Totemism

by Claude Levi - Strauss  1962

 

INTRODUCTION

One of his opening statements is that the laws of logic are invariable.

 

Totemism is like a hysteria that needs to be cured.  You do this by not isolating totemism.  People isolated because they wanted to be want to label scientifically other cultures as "primitive".  This was part of the 19th centuries to seal of the subconscious from their own moral universe.

 

But Freud taught us that there is no essential difference between states of mental health and those of mental illness.  That is only involved modification in certain general operations.

 

Art critics thereby thought El Greco was abnormal.  By regarding the hysteric where the artistic as abnormal, we accorded ourselves the luxury of believing that they did not concern us, that they did not put in question our moral or intellectual order. 

 

The believe that primitive peoples didn't understand how babies were made gave moderns a convenient way to categorize them.  This helped the "normal, white adult man" not recognize himself in others.

 

Apparently "totemism" ended in 1919.  In 1938 Boas published general anthropology.  It totally discounts the notion of totemism.  One World War I troop had a totem.  It was the rainbow.  They call themselves the rainbows.  And when they saw one they considered it good luck.  Eventually they developed complex ideas systems around the rainbow.  But

 

Boas denied that cultural phenomenon can be brought together into a unity. "myths" and "totemism" were artificial unities.  The need for totemic classification is correlated with exogamy.

 

But he missed the mark.  For if totems are cultural markers, the rules by which they were used (that are proposed by him) are too abstract.  And why would they use the animal and vegetable domains especially for denoting a social system?  The connection between symbol and identity is more concrete.

 

CHAPTER ONE - THE TOTEMIC ILLUSION

                        --ONE--

He wants to discuss totemism, and its decline, but fears the use of the term will make people believe in it more.

 

His method will be threefold: one-he will define the phenomenon understudy as a relation between two or more terms, real or supposed.   Two-  he will construct a table of possible permutations between these terms.    3 - this table will be used as the general object of analysis.

 

NATURE...                    category            particular

CULTURE...                  group                person

 

There are four combinations

 

                                    1                      2                      3                      4

NATURE....                   Category           Category           Particular          Particular

CULTURE...                  Group               Person              Person              Group

 

Each of these combinations has been seen amongst people.

Australian totemism postulates a relation between a natural category: animal & end of cultural group: members of the same-sex. 

In some Indians, the person tries to fit themselves into a natural category.  For example a child may be seen to be a vegetable eaten by the mother when pregnant.  Or a family is associated with an animal that came near their tent.

Those two examples fit into the definition of totemism.

 

But giving animals the power to create social protection and veneration doesn't.

Magic systems have thus been abstracted from totemism.  This reflects a mistaken division of reality.

 

                        --TWO--

the word totem is taken from Indians north of the Great Lakes.  It does mean "he is a relative of mine,"

he tells a story that seems to show the opposite of what he's been saying so far.  He saying totem animals are not guardians, they represent clans.  The story shows the origin of the division of Indians in a compensation by deer for the death of a human.  However the clans involved were not worried about the extinction of the totem animal.  And they ate it.  They told the investigator "it's only a name".  They gave Europeans association with animals they brought from Europe (the chicken and the pig).  Of course we were also associated with the Eagle..

 

The animals were divided into those from the water, those from the air, and those from the land.

 

Side-by-side with the system was a hierarchical system of spirits.

 

                                                MANIDO                       SYSTEM

                                                great                             spirit

                                                sun                               moon

                                                thun-                             derers

                                                cardinal                         points

TOTEMIC SYSTEM        eagle, goose, water                    spirits, pike, sturgeon, etc.

                                                chthonian                      snakes

                                                et                                 c.

 

All foods came from the Manido category.  The prohibitions came in trains.  People.guardians spirits in initiation ceremonies.  Someone mistakenly confused totem and guardians spirit.

 

                        ---THREE---

the guy this study is based on asks if the animals are representatives or emblems of the group, or part of the identities of the people.  The role of their clans chief is to control a vegetable species associated with them.  There are only rituals for vegetables they plant, not naturally occurring ones.

The shows a correlation between right and believes on the one hand in certain objective conditions on the other.

These associations are kept together sociologically and religiously.

In their myth, as in the other, the individual is regarded negatively in the group positively.

Also the myth indicates that direct contact between the gods and man is contrary to the spirit of the institution.  The totem become such only on condition that it beset apart.

 

Furthermore, the God is rarely in any particular vegetable. Usually there's a distant relation between vegetable species and the God that represents it.

