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Adam L.


Levi-Strauss’s Mythologiques and the Structures of Perception: An Introduction to the

Transcendental Logic of Mythology

“The aim of this book is to show how empirical categories – such as the categories of the raw and the
cooked, the fresh and the decayed, the moistened and the burned, etc., which can only be accurately
defined by ethnographic observation and, in each instance, by adopting the standpoint of a particular
culture – can nonetheless be used as conceptual tools with which to elaborate abstract ideas and combine
them in the form of propositions” – Claude Levi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked


With these words, Levi-Strauss commences his four-volume Mythologiques, a structural

analysis of the mythology of North and South America, yet nowhere is the specific claim that
myths combine ideas in the form of propositions made absolutely explicit or adequately
grounded. An explicitation of the logical structure of myth requires that, on the one hand, the
categories of the structural analysis of myth root themselves in an epistemological critique, and
on the other, that the central claims of this analysis as to the nature of the mind – of which la
pensée mythique is meant to illustrate most highly – root themselves in the essence of perception
and logical thinking as such. The demand then is simple: we need a transcendental analysis of
mythology and a critique of the science of myth.
The route taken is phenomenological in terms of the genetic phenomenology developed
by Husserl in texts like Formal and Transcendental Logic1 and Experience and Judgment2, but
Kant furnishes a constant inspiration and will provide a number of “clues” as to how to solve
some of the central problems that the transcendental analysis of myth poses, such as, the relation
between continuity and discretion, magnitude and opposition, quality and quantity. The genetic
approach in phenomenology is felicitous here for two reasons: first, as mythology thinks abstract
ideas on the basis of tangible qualities – in accordance with the complementarity of the signifier
and the signified – we have to describe the structural articulations of logical forms upon
sensuous perception, a task the genetic approach can fulfil; second, mythology is itself genetic,
for its subject are those transformations that the cosmos underwent in its emergence into Being.
As Levi-Strauss will argue, Amerindian mythology, in telling of the transition from nature to
culture, also maps the very movement from the continuous to the discrete. The morphogenesis
that myth speaks of and performs parallels the morphogenesis of perception itself.
As we aim to solve the problems sketched above, and as we attempt to take the first steps
towards a transcendental logic of mythology, we will come to one essentially “ontological”
conclusion: the interdependence, relativity, and reciprocity of variation and identity. In Levi-
Strauss’ work, the structural positionality of meaning ultimately implies that we understand
identity to be nothing but a horizon of possible variations, while every variation is precisely the
opening of a structured unity: neither is identity prior to difference, nor difference prior to
identity: they are reversible. We think these points are fundamentally in tune with the spirit of

Husserl, Edmund. Formal and Transcendental Logic. Basingstoke: Springer, 2013.
Husserl, Edmund. Experience and Judgment. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1975.
Husserl’s work, in which the method of eidetic variation enlists itself toward a very basic feature
of the phenomenon as such: its open possibility as a freely varying stability-in-multiplicity.

1. Mythic Meaning
Levi-Strauss is consistent throughout his work in denouncing the Jungian theory of
archetypes, which would posit an absolute meaning to the mythic signifier, and in emphasizing
that the mythic signifier only gains its value through its relative position. Even if, in many cases,
the relation between a mythic signifier and its signified does in fact partake of the analogical or
the iconic (in Peirce’s sense), as Levi-Strauss makes clear in The Jealous Potter, the fact that any
given analogical meaning is “picked out” over another can only be justified by situating the
mythic signifier within the network of relationships which the myth provides for it. However, in
turn, the structure of a given myth as a whole can only be understood through its position within
a network of possible mythic variants. Every myth can be seen as the transformation of other
myths, whereby upon analysis certain definable relations between its elements and those of
others can be constructed. A series of myths linked together by such transformations form a
“transformation group” and thus a paradigmatic set. The terms paradigm and syntagm are used in
the Jakobsonian sense, the first referring to a set of terms linked by similarity, and the second to
a set of terms linked by contiguity or in the form of a series.
The structural study of myths aims to link a number of myths together in a series on the
basis of transformational relations and in doing so to constitute such myths as a paradigm.
Transformation, which is a way of defining the horizon of possible variations, is a discovery
procedure, for it aims to determine the “message” of a myth that cannot be read off simply from
the “surface” of the syntagmatic series that is the narrative itself. For example, The Raw and The
Cooked begins with a “key myth,” arbitrarily chosen but posing certain problems to the point of
view of the analyst, the Bororo myth of “the Macaws and their nest,” and ultimately aims to
show that this myth can be assimilated to a set of Ge myths about the origin of cooking fire. The
only manifest similarity between the two myths is the scene of the bird-nester trapped either at
the top of a tree or cliff-face by an affine (father in a matrilineal society in the Bororo case or a
brother-in-law in the Ge). However, the transformational analysis of these myths shows that the
first myth is indeed also a myth about the origin of cooking fire, even as, at the same time, it is a
myth about the origin of celestial rains. Thus, transformation, by exploring the myth as one of a
number of possible variants, reveals something about the latent meaning of the myth. To say that
meaning is positional is also to say that it must be discovered through variation and through the
horizon of possibilities the myth bears within itself in order to properly “un-conceal” its sense.
We should emphasize that it is through variation that the meaning of the myth emerges.
In The Jealous Potter, Levi-Strauss affirms that the relationship that myth bears to meaning is
constitutive of the human mind’s relationship to meaning in general: “I suggest that, far from
being an outmoded form of intellectual activity, mythic thought operates whenever the mind asks
itself what signification is” (JP 13). In essence, Levi-Strauss is referring to the role of translation
in establishing the invariants of the signatum, and by the end of the same book we understand
that transformational homologies should themselves be seen as modes of translation. The key is
to situate the problem of translation within the specific conceptuality of syntagm and paradigm:
“Defining a word is replacing it with another word or phrase drawn from the same paradigmatic
set. Using a metaphor is taking a word or phrase from one syntagmatic chain and placing it in
another syntagmatic chain…Symbolic thought thus brings together into the same paradigmatic
set homologous terms each of which belongs it its own syntagmatic chain” (JP 205). Defining a
word involves replacement by another, but the similarity in meaning between the two words that
allows mutually substitutability is only possible if relations between the two terms, initially
appearing in different syntagmatic chains or contexts, are first established. Metaphor is precisely
this “movement” which allows the possibility of trans-lation, and myth, in establishing
homologies between terms, is thus itself a metaphoric movement that and a kind of translating
apparatus. This is part of its generative power: “But the signification, or added signification, that
one is aiming at does not belong per se to the new word, the new syntagmatic chain, or the new
paradigmatic set. Signification is the product of the relations established between them and the
other word, chain, or set, which they supplement rather than replace, so that they will enrich or
nuance the semantic field to which they belong or will define its limits more precisely” (JP 205).
Myth “enriches” and opens meaning through its capacity to generate semantic transformations,
expanding and contracting fields of sense.
Myth produces a relation between syntagmatic series and paradigmatic sets and, in doing
so, situates itself at the level of any attempt to determine the nature of meaning, once we accept
that “signifying is nothing but establishing a relation between terms” (JP 205). Notice the
interplay between both the paradigmatic and the syntagmatic that Levi-Strauss emphasizes.
Clearly, any attempt at translation will link paradigmatic sets but can only do so by extracting
those sets from their original syntagmatic contexts, while at the same time, every syntagmatic
context is an “enchaining” of terms drawn from paradigms. Syntagm and paradigm are
interdependent in the genesis of meaning as unity and variation are in the genesis of Being, for
(temporal) variation in the syntagmatic chain presupposes the “atemporal” “essences” that
underlie the instantiation of terms in series, while the “essences” themselves are only established
through the generative linkages that can be made between temporal chains, through variation.
We will return to this point.
As Levi-Strauss makes clear in his 1955 article, “The Structural Study of Myth,” myth
aims to produce homologies, since part of its aim is to move “from the two to the one,” and a
homology between two series allows these series to be thought of as similar and thus to
assimilate them to a unity in thought. If its signifying is a relation between terms, this is because
those terms are also different and, as different, incompatible. Thus myth always starts with a
problem, which the mythic movement from the two to the one aims to “solve,” what in Myth and
Meaning3, Levi-Strauss will call, generally, the “problem of dualities” (the problem of man and
woman, the problem of twins, the problem of sexual reproduction, etc). This is the first
indication of the question of opposites which is so fundamental to Levi-Strauss’ structural
orientation to myth, but we see also that this problematicity is basic to the form of mythic
meaning and signification as such.

