Claude Lévi-Strauss

Boris Groys

in Under Suspicion

Published by Columbia University Press

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780231146180
Published online November 2015 | e-ISBN: 9780231518499 | DOI:
Claude Lévi-Strauss

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This chapter examines Claude Lévi-Strauss's critique of mana, a concept introduced by Marcel Mauss in The Gift. Mauss defined mana as “magical, religious, and spiritual power,” a power the inhabitants of Polynesia believed to be inherent in a gift, forcing it to return to the gift giver at some later point. It is of crucial importance to Mauss's theory of mana that the character of the spirits alive inside the gift must change over time. Most authors commenting on Mauss's writings criticized and rejected the term mana as he used it. Unlike most critics, however, Lévi-Strauss did not want merely to abandon the term mana but sought to endow it with a more precise definition. This chapter analyzes Lévi-Strauss's argument that mana does not belong to the order of reality but solely to the order of signs, a view which is based on the totality of signification. It also considers Lévi-Strauss's notion of “floating signifiers” and how mana relates to symbolic exchange.

Keywords: mana; Claude Lévi-Strauss; Marcel Mauss; power; gift; signs; signification; floating signifiers; symbolic exchange

Chapter.  3329 words. 

Subjects: Metaphysics

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