Certain gods in animals in certain people can't eat them.

 

Family God is also associated with who gets what in the division of animal food.

 

Best totemism does not constitute a phenomenon in and of itself rather it is a specific instance in the general field of relations between man and the objects of his environment.

 

                        -----FOUR------

such symbols allowed one savage to remember the genealogy of up to 1400 persons.

Thus these totems represent pure categories. In my mind, this backs up Aristotle.  It goes against Lucien Levy-Bruhl. 

 

Last night I spoke with Joe.  He is writing about Aristotle's categories.  There are a three relationships:  A = A is the relationship of identity.  A does not equal B is the relationship of contradiction.  The excluded middle is third.  These relationships imply that reality is unitary and if there is a contradiction in description, it is because we are not using language precisely.  It is not because the world itself is vague.  Levy Strauss would seem to agree with him.  These totems are just different markers for Aristotelian categories.  But wouldn't that categories themselves be vague.  For example a plate of food could also be a work of art.  perhaps Joe would say that they cannot be so simultaneously.  What of our descriptions being separately and simultaneously different?  Are we both in our solopsistic world?  I guess we could communicate because the categories would still be distinct.  Remember, don't confuse essence with attribution.

 

As further confirmation of discreteness of categories, the change from animal ancestor to modern human is not seen as gradual.  Don't be fooled by our modern word "descended from."

 

Taboos are also discontinuous.

 

PART TWO  AUSTRALIAN NOMINALISM

 

                        -----ONE------

Western Australian tribes share similarities with Indonesian tribes.  moieties is evidence of contact.

He looks at rules of Exogamy using Cambridge and Oxford.  So cute. 

 

There are various socioloogical rules for who gets married to whom.

 

                        -----TWO-----

elkin proposes three criteria for the definition of a totemic system: form; which denotes distribution patterns: meaning; which describes her role and function for example regulation of marriage, social and moral sanctions, philosophy.

 

Further he divides totemism into individual and sexual.  Both of these confer powers.

Sexual totemism happens mostly in matrilineal societies.  Thus it signifies an attempt to distance the females from a male.

 

                        ---THREE----

in one group their totems for groups local groups and marriage classes.  But, these different levels function independently of each other. 

Sometimes people juggle the totem categories to justify their actions afterwards.

 

Moieties in mental categories reflect the accuracy of Aristotle's law of contradiction.  This dualism is extended to the whole of nature.

 

Part of the function of totems is to divide the universe into categories.

 

                        ---FOUR-----

people may be linked to their totem by genealogy, geography or mythology.

He interprets not knowing fathers are involved in conception to a conscious denial.  The denial service the matrilineal dissent system.

 

It is striking that, in a correlative fashion, the food taboos should be more flexible and sometimes even nonexistent  in societies that are patrilineal.  Whereas in a strict form the seem to always be associated with matrilineal clans.

 

There are many categories of totem.  Species individual social sense section subsection clan cult patrilineal and conceptual (usually matrilinial).

 

                        ---FIVE----

Elkin,  whose work is above, doesn't think a careful look explodes the idea of totemism.  But Radcliffe says that once you look carefully at these categories, they disappear. 

 

Elkin tops out totemism becomes the term with the pieces.  But it is the very idea of totemism that is illusory, not just its unity.  In other words, Elkin thinks he can reify totemism on the condition of atomizing it. 

He divides the difficulty under pretext of being able to resolve it. Elkin overwhelms us with categories to the point where we take his heavy empiricism to reflect real scientific like truth.

 

But either he should hang onto the diversity he sees and renounce totemism or hang on to terrorism at the risk of being infected by the plurality.

 

What Elkin ends up doing is considering forms which seem best organized, to arrange these in order of increasing complexity, and then underestimate those aspects which were difficult to fit in.

 

Now we can either throw out the baby with the bath water, and get rid of a systematic approach.  Or weaken permit the integration of forms whose regularity has already an established but resist systemization.  We do the latter not by denying their transit characteristics, but by blaming our definitions and categories.

 

He wants to do the latter.  He hopes to do this by combining both the social and the religious phenomenon.

 

                        ---SIX----

he wants a strict flowchart.  Since he can't find it on the sociological level, he will look on the religious level.

To the multiplicity of categories really reflect dualities?  He says dualities are universal.  Only one tribes in Australia showed quadralities.  This may reflect marriage being dual.  It may reflect the in group out group dualities. 

