Lévi-Strauss and his Nambikwara fieldnotes – NAMBIKWARA
Lévi-Strauss and his Nambikwara fieldnotes
Nambikwara ANR programme (EHESS, ITEM, BNF)
Deciphering, digitizing and editing field notebooks
Our project aims at deciphering, digitizing and critically editing Claude Lévi-Strauss's field notebooks from his second expedition to the Nambikwara (May 1938-January 1939), preserved at the National Library of France (BNF). The consortium involved in the project is made up of three complementary partners: the National Library of France (BNF), the Georg Simmel Centre (EHESS) and the ITEM (ENS).
The critical apparatus of this scholarly edition will follow four research directions: (i) To enrich the documentation concerning the Nambikwara languages, the data collected at the end of the 1930s being of historical value, and to reconstruct the ethnolinguistic survey carried out by Lévi-Strauss; (ii) To review the articulation between various orders of phenomena - primacy of exchange, virtual monopolization of women - in the development of Lévi-Strauss' thought; (iii) To examine the writing conditions of the notebooks which are like the anthropologist's inner workshop during his fieldwork; (iv) To describe the content of the notebooks as a matrix of variations producing textual strata, from ethnography notebooks to anthropology articles and books.
The digital facsimile edition will be established according to the Source model developed by ITEM and made available, in addition to the BNF Gallica platform, on the Huma-Num multimodal consultation platform. This scholarly edition will include, thanks to a context-setting function, bidirectional links between the facsimile, the comments and articles related to the contents of the notebooks. A time-line will be created to graphically represent the chronology of the various sheets (the creation of this time-line is a major challenge of the project, since the notebooks are not dated).
The originality of the project lies in the fact that it closely combines a critical edition and a genetic analysis. The richness of the linguistic and ethnographic material contained in the notebooks presupposes, therefore, a close dialogue between researchers from various disciplines in the human sciences, including anthropologists, linguists and specialists in literary analysis. An in-depth examination of the notebooks will ideally make it possible to capture the moments of emergence, in the process of ethnographic investigation, of concepts central to Lévi-Strauss's thought, beyond the epistemological positioning that himself, caught up in the narrative fever of Tristes Tropiques, forged twenty years later. A close study of the various publications (and of the related archives) involving the Nambikwara ethnography up to the publication of Tristes Tropiques will constitute a crucial part of the project and will also contribute to its originality.
The project involves collaborations based on an international triangulation between France, Brazil and the Netherlands. In addition to the online publication of the notebooks, it will lead to several publications (including an edition of the notebooks in book format), a major symposium on the ethnographic and linguistic roots of Levi-Straussian structuralism and, finally, an exhibition (the notebooks contain a large number of drawings and therefore have a visual aspect that deserves to be highlighted in relation to the famous photographic clichés of Tristes Tropiques).
Our project's objective is to decipher, to digitize and to publish a critical edition of the field notes that Claude Lévi-Strauss wrote during his second stay among the Nambikwara (May 1938-January 1939), which are held by the French national library, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF). The consortium involved in the project is composed of three complementary partners: the BNF, the IMM and the ITEM.
The critical apparatus of this scholarly edition will pursue four lines of research: (i) Enriching the documentation concerning the Nambikwara languages thanks to the historical value of the data gathered at the end of the 1930s, and reconstructing the ethnolinguistic investigation undertaken by Lévi-Strauss; (ii) Reconsidering the articulation between different orders of phenomena—the primacy of exchange, the virtual monopolizing of women—in the development of Lévi-Strauss's thought; (iii) Reflecting on the conditions of creation of the notebooks, the veritable workshop in which the anthropologist's interiority was forged during his fieldwork; (iv) Describing the content of the notebooks as a matrix of variations producing successive textual strata, from ethnographic notebooks to anthropological articles and books.
The facsimile digital edition will be established following the “Sources” model developed by the ITEM and made available on both the BNF's Gallica platform and on the multimodal consultation platform Huma-Num. This scholarly edition will contextualize the materials presented by incorporating automatic two-way links between the facsimile and commentaries and articles pertaining to the contents of the notebooks. The realization of a timeline will make possible the graphic representation of the chronology of the different pieces of writing (establishing this timeline is one of the biggest challenges of the project, since the notebooks are not dated).
A particular originality of the project lies in the fact that it closely combines a critical edition with a genetic analysis. The wealth of linguistic and ethnographic materials contained in the notebooks can be fully explored only through a sustained dialogue among researchers from different disciplines of the human sciences, in particular anthropologists, linguists and specialists in literary analysis. An in-depth examination of the notebooks will ideally allow us to identify the first emergence, in the course of Lévi-Strauss's ethnographic research, of concepts central to his thought, unbound by the epistemological positioning that he would put in place twenty years later when seized by the narrative fever of Tristes Tropiques. A close study of the different publications (and of any related archives) drawing on the Nambikwara ethnography up until the publication of Tristes Tropiques will constitute a crucial part of the project and further contribute to its originality.
The project will mobilize the collaborative efforts of researchers in three countries: France, Brazil, and the Netherlands. In addition to the online publication of the notebooks, it will give rise to several other publications (including a publication of the field notes in book format), a major symposium on the ethnographic and linguistic roots of Lévi-Straussian structuralism and, finally, an art exhibition (the notebooks feature many drawings and thus possess a visual aspect that deserves recognition alongside the famous photographs in Tristes Tropiques).
Monsieur Emmanuel Désveaux (Institut Marcel MAUSS)
The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.
BNF Bibliothèque Nationale de France
ITEM Institut des Textes et Manuscrits Modernes
IMM - UMR8178 Institut Marcel MAUSS
Help of the ANR 355,325 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2018 - 48 Months