24. JAGUARS, STARLETS, AND VAMPIRES (5/05)
Lévi-Straussian myth analysis is often highly abstract: when set of myths analyzed,
comes out to be structured by set of very basic and very abstract oppositions: raw/cooked.
But L-S not entirely consistent: in some places says these are fundamental contradictions,
discrepancies, problems, and myth is a way that society tries to bridge or mediate those
contradictions: ultimately it cannot be done, but myth keeps trying.
Many anthros who followed L-S, tried to use his methods, attempted to show how formal
structures of myth related to particular society.
One of L-S’s most famous early examples was analysis of myth from Tsimshian of
Northwest Coast of North America, story of a hero named Asdiwal.
of his travels and marriages, to spirits as well as humans.
L-S says to be understood in terms of local social structure, but often not as reflection or
justification, but rather in opposition or distinction to it.
L-S tries to classify different kinds of post-marital residence Asdiwal lives in.
have shown that his information was poor and his analysis forced.
He says there is a series of oppositions, and though myth cannot resolve them, the scope
or amplitude of the oppositions diminishes thru the myth: the oppositions get weaker and
weaker. From water vs. land, to sea hunting vs. mountain hunting, to valley vs. peak.
Many problems with analysis. Those oppositions don’t strike me as getting smaller.
Been shown that L-S very arbitrary and careless in his use of myths.
But interesting because raises issue of how the story is to be understood in terms of
One interesting re-analysis by a local specialist, John Adams, says that the story really
doesn’t seem the
of daily life in this society bur remarkably similar: often a
dynamic outsider will marry into a local group. he isn’t a member of the hereditary
power structure but he assumes de facto leadership, like Asdiwal.
Asdiwal’s career is a
(L-S, “The Story of Asdiwal” in
The Structural Study of Myth and Totemism
Leach, ed., 1967; L. Thomas et al. 1976, “Asdiwal Crumbles: A Critique of Lévi-
Straussian Myth Analysis.”
3:147-173; John Adams,
“Dialectics and Contingency in ‘The Story of Asdiwal’” in
The Unconscious in Culture
Ino Rossi, ed., 1974.)
The Legitimacy of Solomon
Edmund Leach has very useful example of a myth analysis that related myths to
contradictions in society, from Old Testament
L points out that in the OT there are a longs series of strange marriages, in which people
marry just the people they are not supposed to
These marriages form part of a series of episodes that seem to echo each other, in which
action in one episode seems similar to another episode but turned around or shifted or