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Under SuspicionA Phenomenology of Media$
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Boris Groys

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780231146180

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231146180.001.0001

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Claude Lévi-Strauss

Claude Lévi-Strauss

Mana; or, the Floating Signifier

Chapter:
(p.106) 9 Claude Lévi-Strauss
Source:
Under Suspicion
Author(s):

Boris Groys

, Carsten Strathausen
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
DOI:10.7312/columbia/9780231146180.003.0010

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

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