Good to Think With

Marjorie Garber

in Loaded Words

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780823242047
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823242085 | DOI:
Good to Think With

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In 1962, the French structural anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss coined the phrase “good to think with.” Scholars and theorists are drawn to this phrase, perhaps because it has certain validating power: It explains, or purports to explain, why we do what we do and why it matters. The phrase seems to explain the work of the humanities to the world—as if the humanities were not in the world, not the same as the world, not the language of the world. The actual citation is in Lévi-Strauss's book Totemism, first published in French in 1962 and translated into English the following year. The context is a discussion of what would come to be a central practice of structuralism: “How to make opposition, instead of being an obstacle to integration, serve rather to produce it.” Lévi-Strauss claims that “the animals in totemism” serve an intellectual and speculative function. They are not, or not only, objects of symbolism or identification, much less objects of culinary desire, but part of a structure of thinking.

Keywords: Claude Lévi-Strauss; good to think; humanities; totemism; animals; structuralism; opposition

Chapter.  4347 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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