2. Intensional Semantics and The Conceptuality of Myth

Levi-Strauss’s specifically semantic approach to myth fuses the levels of structure and
content through the crucial idea that transformation functions through opposition. In constructing
homologies myth produces content through the relation between terms that constitutes
signification. The question of the relation between structure and content is at play throughout
Levi-Strauss’ critique of Vladimir Propp’s formalist account of folktale in “Structure and

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Myth and Meaning. London: Routledge, 2003.
Form”4: “form is defined by opposition to content, an entity in its own right, but structure has no
distinct content: it is content itself, and the logical organization in which it is arrested is
conceived as property of the real.” Against Propp, Levi-Strauss affirms that a given character or
actor in a myth cannot be seen as simply an arbitrary variable for certain definable “functions”
(generic actions that certain characters might take in the narrative). Rather, both actants and the
functions must be seen as being determined structurally, through their possible variants (SF 182).
We see emerging an explicit relation between variation and opposition: “to understand the
meaning of an element, we must always look at it in all its contexts. In oral literature, these
contexts manifest themselves in numerous variants, that is, in a whole system of compatibilities
and incompatibilities. That the eagle appears by day and the owl appears by night in the same
function permits the definition of the former as a day owl and of the latter as a night eagle:
consequently, the relevant opposition is that of day to night” (SF 182). The point is clear: the
content of an element, be it actant or function, takes its value through its possible variants, which
is just the same as saying its position in a network of oppositions. This network of oppositions is
structured such that in each case the permutability of elements is rule-defined.
Using Greimas’s term, we might say that the semantic contents of a myth are
interdefined5: they take their position through mutual limitation due to relations of oppositional
distinction. In addition, each element must be seen as a kind of “bundle of relations,” for the
mythic element will condenses within itself multiple oppositions so that it posseses multiple
opposites and not just two, on multiple “axes” of opposition: “It turns out that the eagle and the
owl together are put in opposition to the crow as predators to scavenger, whereas they are
opposed to each other at the level of day and night, and that the duck is in opposition to all three
at the new level of the pairs sky-land and sky-water. Thus, step by step we define a “universe of
the tale,” analyzable in pairs of oppositions interlocked within each character who – far from
constituting a single entity – forms a bundle of distinctive features like the phoneme in Roman
Jakobson’s theory” (SF 182). Each term should be seen as a condensation of multiple distinctive
features linked to others by relations of opposition that provide for it a certain structural place in
the system. The determination of meaning by inter-definition thus also determines the taxonomic
scheme in so far as it classifies elements in much the same way as one can organize phonemes
into classes on the basis of the distinctive features they instantiate or not (presence/absence of
features). We are then on the threshold of logic, for if the meaning of mythic elements involves
their classification, based here on featural instantiation, this is to say that mythic elements must
possess intensional contents and can thus be treated as concepts and as the constituents of the
proposition. As Husserl will put it, “meanings in the sense of specific unities, constitute the
domain of pure logic…” (LI 238)6.

