cover image The Jealous Potter

The Jealous Potter

Claude Levi-Strauss. University of Chicago Press, $31 (260pp) ISBN 978-0-226-47480-9

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)