Michael Oppitz's 'Outlines of structural anthropology', published 1975 with the title 'Necessary Relations', is still one of the best surveys of Claude L思i-Strauss' structuralist method. Clipped inﾐbetween a critical introduction and a rather resigned brief conclusion, three central domains of structuralism, parentage, classification, and myth research, are described from contemporary premises (terms, domains, authors, lines of research, schools) and brought to structuralist fruition (or sometimes not). Especially the paradox of a critical pleading which, at the same time, is an anamnesis of L思i-Straussﾕs work, still makes a stimulating read: the case of L思i-Strauss is not yet put aside, structuralism is problematic but remains promising as an approach. One important measure is suggested by Oppitz. What is crucial is, he claims, the search for "necessary relations between the ideological and the material facts of society." Influenced by his times, Oppitz took the inspiration for this materialistic component from Marxism, but in the course of the book he moderates and reifies this postulate to the effect of demanding the enrichment of the structuralist method with results gained in ethnographical studies. This suggestion is, essentially, sensible, but fails to convince because Oppitz, highly committed to his ideas, tends to be incapable to keep a detached view.
But this is only one side of the coin. His other discursive line has quite a different ring to it: structuralist anthropology, L思i-Straussﾕs lifeﾐwork, is a fantastic tool eclipsing all previous conventional methods, including those in the field of myth research.Critics are given the push, support is organized. Conclusion: the structuralist method only needs to be a little complemented with ethnographical material (e.g. Turner) and all is fine. Unfortunately this attempt leads to a deadﾐend, into the monographic corner, and to absolute particularism. This means precisely in that position where ethnology with its high theoretical views did not want to end up: with some Melanesian "from some island", as Oppitz laconically closes the last sentences of his book.
Thus Oppitz's book is full of contradictions. But this does not diminish its value. On the contrary, it is exactly his wonderful candidness with regard to contradictions which continues to make his book fascinating. Science laying its cards on the table. That he is courageous - and competent - enough to admit all those voices critical of structuralism into his book, to contest them, and still end up a plausible writer. For the author, this book was a find. In retrospect, he counts himself among the critics - and the approving voices - for this allows us to discuss a new structural method, both with and in opposition to L思i-Strauss.
What supports the claim that 'structuralism is but half a science'? Beyond the common lawfulness and homology of dialectic and structuralist analysis: what legitimizes the rather shocking attempt to pair L思i-Strauss and Marxist materialism? This is the result of a critical survey in the second and most important chapter. As mentioned above, there is this lack of terminological precision. 41 synonymous terms alone. This surely is not what students are taught concerning the art of defining! Moreover, the numerous critics. Kroeber, for instance, considers the term ﾔstructureﾕ a vogue word that could not offer more than a thrill.Then, the successive buildﾐup of structuralist terminology. Astonishingly concrete in the beginning with Bastide, deriving from the Latin source ﾔstruereﾕ, 'to construct, to buildﾕ, "the word originally had a meaning close to the domain of architecture." But this does not mean much to Oppitz. Etymological roots were of no importance to a present clarification of the term. Nevertheless it had to be maintained that the "aspect of making, of producing, of the artificial is included, an aspect which is emphasized by L思i-Strauss and his followersﾕ. Nota bene: we should not loose this out of sight.
Definitions by Flament (totality and interdependence) and S竣e (invariance, durability and stability of structures) remain close to this constructive environment. Then, a massive second line of argument, issuing from quite a different direction ﾐ structuralist linguistics ﾐ appears. It takes over leadership, supersedes the concrete constructive layer: definitions grow more and more abstract and roundabout. Language theory dominates the concept.
The tension created by this linguistic superseding erupts twice, in the so called "naturalism dispute' and .., letﾕs call it the 'manipulation dispute'. Both essentially deal with the question:to what extent is the linguistic term 'structure' realistic?
Oppitzﾕs presentation focuses on the dramatic dispute between L思iﾐStrauss and Radcliffe Brown. The latter considers structure as reality (example: spiral shells), L思iﾐStrauss interprets structure as an analytical distillation, as an academic scientific construction with a view to gain insights. <13> Oppitz describes the quarrels caught both in fierce pros and cons and coy mutual attempts at approximation. Finally he lets Nutini decide the case with his analogy to modern natural sciences: "There, for quite some time, the clear separation between empirical reality and the formal constructions based on it has been generally accepted."