Levi-Strauss, Claude. “Structure and Form.” Retrieved from
.pdf. 1960
Cf. Greimas, A. J. (1987). On Meaning: Selected Writings in Semiotic Theory. Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press.
Husserl, Edmund, and Dermot Moran. Logical Investigations. London: Psychology Press,
An excellent example of the relation between transformation and opposition is Levi-
Strauss’s analysis of a group of Guianese myths about the origin of honey in From Honey to
Ashes7. In a very explicit and simple rendering, Levi-Strauss aims to show that all of the
transformations that link the elements of the group can be generated by means of a single
algorithm, defined by two operations (HA 160): “It having been accepted that, in the myths of
this group, the chief protagonist is an animal, the group can be established if and only if ():
1) The identity of the animal remains the same in the two consecutive myths, while its
sex is revered;
2) The sex of the animal remains the same in the two consecutive myths while its specific
nature is ‘reversed’.”

Oppositional transformation emerges clearly here, a case simply of either inverting the terms
male/female or transforming an animal into another through inversion on a defined semantic
axis. For example, we see that the bee transforms into a frog in so far as the bee is a creature
inimical to water, while water is the frog’s habitat and its croaks are a sign of the coming rains,
so the transformation is from the dry to the wet. Lastly, a similar transformation in reverse
direction changes the frog into a jaguar, who himself is associated with fire. In each case,
something of course stays the same, since each animal plays a similar role as a provider of honey
(or meat).8 A horizon of similarity is maintained even as the mythic process moves through a
series of differences.
In each case, we can think of the myth as passing over a kind of threshold in the “tipping
over” to an opposite valence as the group is generated. We should also think of these differences
as “moving together” in so far as more specific variations in the details of the myth might act as
functions of other variations, in so far as the myth in each case should be seen as an “organized
whole,” a sort of gestalt in which the analytically decomposable elements at the same time
cannot be extracted from the system of differential relations they form with one another. Finally,
if each myth involves a crossing of the limit according to the generative syntax specified the
algorithm, Levi-Strauss aims to show too that this group of six myths can also itself be
established as a “closed set.” Thus, the field of differences that the group incarnates is itself
bounded by a limit.
This last point relates the group to other whole groups in which the totality of
transformational relations between the elements of the groups allows one to construct meta-
groups. But importantly, it also discerns in what sense the group should be seen as incarnating a
paradigmatic set, specified by the rule of transformation. The rule of transformation as a kind of
“algorithm” specifies necessary relations between its terms, and in this sense the mythic group is
an a priori structure. These considerations warrant treating the paradigmatic set as equivalent to
a kind of essence of the group in the sense of a limit-structure for a series of multiple
instantiations which retain invariance through the necessity of a rule. At the same time, it is
obvious that this invariance is nothing but the form of its variance. The elements of the group
are mutually limited by thresholds which define them as variants; but the group as a whole is
defined by a limitation that distinguishes it from other groups. We are dealing with

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. From Honey to Ashes. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.
Cf. Ch. 3 “The Girl Mad About Honey,” where a transformation honey  meat is defined
under certain conditions.
interdefinition “all the way down,” in such a way to determine invariance as but the a priori form
or horizon of variation at every level.

3. Transition to the Phenomenological Problem of Interdefintion

We must make sense of the conditions of possibility for interdefinition as the discretion
of semantic units determined by relations of mutual limitation. Then we must understand how
such terms enter into propositions and in what way in myth specifically. Our task is somewhat
similar to Greimas’s attempt to determine an axiomatic of meanings, in so far as Greimas saw
that the kinds of interdefined concepts that Levi-Strauss was describing could be understood as
combinatory articulations of an inventory of “semic categories” composed of contrary terms.9
From this point of view, each term could be given a position in a sort of matrix or Cartesian
plane which would have the form of 2X2X2X2….The phenomenological approach is similar to
an axiomatic of meaning, in so far as it aims to determine the a priori invariants of sense through
an intuitive self-evidence of essences. But from the phenomenological point of view, Greimas’s
approach comes too late, for the kinds of typological invariants we have to discover are the very
ones that would allow something like “semic categories” to make sense in the first place. We
must determine how a discretion of meaning could first arise, how to conceive of opposites
themselves (as contraries, contradictories, as magnitudes, etc.), and finally the problem of
intensional contents. The phenomenological approach we develop is essentially aimed at an
intensional semantics, but an intensional semantics based on a priori invariants of conscious
constitution, or an analysis of the modes of genesis that phenomenally “open forth” semantic
discretion and articulation.
If myth is a meta-semantic activity, in a sense involved in every attempt to ask oneself
what is signification, phenomenology is also a meta-semantic activity that attempts to determine
the most basic constituents of sense through a kind of translatability in the sense of eidetic
variation. We aim to “see” invariants through experimenting with the horizon of their possible
variations and translations. Yet, phenomenology would seem to take place in a specific “region,”
the phenomenologically reduced field of “consciousness.” The reduction requires that we view
processes occurring in consciousness not as objectively real events but simply in terms of their
phenomenal structure as constituents of appearing or as components of manifestation as such,
and we attempt to produce at typology of the various kinds of “acts” occurring in consciousness
in their correlation to the objects of those acts, performing an equal reduction of such objects to
simple phenomena. These noetico-noematic correlations can be organized in terms of “levels” in
so far as we aim to see how certain structures of manifestation found themselves upon others
relative to the processes of constitution. Underlying the genetic account is the idea that
processes of consciousness involved in the “letting-appear” of certain contents can be retained
and thus built upon by new acquisitions in the temporal unfolding of experience. Genetic
phenomenology thus allows an analysis of the sort of “layering” that occurs thereby and allows
us to “peel back the onion” to determine the various articulations of sensation, attention, thing-
determination, judgment, time-constitution, etc..
In general, we will follow Husserl’s account in Experience and Judgment in starting from
the bed-rock of perception and working our way up to judgement. As we will see, from the very