Yet if this duality is to satisfy its function they cannot contradict the more complex codes either.  It dualities can coexist.  A person may at the same time be both a brother and a husband.

Both of these categories may be subsumed under the category tribe.

 

Whereas, a two category category may be divided into a further layer of four categories, it doesn't follow that the four categories fit nicely into the two.  Though it probably would be coordinated somehow.  The two layers may have different levels of coordination. 

 

Within those categories there may be religious exceptions (which Elkind didn't look at).

 

When another tribe comes around, they may also divide into four categories.  They may have totally different denotations and connotations.

 

Once categories are used, they become hardened by the force of tradition and their complications become esteemed as culture. 

A question is to those social roles create the totem.  Or does the totem create those social roles?

 

Again matrilineal is more conceptual, and patrilineal more in keeping with a solid horde.  Can these two types be categorized as one?  He sees them as complementary.  The matrilinear is synchronic: it keeps track of where patrilinear spouses come to reside.  Patrilinear  totemism is diachronic: it expresses the temporal continuity of the horde.  

 

They are not connected by the vaguer categories of Elkin. 

 

THREE - FUNCTIONALIST THEORIES OF TOTEMISM

 

                        ----ONE----

Malinowski adopts a more biological and psychological (rather than anthropological) categorization.  For him there are three basic questions:

 

One - Why is totmism concerned with animals and plants?

because they supply him with food.

 

two - what is the basis of the analogy between man and animal. The comparisons and similarities are obvious.   Man wants their powers.

 

THREE - all ritual tends toward magic; and all magic leads to individual or familial specialization.  Natural conditions turn families into clans. 

 

Why do these structures not exist everywhere then?  (Don't they?)

 

                        ---TWO---

Almost noting the superfluousness of totemism as a word, Boas says that he uses it as a scaffold to look at specific cases. 

The only thing these categories of totemism have in common is the drive towards categorization.  Is this drive universal?  asks radcliffe.  Durkheim asked this question first.  He rejects Durkheims answer saying that calling something sacred just means that there is a ritual relation of cause and effect.

 

Totems rather, says radcliffe brown, show the need to have permanence and solidarity in the clan by categories.  This explains the places signed two symbols such as flags, Kings, presidents in contemporary societies.

 

But why then include animals or plants? Durkheim says that these are left over emblems.  Unfortunately, like with the catholics, these symbols segment.  Then factions and rituals multiply. 

 

Okay, if its all functional, then why do the majority of primitives gravitate towards animals and plants as their symbols?

Durkheim says they were sacred before being ritualized.  Radcliffe says they were ritualized and then made sacred. Nature is folded into concept , not vis versa.

 

All starts with nature and natural science (not spiritual, not inner grammar) assumptions.  First it is good to eat and then it is ritualized.

 

                        ---THREE----

Malinowski points out however that there are ranks between animals. Some are "high birth" some lowly. 

 

The basic question here is does categorization reflect nature, or does nature reflect categorization.   The mind is guided by a theoretical, not a practical aim in his book.

 

Why then a totem for laughing?  Many of the animals totemized have no utilitarian value to the tribes that totemize them.  The affection for the shooting star that announces the death of a relative. 

 

Some go to lengths to protect the utilitarian mode.  Flies are prayed for in abundance (though a bummer) because they are associated with rain.

 

Even if we accept utilitarianism, we still have to contend with action being mediated by culture. 

 

                        ---FOUR----

Malinowski saw ritualization as associated with risk.  But many tribes don't ritualize common risky activities.

 

One postulates that rituals are to create interest or anxiety, but then why do rituals come and go?  Freuds explanation that rituals represent emotions that come again and again doesn't hold. 

 

We may never know about the shielded origins of the rituals.  However, it is sure that they don't rise out of the individual.  Rather theyare the result of custom.  People are rarely able to assign a cause to their conformity. 

 

Then perhaps we are thrown back to Durkheim who said there is an instinct to emblamize and paint the body.  But he roots it in affect.  Levi-strauss says that affect is an affect, not a cause.

 

FOUR - TOWARD THE INTELLECT

                        ---ONE----

Since it has been established that the totems are not chosen utilitarianily (some are eaten some not, some feared some not, some hard to harvest, some not) why animals as symbols? 

 

It is not enough to attribute some function to them like the habits gotten in childhood..

 

In one region some animals are near ancestor shrines and are called "people of the earth" and as such are immune from killing.  Why them? Their sacred python is connected to their area and their descendants. 

