much courage and clairvoyance were needed to go off in search, as he did, of 'vanished psychical states of our childhood', the products of 'the sexes and the flesh in contact',5 and to realise that he was going to find himself 'in the midst of psychoanalysis, here probably quite well-founded.'6 Hence the importance, fully perceived by him, of the moment and the methods of weaning, and of the way the baby is handled. He even adumbrates a classification of human groups into 'cradled people... uncradled people.'7 To measure the newness of these propositions, one need only cite the names and the research of M. Mead, R. F. Benedict, C. Du Bois, C. Kluckhohn, D. Leighton, E. Erikson, K. Davis, J. Henry, and so on. Mauss put these propositions forward in 1934, the very year in which Patterns of Culture8 came out, a work still far removed from Mauss's way of posing the problem; at that time, M. Mead was engaged in field-work in New Guinea, where she was working out the principles of a doctrine very close to that of Mauss, one which was destined to become famous and to exert an enormous influence. Introduction to M arcel M auss It must be added that, from two different standpoints, Mauss remains ahead of all the later developments. When he opened the new territory of body techniques to ethnological research, his insight was not restricted to acknowledging the relevance of that kind of study for the problem of cultural integration; he was at the same time emphasising that body techniques have an intrinsic importance. But in that respect nothing has been done, or almost nothing. For ten or fifteen years now, ethnologists have been willing enough to attend to certain body disciplines, but only to the extent that they hoped, in so doing, to elucidate the mechanisms through which the group moulds individuals in its own image. In fact, no one has yet tackled the immense task which Mauss insisted was urgently necessary; that is, the compilation of an inventory and description of all the uses to which men have put their bodies throughout history, and above all, throughout the world, and to which they still do put them. We are collectors of the products of human industry, and of written or oral texts. But as for the very numerous and varied possibilities of that instrument which is the human body, we are as ignorant as ever, even though the body is universal and is at everyone's disposition; we only know about those possibilities of body use-always partial and limited - which come within the requirements of our particular culture. 6 Introduction to Marcel Mauss However, any ethnologist who has worked in the field knows that those possibilities are surprisingly variable from group to group, The thresholds of excitability, the limits of resistance are different in every culture. 'Impossible' effort, 'intolerable' pain, 'unheard-of' pleasure are not so much a function of individual peculiarities as of criteria ratified by collective approval or disapproval. Every technique, every mode of behaviour, learned and transmitted by tradition, is founded on certain nervous and muscular synergies which constitute veritable systems, bound up with a whole sociological context. That is true of the humblest techniques, like lighting fires by friction or fashioning stone tools by knapping; and it is much more true of those grand constructs, simultaneously social and physical, which are the different kinds of gymnastics (including Chinese gymnastics, so different from our own, and the internal gymnastics of the ancient Maori, about which we know next to nothing); or the Chinese and Hindu breathing techniques; or the circus acts which are a very old patrimony of our own culture, and which we leave to the chance effects of personal callings and family traditions to preserve from extinction. Such knowledge of the modes of body use among humans would, however, be particularly necessary for an age in which the development of the mechanical means at man's disposition tends 7 Introduction to Marcel Mauss to deflect him from exercising and applying his bodily means in any domain except that of sport, which is an important part, but no more than a part, of the bodily comportments that Mauss had in mind; and one which is, moreover, variable from one group to another. It would be very welcome if an international organisation such as UNESCO would commit itself to carrying into effect the programme which Mauss mapped out in that paper. The publication of International Archives of Body Techniques would be of truly international benefit, providing an inventory of all the possibilities of the human body and of the methods of apprenticeship and training employed to build up each technique; for there is not one human group in the world which could not make an original contribution to such an enterprise. What is more, it is a common patrimony, one which is immediately accessible to all of humanity, with roots that go right back through the millennia, and with a practical value that remains and will always remain relevant; putting it at the disposition of one and all would do more than anything else could (because it takes the form of lived experiences) to make each one of us aware of our mental and physical connections with the whole of humanity. It would also be a project eminently well fitted for counteracting racial prejudices, since it would contradict the racialist conceptions which try to make out that man is a 8 Introduction to Marcel Mauss product of his body, by demonstrating that it is the other way around: man has, at all times and in all places, been able to turn his body into a product of his techniques and his representations. But there are other reasons yet which militate in favour of the enterprise, as well as ethical and practical ones. It would produce an unexpected wealth of information about migrations, cultural contacts and borrowings made in the distant past, for these are evidenced, not only by archaeological excavations or figured monuments, but also, and often much better, by seemingly insignificant gestures transmitted from one generation to the next and protected by their very insignificance. The placing of the male's hands when urinating, the preference for washing oneself in running or stagnant water (which survives in the preference for leaving the washbasin plugged or unplugged while the water is running) and so on; these are so many examples of an archaeology of body habits which, in modern Europe (and all the more elsewhere), provide the cultural historian with information as valuable as that of prehistory and philology. Of that solidarity of past and present inscribed in the humblest and most concrete of our customs no one could be more aware than Mauss, who liked to discern the frontiers of Celtic expansion in the shape of bread in bakery windows. But in 9 Introduction to Marcel Mauss stressing the importance of death by magic or of body techniques, he meant also to substantiate another type of solidarity, which provides the principal theme of another paper published in this volume: Rapports réels et pratiques de la psychologie et de la sociologie (1924). In all these cases, we are dealing with an order of facts 'which should be studied without delay: those facts in which social nature is very directly linked to man's biological nature.'9 These are facts of an exceptional kind which enable us to grapple with the problem of the links between psychology and sociology. It was Ruth Benedict who taught both contemporary ethnologists and psychologists that the phenomena which they endeavour to describe pan be described in a language common to both, borrowed from psychopathology. That fact on its own constitutes a mystery. Ten years earlier, Mauss had perceived the same thing, with such a prophetic l
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