Greimas, A. J. (1987). On Meaning: Selected Writings in Semiotic Theory. Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press. Cf. Ch. 2,3,4.
earliest stages of perception, we are confronted with the problem of “edges” or the limitation of
objects in the sensory field. At the same time, these discretized forms unfold essentially through
a variation that is inseparable from the work of a temporality that makes possible a synthetic
coherence of variation through its form of retention, living-present, and protention. In the
perception of a spatial thing, the thing’s “edges” are both marked off from its the background
while also constantly shifting as a series of “2-D sketches”10 which nevertheless allow a stable
three-dimensional form to manifest as separate from, but “seen-through,” such variation.
Discretion at the most basic level is rooted then in a play of variation.
There is another reason to start with perception in order to “build up” logical forms,
which is Levi-Strauss’ insistent claim that mythic thought must be rooted in the
ethnotaxonomical system of meanings of a given culture, a classification of tangible qualities
arising out of the lebenswelt of that culture’s relationship to its environment, its daily and
seasonal routines, its value system, etc. Every system of meanings is a bricolage as a “picking
up” of contingently given elements (data) from the perceptible world that nonetheless aims to
provide those elements with a logical order of similarities and differences. There are always two
levels to the myth: its ethnosemantic base, and the additional meanings accruing to elements
through the productivity of mythic variants themselves. There are, as it were, “base meanings”
developed from a specific culture and discoverable through ethnography, and those meanings
which emerge through the determination of mythic transformations themselves, meanings
determined by their place in the “corpus” of mythic variants, a “corpus” that may extend beyond
any one given population. Although, from the point of view of the analyst, the ethnotaxonomical
system appears as a point of reference for myth, from the point of view of the native, it is really
the myth, in its cosmogenic dimensions, which provides the justification for the ethnotaxonmical
This distinction between ethnosemantic base and mythic meaning proper can be related to
the one Levi-Strauss makes in From Honey to Ashes between “empirical deduction” and
“transcendental deduction.” Empirical deductions involve the attribution of certain features to an
entity on the basis of empirical experience in perception, though it is irrelevant whether the
judgment is strictly speaking correct or not (DC 3)11, so that we can speak of empirical deduction
in the simple case of attribution through observation of a certain feature, or through an imaginary
association such as “the attribution of curative powers against snake bite and tooth decay to
seeds shaped like fangs” (DC 3), which is based on perceptible similarities between perceivable
things, although the specific quality attributed here would not be a “real” component of the
object (metaphorical attribution). We can also speak of an indirect empirical deduction when an
object receives an inverse attribution than is the case in empirical deduction proper, due to the
inverse situation that the myth posits, for example, myths in which the jaguar eats his food
cooked and man eats it raw, since this is an inversion of the empirical deduction (and in this case
correct) that man eats his food cooked while the jaguar eats it raw.

Cf.. Marr, David. Vision: A Computational Investigation Into the Human Representation and
Processing of Visual Information. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2010.
Maranda, Pierre. Structural Analysis of Oral Tradition. Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press. 1971.
“Transcendental deduction,” on the other hand, involves the attribution of a feature based
on the supposition of correspondence of a set of terms in opposition. Transcendental deduction
involves attribution due to the logical order, or classificatory distribution, of terms, some of
which may already have been organized in a given way due to empirical judgment. One of Levi-
Strauss’s examples is the connection between the jaguar and the honey festival amongst the
Northern Tupi. An empirical deduction associates the frog with water, while another associates
the bee with honey, while both species are known to inhabit tree hollows. Thus, a certain
correlative opposition emerges between bees and frogs. Now, the jaguar, through indirect
empirical deduction, is a master of fire, since he possessed cooking before man stole it from him.
Since fire, for other reasons, is opposed to water, this then puts jaguar in a similar position to
bees in relation to frogs. So, the parallelism between the jaguar and the bee explains how the
jaguar can come to be associated with honey (though here in the form of a “culturalizer”
consistent with the jaguar’s role in the origin of cooking-fire myths, such that the jaguar will be
associated with the honey festival).
Note that transcendental deduction, in so far as it relies on a correspondence of
oppositions makes reference to the basic activity of mythic meaning which is to produce
homologies between groups of oppositionally defined terms. Essentially, this is why Levi-
Strauss will give it the name “transcendental,” because “in order to make this deduction, we had
to ask ourselves under what conditions could the disjointed judgments based on empirical
deduction which occur in the myths appear coherent” (DC 19). Levi-Strauss’s comments give
the impression that a rough analogy could be posited between the relation between the
ethnosemantic base and the specifically mythical production of meaning and the relation between
empirical deduction and transcendental deduction. The myth will take hold of the
ethnosemantically defined terms as material for a mythic narrative, but it may, in its specifically
mythic form, also supply new attributions through transcendental deduction. Since the system of
correspondences is exactly what is discovered through the analysis of transformational relations,
transcendental deductions are those that may tip over the threshold of a particular group in
accordance with the nature of transformation. It should be clear, however, that the kind of
reasoning which transcendental deduction involves is a reasoning by analogy that presupposes
both empirical judgments that attribute qualities to substrates and also the capacity to relate
qualities in terms of their similarities and differences so as to construct an analogy. Analogy
requires the positing of two pairs of terms each pair of which is different but whereby the
relation between the two is similar.12

See Kongäs Moranda 1971 for a particularly rigorous parsing of the concept of analogy using
the notions of metaphor and metonymy. In an analogy of the form A:B::C:D, the relation
between A and B and the relation between C and D should be seen as metonymic. A and B (and
C and D) are contiguous terms taken from a unified “set.” The analogy establishes a
metaphorical relation (a relation of similarity) between A and C, and B and D, by means of an
overarching metaphor between the two sets from which A and B, and C and D are taken
respectively (a “superset”). For example, in the analogy, “morning is to evening and as
childhood is to old age” the first set could be seen as “times of day” and the second as “phases of
life.” Morning and evening are contiguous elements within the set “times of day,” just as
childhood and old age are in the set “phases of life.” The similarity of relations is clearly here the
4. The Phenomenology of Sameness and Difference