 

The individual knows he has various functions and relations to symbols and icons are ritualistic symbols that guide him as an intellectual landmark. 

 

There is a historic totem, a clan totem and an individual totem.  He tries to stop each from being bad to him.  These are not arbitrary symbols for social relations, these are meaningful extensions of identity.  In some tribes, however, there is no resemblence postulated.  And some tribes don't have strongly developed sense of ancestory. 

 

These animals are not chosen due to symbolism or due to resemblence.  They are chosen due to difference.  This gives them the ability to distinctly symbolize the various categories. 

 

The resemblance is between two systems of differences.

 

                        ----TWO---

The psychological interpretation and functional are wrong.  Birds are chosen because they symbolize flight!  Then why are snakes chosen?

 

The nuer say that twins are "one person" and that they are "birds".  This is not explained by Levy-Bruhl's participation.  He sees twisted logical connections holding them together.  These are categories. 

 

An interpretation of the totemic relationswhip is not to be sought in the nature of the totem itself but in an association it brings to the mind.

On the creatues are posited conceptions and sentiments derived from elsewhere than from them. 

 

            ---THREE----

Different birds represent different relationships because birds can be a category in which there are differences. Two tribes swap wives.  One is the raven, the other the crow.

 

a moiety may be represented by a coyote and the other with the wild cat.  It is the balance of similarity and difference that makes them good categorizers.

 

He says that it is outside the theory of totemism how the society sees the relationship between the human beings and the other natural species.  Also, why some symbols get chosen and not others is outside the scope of totemism. 

 

One bird is seen as bad and got its color of black for being thrown into the fire for stealing meat.  This is because the holders of this myth are meat eaters and see the bird as a competitor.  The symbol makes sense within their social situation. 

 

This is conceptual, not functional. Not cathartic.

 

Another tale tells why the Kangaroo is tall and the wombat has a flat head and hides in the cave.  These are "just-so" stories.  Amusing.  The dozens of stories have a single theme though.  They are all translatable into terms of friendship and conflict, solidarity and opposition.  The world of animal life is representing social relations similar to those of human society.

 

This is like the attractors to meaning that the User Illusion says children use to put meaning to words.  This allows them to fill in words with appropriate exformation.

 

To achieve these stories, the animals are paired as opposites.  They have to be common in one way that allows them to be compared. 

 

Bicameral, gossip, Levy strauss, Levy Bruhl and user illusion.  Can they be reconciled?  Bicameral says the voices came from without in.  They were words first.  Perhaps these were practiced on animals?  That would go with the user illusion.  Levy-Bruhl requires a chaos of signs out of which order was made.  A frightened person trying to understand natural forces more than social relations.  Cause and effect practiced here.  Whereas the gossip theory really sees grunts as turning to social relations.  Grunts as social relations wouldn't necessarily have to go through animals first.  They would require nouns.  Bicameral says nouns are late. Dunbar would require them to happen early.  Dunbar says that Jaynes conflated the hearing of words and the ability to identify and express emotions.

 

 

Some oppositions are war/peace, upstream/downstream, red/white.  The most systematic of these is the yin/yang. 

This allows dualism to be a tool for integreation, not an obstacle.

 

                        ---FOUR---

These symbols aren't chosen because they are "good to eat"  they are chosen because they are "good to think."  Radcliffe brown did anticipate this and develop into it but didn't state he had changed his mind.  He didn't do that easily. He had come far from his empirical views.

 

Can we coorelate the oppositions noted here to the veto power in the user illusion of the "I" over the "me"?

The symbol is disconnected from content.  The form is inside the observer, not inside the symbol. 

 

{{{{{Bicameral and Levy-Bruhl would agree more that the impulse comes from the outside.  The binary is a desire to control, not a human need projected.  So this book would agree with the cultural conservatives, there are mental essences.  The bicameral and levy bruhl would agree with the empiricists that meaning is a result of material forces that change with time.  Is it my experience that mindis influenced by the outside.  Yes in that it is forced to seek different content and categories.  No in that it pretty much uses the noun, verb formula.  It doesn't seem to change in "me" perception.  Perhaps the I is just, then, a result of inner dichotomies and conservative.  The "me" is a thing of empirical change and willy nilly to the outside.  I think though that I am conflating the Idea of categories of oppositions and external ideals and values.  One is an essence the other is an attribute.  The category of oppositions is the essence and the eternal ideals are attributes (fighting is good, allegience is bad).}}}}}

 

The form is not outside, but inside.   Meaning is not decreed: if it is not everywhere it is nowhere.  We can get what we wnat to represent what we want.  Some frame similarity of birds to men in habitat, some in food eaten etc.  But all presuppose that difference and similarity are relations.

