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The Conscious and the Unconscious in History:Lévi-Strauss, Collingwood, Bally, Barthes

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Abstract Claude Lévi-Strauss holds that history and anthropology differ in their choice of complementary perspectives: history organizes its data in relation to conscious expressions of social life, while anthropology proceeds by examining its unconscious foundations. For R. G. Collingwood historical science discovers not only pure facts but considers a whole series of thoughts constituting historical life. Also Lévi-Strauss sees this: “To understand history it is necessary to know not only how things are, but how they have come to be.” However, Lévi-Strauss does not perceive the double-sense of history, which can first be a record of historical “conscious” facts and second, a chain of unconscious or half-conscious acts. Like Lévi-Strauss, Charles Bally has derived the main theses of his theory from Saussure. However, contrary to Lévi-Strauss, Bally does not find structures at the inside of the phenomena but at their outside: “Our attention is drawn to the expressive side and not to the interior side of the facts of language.” Bally calls those structures not “history” but “style.” In Roland Barthes’s attempt to establish a structuralist system of fashion we can find a definition of style very similar to Bally’s. In the end, however, none of these thinkers addresses the fact that unconscious relations within historical life are constantly interlocked with conscious elements.

Affiliations: 1: Gulf University for Science and Technology


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1. Bally Charles Traité de stylistique française 1951 Paris Klincksieck
2. Barthes Roland Système de la mode The Fashion System 1967 Paris Seuil (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983)
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