We must be able to make sense of the phenomenological conditions of sameness and

difference. Sameness and difference is fundamental to understanding the relations between
features of objects, for the play of sameness and difference relative to the features is what
defines classification and the intensional articulations of concepts. As Aristotle says in
Metaphysics X, “everything is either the same as or other than everything else.” Intensional
semantics as we intend it essentially means that every concept, or “genus,” can be specified by a
list of features, whereby the genus is differentiated from others through the presence or absence
of certain features, while species are internally differentiated “under” a genus through the
presence/absence of distinctive features relative to one another, while sharing those features that
constitue the genus. Genus and species are relative concepts and do not imply a particular
position in the taxonomic hierarchy that arises therefrom: genus simply means the higher, species
the lower, of any two given taxa. Following Kant, the intension of the concept can be thought to
increase as one moves lower on the hierarchy towards greater and greater specifications, and to
decrease as one moves higher to less specified terms. The extension of the concept or the set of
entities to which it applies varies inversely. Things are similar through possessing the same
features, different either through possessing other features or by simply not possessing certain
features (presence of a distinctive feature vs. simple absence of a feature).13

These distinctions are no doubt familiar, but they allow us to see the play of sameness
and difference underlying both ethno-taxonomical classification, linked to “empirical
deduction,” and also reasoning by analogy, or on the supposition of correspondence, which
defines “transcendental deduction,” linked to the generative power of myth as a meta-semantic
activity. From this point of view, we follow Husserl in Experience and Judgment and start at the
absolutely lowest level of perceptual experience through an analysis of the passive syntheses for
which the most primitive structurations of similarity and difference make their emergence in

Before developing a contemplative interest in an object, through which we might extract

some of its determinations, passive syntheses organize the sense-field in relations of sameness
and difference and form the basis for featural attribution at the later stage of explication of the
thing and its properties. To develop such an interest in the object presupposes a capacity to be
affected, through which a stimulus might “draw” interest toward the perceptual thing. It is the
capacity to be struck by something which “stands out” from the passively pre-given field: “And
it is not mere particular objects, isolated by themselves, which are thus pre-given but always a
field of pre-givenness, from which a particular stands out and, so to speak, “excites us” to
perception and perceptive contemplation” (EJ 92)14. But how exactly something can even “stand

similarity of the relation “before-after” in both cases, which is based on the overarching
metaphoric relation of two sets as both being temporal or periodic (they are both part of the
superset of temporal or periodic objects).
A simple presence-absence relation relative to the distinctive features of two terms is also
sometimes referred to as “marked vs. unmarked.”
Husserl, Edmund. Experience and Judgment. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1975.
out” depends on the structures of the sense-field from which it emerges.

In a given sensory modality, such as visual experience, a diffuse background coheres for
which similarities and differentiations between various colors organize the field into so many
fields of varying quality. A splotch of color contains an internal homogeneity before passing
over, in the subjective space of the visual field, into another splotch, internally unified in a
similar way but with differentiated quality. This internal homogeneity of the splotch that “blends
without contrast” (EJ 73) is nonetheless also a “blending at a distance” in which the similarity of
different parts of the splotch extends across a parallel differentiation in space or in the spatialized
regions in which the sensuous contents roughly locate themselves in my visual field. This space
is not the fully constituted objective space of objects-in-the-world organized in terms of relations
of “next-to” “in front” etc. but that of the visual field. As we might “pass across” the field of a
given splotch, in reflective phenomenological attention, this temporal passing is one that
parallels a spatial differentiation whereby the color remains homogenous15. However, tiny,
“infinitesimal” differences map the spatial differentiations in the positions of the contents, but
subtle enough that they withdraw in the face of the homogeneity of splotch. The passive
synthesis that Husserl calls “association” is precisely this holding-together of the homogenous, a
“blending” of differences as similar (EJ 74). The blended field as a whole nonetheless itself
“comes to prominence” or articulates itself, through its own difference with another blended
field. This difference is perceptible when it passes a kind of threshold so as to halt blending and
begin a new synthetic blending. It is important to note that the difference that crosses the
threshold is itself different (from the point of view of phenomenological analysis) from the
difference that does not, precisely in so far as the former marks out a new field while the other
only produces its internal homogeneity. We can speak of a threshold because similarity and
difference present themselves in greater or lesser degrees, such as a black that begins to shade
slightly into a grey, possessing “more difference” as the field spatially varies than one that
remains uniformly black.

Noting this play of sameness and difference within the sense-field of visual,a more
global, qualitative difference also affects that between visual phenomena and auditory
phenomena as different sensory modalities. Though these internal differences might reveal
themselves to be of a different kind, we still allow ourselves the generalization: “thus with
regard to content the most general syntheses of sensuous data raised to prominence within a
field, data which at any given time are united in the living present of a consciousness, are those
in conformity with affinity (homogeneity) and strangeness (heterogeneity)” (EJ 74). The whole
field of passive sense-data must be seen as structured according to relations of sameness and
difference. Husserl calls the synthesis of sameness or “blending,” a synthesis of differences, in
content and spatial position, as the same, the synthesis of association. We define also a

Here, the temporal passing involves a time-differentiation that parallels a spatial difference,
while allowing for a distinction between the two. In this case, time would mark difference in the
the form of immanent data, and the spatial difference would emerge in part as connected to the
contents of perception. Nevertheless, spatial relations always come into consciousness “in time,”
such that the opening of a field of simultaneous spatial relations is itself a successive
disjunctive synthesis that holds together differentiated fields together as different in the sense
elaborated above. The sense-field as a whole is constituted by the unity of syntheses both
associative and disjunctive. At another level, the synthesis of internal time-consciousness holds
together the entire field as the form of any immanent data, since all experiences, even at the
passive level, unfold such that a given content is temporally related to another either in a relation
of simultaneity or succession (before or after) (this is what Kant would call the “form of inner
sense”). Not only should time be seen as a form, however, but also as the condition of a kind of
generative flow of perception, in which qualities and quantities (both extensive and intensive)
“open forth” in the unfolding of experience, a point we elaborate on below.

