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March 18, 2010 9:13 AM   Subscribe

Click here? Was structuralism, the big idea of Claude Lévi-Strauss, more cult than science? Apostolos Doxiadis, Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna – the team behind the bestselling graphic novel Logicomix – investigate.
posted by infini (30 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Want to understand structuralism? Hire a cartoonist!
posted by gum at 9:17 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


and a deep bow along with the hat tip to John Keith Hart.
posted by infini at 9:17 AM on March 18, 2010


That was pretty good. I really liked Logicomix too.
posted by codacorolla at 9:28 AM on March 18, 2010


Really well done. I think one thing that works so well here and in Logicomix (highly recommended, btw) is the way they blend arguments about theories into arguments about how they're going to proceed with creating the comic -- it gives the reader an immediate stake in what could otherwise be remote and abstract.
posted by treepour at 9:37 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I know next to nothing about strucuturalism, but I know a bit about Rusell/Wittgenstein/Cantor, I can only hope they do a better job with here than they did in Logicomix. As biography it was so-so but it really fell flat for failing to even attempt to explain the ideas that animated the hero's lives, so they ended up ambiguous mcguffins. The illustrations were great though.
posted by phrontist at 9:38 AM on March 18, 2010


Claude Levi-Strauss was not a scientist, but an artist, who spent 8 pages in Tristes Tropiques, describing a sunset (see also Vladimir Nabokov's defiant descriptionism, summarized, for instance, in the title of his short story collection "Details of a Sunset"). Structuralism is no more a science than Freudianism, yet both give us a truer understanding of our world than science alone.
posted by Faze at 9:47 AM on March 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


That comic explained structuralism better than any of the anthropology classes I took in college.
posted by sciurus at 9:55 AM on March 18, 2010


Just because you can draw doesn't mean everything should be in comicbook form.
posted by amethysts at 9:58 AM on March 18, 2010


Just because the Socratic Dialogues don't have pictures doesn't mean they wouldn't benefit from illustration.
posted by The White Hat at 10:09 AM on March 18, 2010


"Is zat good news?"
posted by blucevalo at 10:09 AM on March 18, 2010


Just because you can draw doesn't mean everything should be in comicbook form.

Or, as is usually the case on the web, "Just because you can't draw doesn't mean everything should be in comicbook form."
posted by grumblebee at 10:23 AM on March 18, 2010


In college in 1972 I discovered Levi-Strauss's ideas somewhat tangentially by studying structural linguistics (Chomsky, before I'd discovered Chomsky the anarcho-syndicalist!). It's appeal was cultish in an intellectual sort of way. I remember writing a paper, which I hope has been thrown away by now, called "Surrealism, Structuralism and Zen." They all fit together for me. But, then, I liked Castaneda, too, mentioned at the beginning of the comic.

I think part of the problem of the obscurantist nature of a lot of theory (literary theory has been skewered for the last thirty years in this regard) is the unstated emotional attachment associated with one's adherence to this or that particular theoretical framework.
posted by kozad at 10:28 AM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Geez, tough crowd this morning.

You all do realize that this is intended as nothing more than a very brief and extremely high-level exposition of his ideas and his/their place in history to a very general, non-academic readership, don't you?
posted by treepour at 10:31 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, I thought it was cool! I think it's important to take abstruse bits of knowledge and show how they can be discussed in real life, in ways that are not simply clouds of unmeaning. I've only skimmed through Logicomix, but from what I've seen, they do a great job of showing how philosophy matters and evolves.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:38 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow, this is very timely post. Thanks for putting it out there.

About this time ever year, I dust off The Golden Bough and leaf (ha!) through it. This year I was determined to learn a bit about why it fell so far out of favor among anthropologists since, to the layman anyway, it seems pretty well packed with data (or anectdata, as I eventually discovered).

In any case, it was Levi-Strauss who I found after a bit of dedicated Googling on the subject. One of those names I'd come across here and there but never really took on. It's fascinating stuff: Frazer's thesis that societies evolve from magic to religion to science vs....well, structuralism.
posted by jquinby at 10:47 AM on March 18, 2010


I remember writing a paper, which I hope has been thrown away by now, called "Surrealism, Structuralism and Zen." They all fit together for me.


That resonates with me, kozad.

The "cultish thrill" of it all (in the 1980s - it was still then regarded as a dark art at my college!) gave me the energy to pretty much nuke Macbeth to death by structuralism. After 3 days & nights - working backwards through the play for some reason - I remember proving the inevitability of Macbeth's first words being "So foul and fair a day I have not seen.."

I mean, I already knew those were his first words, but I proved they could not have been any other. Fuck knows what I was doing! (But it all fit - and I ended up knowing the play rather well!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 10:53 AM on March 18, 2010


Jesus, I really don't see why anyone likes these guys' work. They're bad cartoonists — everything is just talking heads and word balloons — and they're terrible at intellectual history, cranking out dismissive oversimplifications and sheer mistakes while ceaselessly fluffing their own egos.
posted by RogerB at 10:58 AM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


oh wow, we're debating first principles...
posted by infini at 11:04 AM on March 18, 2010


everything is just talking heads and word balloons

No. The mustache guy was secretly preparing his trick with Orestes while simultaneously partaking in the discussion, and, frankly, I found that somewhat enjoyable.
posted by Anything at 11:36 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jesus, I really don't see why anyone likes these guys' work.

