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Myths of Anthropology: Eliot, Joyce, Lévy-Bruhl

David Spurr
PMLA
Vol. 109, No. 2 (Mar., 1994), pp. 266-280
DOI: 10.2307/463121
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/463121
Page Count: 15
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Myths of Anthropology: Eliot, Joyce, Lévy-Bruhl
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Abstract

The emerging science of anthropology created myths of the primitive that became important to literary modernism's mythic interpretation of contemporary history. T. S. Eliot and James Joyce in particular were attracted to the work of Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, whose theory of the mentalité primitive appeared to offer alternatives to prevailing modes of Western logic. Eliot took this myth of anthropology and other ones at face value insofar as they contributed to his theories of poetic origins and to his attacks on modern civilization. He opposed a primitivist ideal of tradition to the notion of a corrupt civilization embodied in the figure of the Jew. In contrast, Joyce treated anthropology ironically as a discursive construct rooted in colonizing enterprises of European institutions and thought. He satirized anthropology's pretensions while exploiting its material for his artistic ends.

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