This initial relation of sameness and difference provides the bedrock upon which objects
will come to affect the subject so as to draw it to a point of interest. That which draws interest or
attention is “striking” in the sense of standing out through a particularly intense or high degree of
difference which thereby takes on “affective power” (EJ 76), a “force” that draws the subject and
an insistence “determined by the mode, more or less abrupt, of coming-to-prominence” (EJ 76).
Just as we distinguished degrees of difference, there are degrees of intensity in the “obtrusion”
that stimulates the subject. If the stimulus affects the subject with a greater or lesser intensity, the
subject as itself distinct from the affecting stimulus (which it thereby encounters) has more or
less of a tendency to give way to the stimulus, more or less of a tendency to allow the being-
affected to turn into an active comportment of the subject.

From this initial apprehension of the object, interest may develop even further to the
point of what Husserl calls explicitation, whereby a structural differentiation emerges internal to
the object as the articulation of its properties and features. Note that this articulation is also based
on “prominence” or the ‘standing out’ of certain features of the object, for just as the object
emerges as a figure from the background, so too do its properties emerge as figures for the
object as their background. Coming-into-prominence is in each case the emergence of a
difference from out of a field of sameness, a field of sameness which itself exists as “blended” by
means of the associative synthesis of differences as similar.

In the mode of explicitation, it is possible to open up a multiplicity of properties from

within the object through a shifting of attention to the various prominences the object might open
up from itself while it is held-in-grasp as an unvarying background. Each of these properties, as a
“moment” of the object, is one of its features, and so we have all of the following: a
differentiation of various features, the differentiation of the feature(s) from the object itself (as
figure to background), the synthesis of the differentiated feature and the object, and the synthesis
of all the features together as collectively features of the self-same object (also presupposing
their collective differentiation from the object). Taken together, these syntheses provide for what
we could call feature-coherence as the general mode of objectal integration. Feature-coherence
is the condition of possibility of the subsumption of the object under concepts conceived of as
lists of features16. Feature-coherence allows for what Kant calls “the synthesis of recognition,”

Note that we could also, at another level, explore how certain features are grouped into “sorts”
of features, a classification of features qua features (such as “color” or “behavior”
“morphological features”), and not simply a classification of objects through the features that
they, as objects, possess.
the taking as of the object as a specific sort of thing, due to the presence or absence of the
distinctive features that are here integrated into the object as a perceptually encountered entity.

The explicative determination of objects is retained in the living-through of the routines

of the lebenswelt, in such a way that the articulations of the object might reinforce themselves
through repeated encounters. We thus form horizons of expectation that surround everyday
things, and a certain “sedimentation” of values and qualities with respect to things’ typical
determinations arises for us. The world is encountered in each case as an always-already, pre-
structured field of types through which our experiences unfold in predictable ways. We are
accustomed to come with certain expectations as to the internal articulations of things and the
features that they will unfold in our attention. This featural articulation, integration, and
distinction, as well the workings of classification and recognition, saturate the lebenswelt. Our
genetic account has in fact been an abstraction needed to analytically determine the various
components of this one layer of integration of the lebenswelt. In so far as these analyses take on
a priori purchase, grounded in only the most basic features of perception, they ought to make
room for the variability of contents that would characterize culturally specific ethnotaxonomies,
the “base level” of mythic meaning.17

5. Binary Limitation and the Infinite Judgment

Nevertheless, we should note that Husserl’s analysis in Experience and Judgment of

apprehension and explication ignores the problem of edge-perception that he himself took up
Thing and Space.18 Not only must the object draw the subject’s attention to it through its own
prominence, but the object distinguishes itself from its background in order to appear as that unit
that underlies the consciousness of its differentiated features. The genetic-phenomenological
account attempts to delineate elements in the structure of perception that precipitate or gesture
towards logical formations and concepts. If the manifestation of the object and its properties in
perception precipitates the subject-predicate form of the judgment before the act of judgment has

Future research should define the differentiation between sensory modalities, and show
how internal relations of similarity and difference vary for each passive sense-field. Though it is
outside the scope of this thesis, only such an analysis would account fully for what Levi-Strauss
describes as the plurality and translatability of codes, in particular, the capacity to move between
acoustic, visual, olfactory, tactile, and gustatory sets of signifiers (cf. “Fugue of the Five Senses”
in The Raw and The Cooked). The basis of this translatability is isomorphism, where qualities
interdefined by mutual limitation allow us to specify a one-to-one relationship between their
respective places in a series. The genetic structure of limitation might work slightly differently in
the other sensory modalities from the visual and color-based forms of limitation we have alluded
to here. As an example, we might note that sonic distinctions do not tend to “track” object
separations in the way that distinctions in color tend to in the visual field. We locate sounds in
space but they do not appear to be melded with objects as colors are in visual perception.
Husserl, Edmund. Thing and Space: Lectures of 1907. Berlin: Springer Science & Business
Media, 1997.
taken place, we might wonder if, in this case, the limitation of the object by its edges anticipates
a specifically logical structure. This is what is at play in Kant’s discussion of the infinite

