like a shadow anticipating its own body

From the opening chapter of Wild Thought, being a fresh translation of the book by Levi-Strauss which was first translated as The Savage Mind:

We should not, for all this, fall back on the vulgar thesis (which is however, admissible in the narrow perspective in which it is situated) that magic is a timorous and stammering form of science, for to claim to reduce magical thought to a moment, or even a phase, of technical and scientific evolution is to deny ourselves any way of understanding it. Rather, like a shadow anticipating its own body, it is, in a sense, as complete as that body, as fully formed and coherent, in its immateriality, as the solid being that it simply precedes. Magical thought is not a beginning, a start, a sketch, part of an as yet unrealized whole; it forms a well-articulated system, independent in this regard from that other system which will be constituted by science, except for the formal analogy that brings them together and makes the former a kind of metaphorical expression of the latter. Instead, then, of opposing magic and science, we would do better to view them as parallel, as two modes of knowledge, unequal insofar as their theoretical and practical results are concerned (since, from this point of view, it is true that science succeeds better than magic, even though magic prefigures science in that it, too, sometimes succeeds), but not in the kind of mental operations on which the two draw, and which differ less in nature than as a function of the types of phenomena to which they are applied.

Claude Levi-Strauss, Wild Thought, p16

Never read the original translation—which was apparently disowned on publication by one of the original translators, and generally put a lot of people’s backs up, due to the at-the-time very deep schism between analytic and continental styles of philosophy. I’ve heard that this version is an easier read than the original; as the above passage likely indicates, it’s still not going to be a walk in the park! But the promise of the effort being rewarded is also clear to see: the image/phrase I’ve stolen to title this post is just marvellous, and if there’s a handful of those in every chapter, I’ll be very content, I suspect.



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