Thursday, 1 Aug 2002

Welcome to my Blog. I’m writing my master’s thesis on Claude Levi-Strauss’s book Tristes Tropiques, a kind of memoir, travelogue of his ethnographic journeys in Brazil, and meditation on world history and the present age. Here’s a sample passage (the most often quoted, far as I can tell, and surely one of the most melodramatic, but hardly the only good one):

Now that the Polynesian islands have been smothered in concrete and turned into aircraft carriers solidly anchored in the southern seas, when the whole of Asia is beginning to look like a dingy suburb, when shanty-towns are spreading across Africa, when civil and military aircraft blight the primeval innocence of the American or Melanesian forests even before destroying their virginity, what else can the so-called escapism of travelling do than confront us with the more unfortunate aspects of our history? Our great Western civilization, which has created the marvels we now enjoy, has only succeeded in producing them at the cost of corresponding ills. The order and harmony of the Western world, its most famous achievement, and a laboratory in which structures of a complexity as yet unknown are being fashioned, demand the elimination of a prodigious mass of noxious by-products which now contaminate the globe. The first thing we see as we travel is our own filth, thrown into the face of mankind.

It’s a marvelous book. It’s full of remarkable details – gems of observation and description of characters, landscapes, and cultures. Plenty of the kind of funny stories travelogues excel in: mutual misunderstandings, eccentricities, impossible annoyances, and sheer bungling. It’s not just memoirs, but some of the most stimulating thoughts (if frustrating – it’s not always easy to travel along with some of his more outrageous speculations) I’ve ever encountered. The writing is dense but fantastically pleasurable. Exquisite, on every page. I recommend it to everybody.