cover image Look, Listen, Read

Look, Listen, Read

Claude Levi-Strauss. Basic Books, $24 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-465-06880-7

Next year marks the 90th birthday of the venerable French dean of structural anthropologists, but he continues to expand a body of work that started over 40 years ago with Tristes Tropiques. This is a translation of a text that appeared recently in France, on Poussin's paintings, Rameau's music, and Diderot's writing, with many theoretical and personally opinionated asides. There are reminiscences, such as meeting the Surrealist poet Andre Breton on a boat as a refugee in wartime, and somewhat gratuitous insults against Colette for her libretto to Ravel's classic opera L'Enfant et les sortileges. This is a highly personal, often quirky book, in which Levi-Strauss finds allies and precursors in the arts for his own work, such as when he finds Rameau to be ""a forerunner of structural analysis."" Unfortunately, the book is presented in a rather distorted and paraphrastic translation that loses much of the intelligent edge and personal charm of the original. The translations are sometimes bizarre (as when what is simply a ""sextet"" is rendered as a ""sextuor"") and sometimes clumsy--for example, Levi-Strauss, whose prose style was elegantly influenced by Chateaubriand and Rousseau, would never have described merchants as ""wont to mount"" camels. This stimulating text could have used better presentation. (May)