Though Kant aims to give a transcendental account of how logical structures of the mind
“hook onto” the intuitive dimensions of empirical reality, his approach is different from a
genetic-phenomenological one in that he begins with a total acceptance of the results of
Aristotelian term logic and then proceeds to (metaphysically) deduce the pure concepts of the
understanding and (transcendentally) deduce their functioning de jure as a condition of
possibility of experience. Inversely, genetic phenomenology begins at the lower levels of
perceptual experience and intuition, explores the constitutive syntheses that make these layers
possible, and from there tries to determine the origin of logical forms rather than presupposing
their accomplishment. Nevertheless, Kant provides genetic phenomenology with a certain kind
of “clue” in so far as he describes a structural correspondence between the logical form of
judgment that is the infinite judgment and the limitation of the object in space in its presentation
in intuition. By generating the term non-P through the proposition ‘S is non-P’ (instead of
simply ‘S is not P’) we determine a concept with an infinite domain that is limited by the domain
of P, since non-P includes everything except P. At the level of the perceptual experience of real
objects in space we are speaking of the “edges” of the object that mark it off from the
background, such that it emerges as a discretized unit and the entirety of the background is
thought as its complement.

The key to making sense of this correspondence is to situate it within the

phenomenological distinctions already elaborated. We already saw: 1) how a play of sameness
and difference operates in the passive field of sense-data prior to attention, through the syntheses
of association and disjunctive syntheses; 2) how the object differentiates into a multiplicity of
features which stand out as figures to a ground, and how the “holding-in-grasp” of the object, as
attention moves toward the features, allows a synthesis between the object and determinations so
that these feature can be taken as properties which the object ‘has.’ Now we should note the
transformation that this substrate-determination relationship undergoes in predicative activity,
whereby it can morph into the subject-predicate relation. Just as the substrate and its
determinations involves differentiation and synthesis of features so does the relation between
subject and predicate in the unifying function of the copula.

Judgment aims to determine a concrete state of affairs as “being the case” and in doing so
aims at the articulation of the two terms of subject and predicate as simultaneously objects of
attention, so as to fix their relation. In actively making a judgment about the object and its
properties, we “split two rays,” one upon the object, the other on one of its properties. There is a
structural isomorphism between the substrate-determination relationship and the subject-
predicate relationship, even as they must be genetically distinguished, for while the substrate-
determination relationship is properly a figure-ground relationship in which attention recedes
from the substrate and moves to the determination (while still holding the former in grasp), the
subject-predicate relationship involves in fact equal attention, such that through a dual-rayed
intentionality, both subject and predicate emerge as discrete terms. The synthesis of these terms
in the joint intentionality of the “double ray” is the basis of the copula.
We can begin to make sense of why Kant conceives of a relation between the infinite
judgment and limitation in the perceptual object. The category of limitation for Kant must be
classed under the more general heading of the categories of quality. These categories are formed
from the relation through which the predicate is asserted of the subject. So, with regard to the
object, these categories relate specifically to the qualities (properties) that objects take on as they
might present themselves in intuition. It is on the basis of this relationship that Kant speak the
categories of quality as implicating an “anticipations of perception” with respect to the principles
of their application to objects in experience. If any object must be given in such a way that its
properties are to be articulable in terms of the subject-predicate form of the judgment, even
though we cannot know in advance the particular qualities an object might take on – as this is
subject to the very empiricity of perceptual encounter itself – the principle that objects must
conform to the faculties of cognition indicates that we “anticipate” certain structural features of
this articulation a priori. Namely, we can “anticipate” that object will take on qualities in
conformity with the three categories of quality, reality, negation, limitation, which are built on
the structural relation between subject and predicate as maintained in the forms of judgment.

Kant holds that objects of intuition are given to the subject as pre-structured by the forms
of intuition which are space and time. So for Kant, it is a given that any object that appears will
occupy a given position in space and time. Since space as pure form, however, should be seen
merely as a system of relations between spatial positions, the intuition which involves the
affection of the subject and through which contents of cognition emerge should be conceived as
a “filling of space” in which certain positions of space in the network of relations take on a
determinate quality as opposed to being merely empty of content. Quite simply then, if a quality
is to be affirmed of an object in terms of the judgment, this can only mean that the quality exists,
and thus that the content is present in the intuition that fills that space which would otherwise be
the mere form of content. If the quality is to be negated, the content does not fill space, so that
we can think of a “decrease to 0” as a hypothetical emptiness of space (although such emptiness
is by definition imperceptible, it is formally conceivable). Any object that fills space does so at a
multiplicity of points or positions, in so far as the object as a unified whole “ex-tends” across
space (res extensa), an extension which would require the synthesis of association which
“blends” the homogenous across a spectrum of minutely varying differences in parallel with the
spatial and “infinitesimal” differentiations of the continuous field. Kant’s idea of “filling space”
suggests that the content that occupies each point has an intensive magnitude, if we take that the
category of reality anticipates a positive magnitude is present in the intuition, or a positive degree
of filling, while negation implies its absence.19 Husserl anticipated this concept of intensive
magnitude in the idea that the stimulus which draws the attention to the object possesses a
varying degree of affective power or “force.” Kant’s analysis complements the former by
focusing on the force of the stimulus at a given point of the object in abstraction from the effects
of this magnitude on attention.

Now, if the affirmation of a quality is linked to its filling, negation to its absence,
limitation as the affirmation of “non-P” must mean the affirmation of the absence of the quality.

