"In olden days, in a village peopled by animal creatures, lived Wild Cat (another name for Lynx). He was old and mangy, and he was constantly scratching himself with his cane. From time to time, a young girl who lived in the same cabin would grab the cane, also to scratch herself. In vain Wild Cat kept trying to talk her out of it. One day the young lady found herself pregnant; she gave birth to a boy. Coyote, another inhabitant of the village, became indignant. He talked all of the population into going to live elsewhere and abandoning the old Wild Cat, his wife, and their child to their fate . . . "
So begins the Nez Percé myth that lies at the heart of The Story of Lynx, Claude Lévi-Strauss's most accessible examination of the rich mythology of American Indians. In this wide-ranging work, the master of structural anthropology considers the many variations in a story that occurs in both North and South America, but especially among the Salish-speaking peoples of the Northwest Coast. He also shows how centuries of contact with Europeans have altered the tales.
Lévi-Strauss focuses on the opposition between Wild Cat and Coyote to explore the meaning and uses of gemellarity, or twinness, in Native American culture. The concept of dual organization that these tales exemplify is one of non-equivalence: everything has an opposite or other, with which it coexists in unstable tension. In contrast, Lévi-Strauss argues, European notions of twinness—as in the myth of Castor and Pollux—stress the essential sameness of the twins. This fundamental cultural difference lay behind the fatal clash of European and Native American peoples.
The Story of Lynx addresses and clarifies all the major issues that have occupied Lévi-Strauss for decades, and is the only one of his books in which he explicitly connects history and structuralism. The result is a work that will appeal to those interested in American Indian mythology.
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