 

We don't have simple categories within categories.  We must understand  symbols through their  opposition and correlation, institutions , representations and situations.   This just shows a similarity between human thought and that to which it is applied. 

 

FIVE--- TOTEMISM FROM WITHIN

 

                        ----ONE---

{{{{

This theory of opposites does set us up to like aristotle and boolean logic.  This also includes the growth of the I with a profound break from the Me as illustrated in the user illusion.  It is putting information onsomething that should have a lot of exformation: a bird.  And, it doesn't postulate that the two are related in any way.  Dunbar's explanation would be much more consanant with the idea of exformation.  Bad connotes a lot of information.  Untrustworthy does too.  This is easier tied into the evolutionary psychology concept of the origin of fairness and justice.  Does Jaynes imply that there were infinitely malable moral codes when the gods first spoke?  No.  This guy must be postulating some substance beyond opposites.  There were coalitions and good and bad and fair and unfair in the stories.  Levy Bruhl sees language more as a physics/control type of thing.  Language as a descriptor of the world.  WHy would man need to describe the world though?  THe moral or social things make more sense.  }}}}

 

 

Bergeson anticipates Radcliffe Brown in which he looks at animal idolatry as an inanimate object with the deference of a religious zeal.  But how then to explain the parallels in stories.

 

One explanation is Levy-Bruhl's participation one.  which treats cavalierly the multiple meanings of the expression in different languages which we translate by the verb "to-be".  Even in our language the meaning is shaky.

Durkheim makes it an emblem, but then cannot account for its place in the lives of the people.

 

Neither answers why animals and plants so much?  It is because animals are not individuals, but of a genus.  Men are symbols that are distinct from others.  Animals and plants can be categorized like essences.  Thus he is good for that singular thing of totemism. 

 

Different species can then mean different blood.

 

{{{{ But then how does he account for the pleading for powers and favors that animals recieve?}}}}}

 

                        ---TWO---

Durkheim says that emblems spread like religion or a meme.  But he does still posit the origin in social , not mental.  And when he tries then to flush out the details of the complex system with reference to the social, it gets hard.  Things represent affects and isolation and abstract ideas. 

 

{{{of course Levy-strauss has trouble putting oppositions into abstract ideas.  The ideas had to have been ther ebefore they were expressed.  And I find it hard to believe that they were just all expressed at once on outside animals.  Of course, he isn't postulating the origin.  He is postulating the found logic of natives.  If this is the case, the individual had much more of a self constructed logic than Jaynes can account for.  The native has his own totem and understands the relations inherent in it.  Though the deep knowledge was only known to the elders}}}}}

 

{{{{{SOo hee, is a bid for the meaning of words.  Just floating from partner to partner sees me as an information processor of abstracted symbols for the sake of speed and bandwidth}}}}

 

Rousseau said that categorizing animals was the basis of all nouns and logic.  He tries to trace the shift from nature to culture.  He doesn't as does bergeson rely on instinct.  That is just more blind nature.  It has no consciousness.  The forcing of words came due to increase in tribe size requiring specialization!  He claimed that distinguishing the intellectual from the affective caused compassion and expression. 

 

                        ---THREE----

Lastly, he applauds  Bergeson and Rouseau for their look inside to their own minds to draw conclusions before anthropology had taken off.  This shows that we all have the same minds.  Ours a link to theirs. 

 

Others had wild exaggerations of the difference of the minds of others.  It was an obsession with religion that caused it to be categorized with the non-rational.  But now we see it is safe and warm like us!  Religion is, rather, a bunch of confused ideas.

 

{{{I uttered the first word on mushrooms, it was a noun.  Jaynes and Bruhl can be seen in the context of Strausses noticing that only animals and plants are totems.  Theundifferentiated character of them contrasts with the individual mind of a human god.  But I don't see how the leap is made from the primitive totem worshipper to the lobotomized god worshipper).  Certainly Jaynes left out that the totem came before the single god.  Maybe not.  He did say that the first shrines were to the voice of the dead leader.  What of the animal though?  Could the original voice be bifurcated by the tribe, family and individual animal totem?  Then why the sudden centralization in the leader when civilizations grew?   }}}}}}