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We Are All Cannibals

Claude Lévi-Strauss | Foreword by Maurice Olender | Translated by Jane Marie Todd | Columbia University Press | March 2016

On Christmas Eve 1951, Santa Claus was hanged and then publicly burned outside of the Cathedral of Dijon in France. That same decade, ethnologists began to study the indigenous cultures of central New Guinea, and found men and women affectionately consuming the flesh of the ones they loved. "Everyone calls what is not their own custom barbarism," said Montaigne. In these essays, Claude Lévi-Strauss shows us behavior that is bizarre, shocking, and even revolting to outsiders but consistent with a people's culture and context.

These essays relate meat eating to cannibalism, female circumcision to medically assisted reproduction, and mythic thought to scientific thought. They explore practices of incest and patriarchy, nature worship versus man-made material obsessions, the perceived threat of art in various cultures, and the innovations and limitations of secular thought. Lévi-Strauss measures the short distance between "complex" and "primitive" societies and finds a shared madness in the ways we enact myth, ritual, and custom. Yet he also locates a pure and persistent ethics that connects the center of Western civilization to far-flung societies and forces a reckoning with outmoded ideas of morality and reason.

About the Author

Claude Lévi-Strauss was born in Brussels in 1908. He held the chair of social anthropology at the Collège de France from 1959 to 1982 and was elected a member of the Académie Française in 1973. He died in Paris on October 30, 2009.

Maurice Olender is maître de conférences at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris.

Jane Marie Todd has translated more than seventy books, including Catherine Clément and Julia Kristeva's The Feminine and the Sacred.


More information available on Columbia University Press website