- Continued, part 3 -

Structuralismユs supporting structure

When one compiles the problematic aspects of structuralism in such a manner, one also has to give explanations for its amazing success. Here we shall give just one potential reason regarding the research of myth, one which had escaped Oppitz:its enlightenment aspect. In his survey of the development of myth research towards a structuralist interpretation of myths, Oppitz discusses the various earlier schools very competently, but quickly shelves them because of their outdated results. Mannhardt, who, among others, had written two considerable informative books on agrarian cults related to woods and fields, is filed under sun and moon (nature myths), and then forgotten.

B嗾ticher, Mannhardt, Frazer and other authors in this period, used quite different materials in their myth research and can therefore be not easily compared to L思i-Strauss. Cult and myth were then still seen in a close relation. Pre-structuralist myth research is still closely related to Euro-Mediterranean history, i.e. also metaphysics and religion. With later, psychologically influenced schools it went through a process which progressively dissolved these close links with history and metaphysics, a kind of anthropomorphization of myth research occurred. L思i-Straussユs radical move was to research myths exclusively with regard to linguistic criteria and 'rules of thought'. This restriction to a seemingly razorミsharp rationalistic apparatus doubtlessly had a fascinating enlightening impact. The linguistic calculations L思i-Strauss now used to dissect the myths were evidently the key reason for his success.

On the other hand, Oppitzユs sanguine view of a structuralist future conceals essential facts of the past. The 'materialistic' component which Oppitz intends to prescribe as a complementary cure to structuralism, is potentially contained in those 'outdated' types of myth research he had dismissed earlier. The crucial point is that these immense materials of a very 'materialistic' nature have been rigidly (mis-)interpreted for centuries by applying to them scholastic universal constructions, which, scientifically speaking, are nothing but relics of medieval historicism. It is these materials that should be rediscovered by structural anthropology.

A further aspect which assisted structuralismユs success are the 'binary oppositions'. They evidently are its essential discovery, contributing greatly to the fascination of structuralism, maybe precisely because it was incapable of getting their message across. They are present, directly or indirectly, on practically all levels of discussion, in social relations, sexual differentiations, family relations, age levels, and in regard to articulations of settlements and space. Since 'binary oppositions' play a fundamental part in our architecturalミ anthropological system, we will look in greater detail at this structuralist discovery.

Structuralist misinterpretations of the phenomenon of binary oppositions

Apart from repeated references to ヤbinary oppositionsユ, Oppitz discusses them explicitly at three points in his text. Most important is their analysis in the framework of L思i-Strauss's ideas on the "nature of mythical thought" (mytho-logic, the logic of myths!). "The similarities and differences between this kind and other forms of thought" are significant to this context. Oppitz maintains that L思i-Strauss sees the "basic problem of mythical thought" and that of "its origins" closely interwoven with human thought per se. "Evidently there is a constitutive experience, the experience of the binary opposition." No doubt, L思i-Strauss has realized the general and fundamental importance of "binary oppositions" for mythical thought. But it is explained in rather vague Eurocentric projections.

Letユs pursue this L思i-Straussian argument, as presented by Oppitz. "The self is confronted with the other (he or it); he (it) is perceived as a binary opposition." The elementary formation of structure occurs in the social a priori between an evidently real ego and an equally evidently real you (in a sense of primary cognition:is this really that evident?). With regard to an objective world this is left open. What then follows, is a vague chain of rather casual formation of oppositions. "This experience inaugurates the view of further oppositions, which are also mostly of a binary nature." Finally the question is watered down with the help of perceptional psychology. Objects of the visual world were not merely photographed by the eye in a trueミtoミlife manner, but they were simultaneously coded into a system of binary oppositions (you and me?). As maintained by L思i-Strauss, the brain does not pick up figurative pictures from the outer world, but immediately classifies objects according to certain qualities: "colour, movement, direction of movement, type of form." This desperate resorting to the brain to explain structures of ethnomyths is true nineteenthミcentury reasoning, where a seemingly scientific natural history was quick at hand to connect to any type of primitivism and thus explain and legitimate it. Many false conclusions were drawn and some survived to the present day.

But, to continue with L思i-Strauss:"Exactly in this way mythical thought is proceeding by selecting mythemes according to their suitability to allow certain binary oppositions." Neither content nor quantity are constant in mythical thought of various populations. "In terms of their logic of sensual qualities, the mythology of South American Indians for example, has realized the following oppositions:raw/ cooked, smoked/ boiled, rotten/ burnt, dry/ humid, long/ short, longish/ round, lean/ fat, loud/ quiet, quick/ slow, without however to establish a compulsory charter." (!) A scientifically more prudent L思i-Strauss might have said:in those texts I have been working on, the following binary oppositions were important (see above).

