Languages and value

I've been looking at my younger daughter's first semester college anthropology textbooks. One that I've really enjoyed is 'Myth and Meaning' by Claude Levi-Strauss. I can see a lot of connections to things that Loris Malaguzzi talked about, and even more connections to Joseph Campbell and things we notice at school (in the play of the children) about mythology and popular culture. 

But the most interesting thing to me personally is Levi-Strauss' discussion of the universal. I tend to think about the universal a lot. Maybe it's an art-school thing, or maybe it is just my brain. 

Sometimes in meetings people seem annoyed with me, thinking that I value visual expression more than writing, reading or whatever. It always takes me aback- after all, I spend a lot of time writing and reading! A lot of time!

Why does it seem that since I value visual art I must not value music or literature or mathematics, or science? I'd really like to understand it more. To me all these languages are ways of thinking and communicating- so linked that you couldn't say which way is more important.

Here is some of what Levi-Strauss says about the universal, the search for meaning, and (the 100) languages:

While defining the term 'structuralist' as a "quest for the invariant, or for the invariant elements among superficial differences", he reflects on his childhood pastime of sketching costume and set designs for opera:

"The problem there is exactly the same (a search for the universal)- to try to express in one language, that is, the language of graphic arts and painting, something which also exists in music and in the libretto; that is, to try to reach the invariant property of a very complex set of codes (the music code, the literary code, the artistic code). The problem is to find what is common to all of them. It's a problem, one might say, of translation, of translating what is expressed in one language- or one code, if you prefer, but language is sufficient- into expression in a different language."

"What does 'to mean' mean? It seems to me that the only answer we can give is that 'to mean' means the ability of any kind of data to be translated in a different language  I do not mean a different language like French or German, but different words on a different level. After all, this translation is what a dictionary is expected to give you- the meaning of the word in different words, which on a slightly different level are isometric to the word or expression you are trying to understand."


  1. Wow, this is fantastic. I truly relate to this post and am fascinated by the quotes. It is so close to the writings to Malaguzzi. Were they peers?
    I also believe that annoy people in meetings. I have tried relentlessly to change the use of the word literacy to only mean reading into the 100 literacies. Or to advocate that project periods do not need a structured 1/2 hour of writing embedded as mandatory. I too am an avid reader, musician and sometimes a writer. Let's shake things up sister, you are not alone.


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