As Lévi-Strauss freely explores the mythologies of the Americas, with occasional incursions into European and Japanese folklore, tales of sloths and squirrels interweave with discussions of Freud, Saussure, "signification," and plays by Sophocles and Labiche. Lévi-Strauss critiques psychoanalytic interpretation and defends the interpretive powers of structuralism.
"Electrifying. . . . A brilliant demonstration of structural analysis in action. . . . Can be read with pleasure and profit by anyone interested in that aspect of self-discovery that comes through knowledge of the universal and timeless myths that live on in all of us."—Jonathan Sharp, San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle
"A characteristic tour de force. . . . One remains awed by him."—Colin Thubron, Sunday Times
"With all its epistemological depth, the book reads at times like a Simenon or a Lewis Carroll, fusing concise methodology with mastery of style."—Bernadette Bucher, American Ethnologist
"[An] engagingly provocative exploration of mythology in the Americas. . . . Always a good read."—Choice
"A playful, highly entertaining book, fluently and elegantly translated by Bénédicte Chorier."—Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, New York Times Book Review
In Iroquois mythology, comets or meteors may trigger a husband to eject his wife through a hole as if she were excrement. While psychoanalysts could have a field day with this belief, French anthropologist Levi-Strauss insists that Freudians err in deciphering myths as if they employed a single symbolic code. Sexual, cosmic, zoological and technological meanings usually overlap, he claims. As proof, Levi-Strauss investigates the multiple associations of symbols common to North and South American Indian tales. Potters' kilns, fireballs, the sloth and the goatsucker all figure in a hemisphere-wide myth system pieced together by the eminent structuralist in this dense study. Themes dear to psychoanalysisoedipal conflict, oral sadism, anal retentivenessare shown to be common knowledge among Amerindian tribes. Levi-Strauss also uncovers a myth of the Jivaro Indians of the Andes that anticipates Freud's scenario of the primal horde in Totem and Taboo. (May)