I haven't taken a liking to their work, but I like what they are trying to do. Their execution of it may not be perfect, but who expects perfection out of any pioneer?

Also, your harsh words suggest to me that you are reading too much into their efforts. They are doing intellectual fiction. Their primary focus is to tell a good yarn using an underappreciated medium whilst making it accessible to a fairly well-educated audience, e.g. readers of FT. In storytelling of this form, simplifications and artistic liberties are assumed to have been taken.
posted by polymodus at 11:54 AM on March 18, 2010


ceaselessly fluffing their own egos

This doesn't make much sense to me.
posted by polymodus at 11:55 AM on March 18, 2010


Seriously, "pioneer" in an "underappreciated medium"? People have been drawing smart comics about complicated ideas at least since Rius published Marx for Beginners 35 years ago (and longer than that, of course, but that book was a certain kind of milestone). There are scads of well-executed ones out there — comics that don't place their authors center stage for no good reason, while making their ostensibly central subjects nothing but the subject of their sophomoric bullshit conversation. Is there a single image in this multi-page strip, initial portrait aside, that is shows us more about Lévi-Strauss or his ideas than it does of the authors? And where's the "good yarn"? The story of this comic: a dipshit who dismisses structuralism as pseudo-science is convinced of its merits by a thinly-read dilettante who thinks of it as a "dinosaur" fad. There's no story worthy of the name, no content worthy of the ideas, and no images that illuminate or reflect on the subject.

I like comics about ideas too — that's why it bothers me to see crappy ones unjustly celebrated.
posted by RogerB at 12:21 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rius published Marx for Beginners 35 years ago
Do you believe the authors of Logicomix to be unaware of works such as this? What they are doing is different. In fact I attended a talk by one of the co-authors of Logicomix. He had to clarify the misconception of their graphic novel having any pretense of educating readers about mathematical logic. Their work is not intended to be didactic; they forgo that in order to produce something more palatable for more readers:

|{serious comic readers}| \lessthan |{casual readers that enjoy stories and graphics}|. And that is their insight. I'm not saying they will win a Nobel for it; there are big and little pioneers. Think of their work as a kind of outreach. It won't appeal to specialists who know the subject like the back of their hand, but it may inspire prospective students. And that's a good thing.

I can see your frustration but your comments aren't helping:
a dipshit who dismisses structuralism as pseudo-science is convinced of its merits by a thinly-read dilettante who thinks of it as a "dinosaur" fad
That's just mean.

And an incorrect reading of the panel. Structuralism is considered an intellectual dinosaur. That in no way belittles it. The Levi-Strauss comic closes with the following:

Intellectual progress is not the pebble thrown in the sea. It's the ripples it creates.

which echoes Wikipedia's summary of Structuralism:

By the end of the century structuralism was seen as a historically important school of thought, but it was the movements it spawned, rather than structuralism itself, which commanded attention.

T-Rex rules.

it bothers me to see crappy ones unjustly celebrated
Why disparage the authors? They're the ones burdened with carrying the torch, today.
posted by polymodus at 1:00 PM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


comics that don't place their authors center stage for no good reason

The same speaker told us they did this in Logicomix as a way to garner narrative sympathy from a modern audience. I read the Levi-Strauss panel as merely a pilot panel for a graphic novel set in the area of continental philosophy.
posted by polymodus at 1:08 PM on March 18, 2010


>> comics that don't place their authors center stage for no good reason
>
> I read the Levi-Strauss panel as merely a pilot panel for a graphic novel set in the area of
> continental philosophy.
> posted by polymodus at 4:08 PM on March 18 [+] [!]

In the final version all the dialog will be spoken by pokemons.
posted by jfuller at 2:41 PM on March 18, 2010


i have no idea yet if I will laugh or cry...
posted by infini at 2:49 PM on March 18, 2010


You bring up pokemon, but animated cartoons, anime, manga, and graphic novels describe different kinds of media but share similar advantages/disadvantages over mainstream media. In theory. In practice… that is a different problem.
posted by polymodus at 3:38 PM on March 18, 2010


Jody, jquinby, and kozad - I also was hooked on Levi-Strauss during college and also wrote a senior thesis around 1990 which somehow combined the CL-S binary opposition, Chomsky generative grammar (not his politics), Saussurian semiotics, George Lakoff (also pre-politics), and other sources.

It was about financial markets!

I vaguely recall titling it "Media, Myth, and Markets," and hopefully it's been destroyed :)
posted by geeyore at 4:03 PM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the final version all the dialog will be spoken by pokemons.

I think I would be more into Kristeva if everything was acted out by Sailor Moon.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:17 PM on March 18, 2010


This was not a good strip at explaining structuralism. Also, the only girl in the piece is reduced to giggling non-sequiturs like an Iron Chef celebrity female guest judge.

Marx for Beginners

Slight aside, but this really is a terrific book if you want a clear-cut education on what Marx (Marx the man, not Marxists in general) was about. Sure as shit beats the hell out of Capital.
posted by smoke at 4:55 PM on March 18, 2010


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