Thus, for L思i-Strauss, binary oppositions are just "elementary mechanisms"! Mythical thought regularly uses them "to transmit their messages", it needs them for the "execution of thinking". Very simple, indeed:"For, in order to conceive an object in its particularity, I first need a delimitation towards other things. The most simple type of delimitation is the binary opposition. It is the most economical means of differentiation, therefore its universality."

This simple concept can then be easily characterized by the simple example given by Rablais:white/ black, joy/ mourning, in China vice versa. "Relational logic"? In fact a trite platitude on the level of 'different peoples, different customs'.

With this rather shallow approach, L思i-Strauss tackles a rather hot problem:our own civilized myth. The Bible too, is shown to be "rich in binary oppositions." Even the myth of creation reads "like an illustrated treatise on binary oppositions." (!) The first acts of creation are "acts of binary separations:heaven and earth, light and darkness, day and night, morning and evening, dry land and humid sea, large light (sun) and small light (moon), animals of the water (fish), and animals of the air (birds), livestock and vermin, man and woman." To this we should add a few remarks. Firstly, L思i-Strauss moves in a domain we shall call "constitutive myths" below. Secondly, this part plainly shows the superficiality of the structuralist method. It sees neither the immanent order nor the message. The only thing which enters into its view are binary oppositions as evidence. Rules of thought. You and I. Binary coding of the eye!

On the other hand, anyone who has read a little in the Bible will immediately grasp its immanent structure. Why did L思i-Strauss obviously fail to 'discover' this immanent structure? Evidently he is so focused on his own system that he is no longer capable to perceive the immanent world order. It is encapsulated in polar categorial relations:above/ below, heaven/ earth, light/ dark, air/ ground, water/ land, Adam/ Eve. Particularly the last carries temporal implication:the first humans, and humans today. Not in a dualistic sense, that would be wrong, but in a polar sense, this kind of mythical thought encapsulates the world as unity, from the smallest to the largest (or vice versa). What is moreover crucial is that every polarity is a unity of its own, but, as such, is in dialogue with any other pair by analogies and homologies. Simply saying 'heaven and earth' includes all others, implies the whole world order.

The structuralist blindness for this type of order may have its reason in the fact that it manifests itself not on a linguistic, but a deeper, categorial level. The fundamental intention of this way of thinking is to harmonize contradictions. It thus perceives the environment in potentially dangerous contradictory relations and, from a cultural position, attempts to bring them into balance. The moral aspect of this is:imbalanced conditions mean anomy, chaos.

While harmony - as in aesthetics - becomes the dominant criteria, this system can bring together facets which analytical Western thought perceives in isolation. Interconnection is possible. Heaven and earth, woman and man (or vice versa). Their harmonious relations are potentially identical. That is to say, given the condition of harmonious relations, both 'couples' ARE identical. A tremendous claim that would explain many things, even today. Evidently this system of the world in analogies is not only verbal. A full range of aesthetic and formal metalanguages appear with it, as around marriage ceremonies worldwide. Universe is present both in its highest and most humane and intimate implications. It might also have become clear that this system is eminently creative:it is the basis of metaphorical thought.

In another context, the structuralist method produces rather questionable results. Intentionally, we have saved an important sentence of Oppitzユs on L思i-Strauss's ideas on binary oppositions for the end of this discussion. Following the example of Rablais, Oppitz says:"Maybe the most gigantic network of such a dualistic division of the world is the Chinese philosophy of the Yin and Yang." Firstly, the expression "dualistic division of the world" is an extremely unlucky phrasing. <15> Furthermore, in Sinological terms, this sentence is not only a serious lapse, a serious instance of ignorance, not to say insufferable arrogance. The Chinese philosophy of the Yin and Yang has achieved too much over some thousands of years to have nothing better to do than wait and lend collective support to L思i-Strauss's reductionist linguistic 'theory' of binary oppositions (see H. K嘖ter, Chinese Universalism).

The mishap is evident, as in the explosive case of the bible, mentioned above. An anthropological method which loudly and radically defines itself as aミhistorical would probably have to think at least twice before it thoughtlessly ventures into foreign domains. Evidently, the structuralist method fell into the trap. Viewing this mighty philosophy, it can perceive nothing but 'binary oppositions'. Structuralismユs rationalistic poverty is finally revealed.

More than that. Evidently, there are a lot of historical sources available in this case, notably over large periods of time. They outline a very clear picture of how this 'structure' characterized by 'binary oppositions' really functions. As a system not yet Euro-scholastically deformed it remained polarly structured and in close relation with materia - significantly enough, European philosophy has idealized it through and through <16> - and thus harmonizes IN A VERY CONCRETE MANNER (spiritually AND materially! Comparable to aesthetics) the vitally close and wider environment of the Chinese. Nota bene:reconstruction not just in ethnologically short terms but over a long period of over some thousands of years, yet at the same time still palpable today. In fact, it precisely functions unlogically, that is, it is by definition absolutely antithetical and consequently also absolutely incompatible to European logic in the Aristotelian sense. It is essentially not based on a verbal level, but on the categorial. It is not analytically isolating (or dualistically programmed on judgements (Ur-Teilen, in German)) but categorially harmonizing. The world is perceived in polar categorial relations. It is therefore useless to force harmonious systems on a logical wheel of torture to make them submissive to Western thought. This utterly disfigures 'foreign thought'.