The second struggle was triggered by an essay of L思i-Strauss (1960, Les organisations dualistes existent-elles?) containing three very freely interpreted systems of three very different ethnic groups. Maybury Lewis launches a fierce attack on the proposal and designates it a manipulation which, in turn, provokes a vehement response from L思i-Strauss. Here too, structuralism is eventually supported with outside reinforcements, with Carnap's distinction of the descriptions of qualities and relations. Now everything appears in perfect order. With the more concrete mediator between the academic nature implied by the term ﾔstructureﾕ and the immediate empirical reality, the term 'model', Oppitz eventually arrives at Marxism. Evidently, Oppitz, in spite of his ardent partisanship of structuralism, must have come to the conviction that something was missing: a Marxist substructure.
This much on the second chapter, the most important part of Oppitz's book. Throughout, the main question is: to what extent does the structuralist method reflect objective conditions of a foreign culture, or, to what extent is it a forced Eurocentric construction, or - seen from a scientific standpoint - a legitimate construct used to gain insights. This is the bookﾕs main agenda. The following three chapters essentially are an implementation of this programme.
Viewed objectively from the outside, the real problem of structuralism actually lies just in those components Oppitz defends with such ardour: in its linguistic backgrounds. In all the developments described by Oppitz, in the formation of terms, in the definition of field and method, particularly also in myth research, the system constructed becomes increasingly coded and abstract, to such a degree that it eventually is so open it dissolves. Anything, and therefore nothing, can be postulated with it. In fact, the extremely reductionist and rationalistic arguments frequently lack substance. Discussions sometimes come close to schooolmasterly hairsplitting, as in the controversy with the grim Makarius couple. Not to mention the rather embarrassing blunders, when the rationalistic construct collapses because the ethnographic study clearly shows that the jaguarﾕs wife was not a woman, as assumed, but a jaguar cat.
Let us put aside for a moment the question whether language is the ideal means to advance within ethnology. It is clear, however, that language represents only a partial aspect of any culture. The visual world is far wider and its manifold relations can only be inadequately expressed in words. Topographical criteria remain very vague and rudimentary, mainly because emically they are selfﾐexplanatory. Thus the 'mounting stories' which Oppitz mentions, tell us neither where the trees climbed are, nor where the pillar of the ladder reaching up to heaven is to be found inside the spatial disposition of the village. With its idealistic backgrounds, the linguistic study of myths usually cares little about mythical man living in a factual milieu, covered with operative, aesthetic, ritual and temporal values.
In this sense, any 'wild' word must emically represent an enormous condensation, which, however, finds no expression. Anyone working with nonscriptory ethnic populations, knows only too well how poor the relevant dictionaries are in comparison to dictionaries of European languages, which have been built up over hundreds of years of linguistic and literary research : for nearly every word there exist several different overlapping meanings. Considering, on the other hand, what the linguistic (or textual) aspect produces within the context of a developed type of preindustrial agrarian ritual complex: nothing, in fact, apart from secondary explanations proclaimed from an intellectual standpoint which is evidently influenced by an affiliated urban history. As a whole it can be explained as a visual and behavioural system, a metalinguistic event with a very minor amount of verbal terms (s. Egenter 1980, 1994).
In the beginning was the Word. The idea of culture being to a considerable extent reflected in language and texts does have a certain justification within the historical cultural domain, particularly within the modern one. But, the projection of this notion onto nonscriptory cultures raises some questions which, however, need not be discussed here. Additionally, one cannot rid oneself of the suspicion that the figure of the 'homme litt屍aire' <14>, amply cultivated in France, plays a considerable part in structuralism. And, finally, the often noted French confidence in rationalistic constructions must be added to this scepticism.
There is a further point which implies that structuralism is a Eurocentric projection: the problem of logic. In general, as logic are considered those laws which, since Aristotle, accompany any scientific thought. Structuralism extends this meaning towards any 'existence of laws of thought'. That is to say, anyone who thinks according to predictable rules, thinks logically. This is a critical example. 'That pigﾕs in heaven', remarks a European farmer at a funeral service. Everyone knows what he means: he is angry at the luxurious ceremony with which the not much liked deceased intended to purchase his place in heaven. The sentence is not logical in an Aristotelian sense. In the case of the pig, the identity is transformed. But, in a wider sense of 'logical rules', the sentence is not logical. Rather, it lives in a very complex way of the binary a-logic of our own, historically founded, myth of the earthﾕs descent from heaven.
In short, the Eurocentric projection of linguistics on ethnological conditions is probably not the best of all possible methods. It introduces an extremely high reductionist element into ethnological research. Topography is highly neglected, the structure of spatial conditions appears highly diluted. In addition, structuralismﾕs theoretical withdrawal from nonlinguistic consideration contributes to scepticism: its "system of transformations", for instance, which restricts itself rigidly to the verbal tradition of myths, or the reductive working with 'rules of thought' on a linguistic level. All this creates - for the sake of scientific character - a closed system which excludes numerous vital cultural conditions, rites, amongst others.