In view of this cultural domain, which by its abundant historical sources favours the diachronic approach, it has become evident that the merely linguistically supported synchronic approach of structuralism faces a total breakdown. It builds up a forced autonomous, or virtual, knowledge which has lost all contact with reality. It is, in fact, pseudo-knowledge, modern abracadabra.

To finally give more emphasis to the hereto said we use - following Oppitz's practice - material from natural science. The Danish physicist Niels Bohr, who, based on Planckユs quantum theory, worked out the first atomic model, was one of the first to question analytical and logical thought. He was deeply puzzled by the dual nature of light (wave/corpuscular theories). He solved the problem by introducing the term 'complementarity' into physics. From these impulses, microphysics developed a rich field of discussion to which Heisenberg has contributed, and from which Einstein's theory of relativity profited. Fritjof Capra has presented this in detail in his book 'Tao of Physics' (1975); he enriched it with sources of mysticism and asiatic philosophy of life, thus popularizing this domain. Important in this context is that modern physicists consider themselves 'natural philosophers'. In contrast to metaphysical idealists, who refer to Plato, or rationalists, who trace their descent from Aristotle, the father of science, they dig deeper. Their interest includes the preミSocratic development field. They refer to Heraclitus, the last philosopher of the harmonious ancient Near East. This means:they fully recognize this type of thought of polar categories as antithetic to analytical logic, which was only fully developed later by Aristotle. Most importantly, they use it in a very modern way, to solve problems in the microphysical domain of materia which cannot be thought through in Aristotelian logic. <17> Things could be similar in ethnology. Maybe ethnology finds itself in difficulties today because it has been cutting up harmonious systems for centuries. Maybe a double truth-hypothesis in the sense of Bohr and Heisenberg would be a rewarding attempt in ethnology.

Materializing structuralism:but how?

On the important topic of 'binary oppositions', it has become clear that structuralism completely distorts essential structures of thought and thus becomes an invalid method. To what extent the term ヤstructureユ is problematic in its mere linguistic formula is also shown in Oppitzユs chapter on myth research. This first gives an outline of the various schools <18>, followed by the latest with several subtitles, namely that of L思i-Strauss. Linguistic credo right from the start. In spite of the width of definitions related, "myths are, ....primarily linguistic formations." Questions for extramural conditions are banned. Theoreticians favouring the close connection between myth and cult or rites go into oppositon. Weユll leave it at that, for the moment.

The emphasis then in this chapter is on transformation with a long presentation of the fireミmyth of the G-Indians. Transformations in both North and South America. But, in fact, the discussion merely revolves around "isomorphic relations". One wonders whether the "enormous system of transformations", which the four large volumes of L思i-Strauss's 'Mythologiques' present on this theme, are worth it. The gain, according to Oppitz is that the autonomy of the individual myth becomes questionable. This type of mythological comparison "snatches the mythical products to arbitrary creation." No individual fantasy therefore. And the gain?

The following part, which examines the Tsimshian story of Asdiwal with regard to its ethnographical accuracy, is likewise rather frustrating. The question whether or not the mythical story includes something about cultic "ethnographical realities" is processed with a secondary text of Mary Douglas.

The most important part of the chapter on myth research is Oppitzユs valuable r市um on voices critical of structuralist myth research. The obvious distance between the original language and the translations used is condemned. Methodological objections essentially correspond to those mentioned above as Eurocentrisms, but do not go so far as to question the linguistic base of the structuralist method. Philosophical objections to its bloodlessness, its lack of contact with the real world, are brushed aside by L思i-Strauss as "humanistic cant"! From an ethnological quarter, the generalized use of the term ヤmythユ is critically questioned (Salman), the lack of a metaphysical dimension is objected to (Leach, Kirk), and others distrust the term ヤtransformationユ and its usefulness (Salman, Sperber). Oppitz brilliantly wards off all these objections; partly transgressing L思i-Strauss, for instance in the dispute about the term ヤtransformationユ, and, in particular, regarding the objection that the search for formal isomorphisms neglects the questioning of the mythユs social function, Oppitz maintains:"If someone thinks to be able to show that any single myth can be explained fully and wholly based on immanent conditions and on the ethnographical context, then, why should we need the term transformation as a bridge between myths?" This sentence is crucial to our context. Oppitz further considers this an important perspective for "future disputes about the structuralist method, and particularly for those who are really involved, to make progresses in the analysis of myths." This touches on something significant:the search for the immanent contents and structures of myths.

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To notes 1, 2
To figures 1, 2
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