We can assume either as the imperceptible but formally conceivable emptiness of space or as
the absence of a particular empirical quality as opposed to the presence of another one.
But Kant makes explicit the pure absence of the quality is only a formal possibility and is not
perceptible as such (for there is no content to perceive). If affirmation refers to the presence of a
quality (which it must), it must do so to the presence of those qualities outside of the quality ‘P.’
Thus, the correlate of the infinite judgment in perception is the background of the object as it is
marked off by the qualitative contrasts that define its edges. The “not” that differentiates quality
in the concept is already present in the limitation that separates object from background
(through its distinction in perceived quality).20

The infinite judgment from the logical perspective relates to the limitation of certain
predicates by others, the positing of an infinite domain outside of a given concept, which can
only be due to the negation of elements of that concept’s intension. Thus we relate limitation in
perception to the intensional-semantic level, in so far as non-P will refer to a all concepts
different from P, which is nothing else than saying all those concepts which possess distinctive
features that P does not. The structural correspondence between the proto-logical and the logical
allows us to isolate an equivalent of inter-definition in perception. Noting that limitation
determines also the spatial place of the object, we note that the structuralist concept of place in a
series, positional value, is phenomenologically grounded. It should not be taken as
“metaphorical,” unless, of course, metaphor means the establishment of similarity, and then,
taking care to avoid any hierarchical relationship of the literal and the metaphorical, this
relationship should be understood precisely as metaphorical.

The reader may object that we have unduly identified a typological discretion in the
domain of concepts with the individual discretion in the domain of objects. We do not fail to
mark a distinction between these two modes of discretion. Rather, we simply note that in both
cases we are dealing with distinction in quality, whether that quality appears abstractly as an
intensional component of a concept or concretely in perception. But it is obvious that the latter
presupposes the former, as it is impossible to differentiate features within a concept if the field of
perception does not first of all admit of qualitative differentiation, for differentiation must first of
all be “available” to consciousness.

An additional confirmation of the structural isomorphism of perpetual and intensional

limitation comes from mythic thought itself. Levi-Strauss argues that in South American
mythology the rainbow should be seen as an analogue of either cultural diversity (when it results
in disease and the creation of “large gaps” in the population that allow for perceptible social
distinctions) or of natural, zoological diversity. An extremely common myth involves an incident
in which the rainbow-snake is killed and its body torn apart to be shared amongst the various
species of birds who thereby acquire their distinctive plumage. These birds are present in terms
of their kinds, and the features they take on are their characteristic features, but the myth finds a
way to signify this taxonomic discontinuity precisely through the idea of the rainbow as a series
of differentiated color-fields in perception: “Each type of feather is, on the contrary, apprehended
in its totality; and in that totality the distinctive identity of a particular species is conveyed in
tangible terms, so that it cannot be confused with any other species, for ever since the
fragmentation of the rainbow’s body, each species has been inevitably determined in accordance
with the part it played in the dismemberment” (RC 324). We will come back to this point at
length when we discuss Levi-Strauss’ concept of chromaticism as a transitional term between
nature and culture, the continuous and the discrete.

6. The Problem of Specifically Oppositional Relations

Nonetheless, inter-definition as analyzed on the model of the infinite judgment cannot

account for the distinction between those features which are differentiated by negation and those
which are differentiated by opposition proper. Consider the following intensional distinction
between ‘book’ and ‘lamp’ as species of everyday objects: a distinction (among others) might be
that a book’s function is to be read while a lamp’s function is to provide light. ‘Being-read’ is a
distinctive feature that a book possesses that a lamp does not, and vice versa with ‘providing
light.’21 But ‘being-read’ and ‘providing light’ are not opposites. If we form the infinite
judgment ‘S is non-lamp,’ non-lamp would include within it those things that functioned to be
read (the domain of S would include books), since the intension of “book” would be a subset of
the infinite intension that is the totality of those distinctive features not possessed by lamps, thus
excluding ‘providing light’ but including ‘being-read.’ Interdefinition as defined above then
omits the distinction between definition by means of features that are simply distinct from those
which are opposite to one other, and so our account is incomplete in terms of making sense of
the specific semantics of myth.

To account for this semantics, we must perform a phenomenological analysis of

opposition and an investigation of the role of opposites in the Mythologiques. The problem leads
us to the internal generative structure of a myth, which Levi-Strauss famously condensed in the
so-called canonical formula: fx(a):fy(b)::fx(b):fa-1(y). Following Pierre and Elli Kongäs Maranda,
the canonical formula should be understood as dealing with a productive process of mediating
opposites, the role of mediation being condensed in the term ‘b’ which takes on both of the
opposite functions ‘x’ and ‘y.’ The functions should read like the idea of propositional
functions, taking a name as an input and outputting a determinate proposition on a domain. Yet,
at the same time “function” should also be interpreted similarly to Propp’s concept of function in
the sense of an action or tendency of an actor in the course of the narrative. The propositions that
are outputted by the propositional functions are clearly then verbal propositions, and the myth as
a series of propositions should be seen as a positing of a series of events. What the myth says, is
that such and such took place.

Generally, the first half of the formula will refer to a conflict between two terms ‘a’ and
‘b’ each of which “realize” or “incarnate” the actions and tendencies of the structuring
oppositions of the narrative ‘x’ and ‘y.’ In the second half of formula, term ‘b’ exhibits its role as
mediator by taking on the role of ‘x,’ such that ultimately ‘a’ will be overcome and a definitive

Unless we admit that a book “provides light.” The relation would of course be metaphorical,
as congruence of meaning through similarity, itself presupposing a prior differentiation. In fact,
the metaphor determines a genus in which books and lamps are grouped as “light-providing
objects,” a fact that should tell us something about the generativity of metaphor to develop
classifications, something we saw in our discussion of “transcendental deduction” (see above).
success of the function ‘y’ achieved. These oppositional functions in an obvious case might
represent ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ the mediator ensuring the success of good through being able to take
on evil powers himself, or they could be oppositions like ‘earth’ and ‘sky,’ ‘dry’ and ‘wet’
‘immortal’ and ‘mortal’, etc. The overcoming that the mediator effects often exhibits the trope
structure of “deceiver deceived,” the “trickster tricked,” “the master is mastered,” the turn
(tropos)22 that ‘b’ might effect to defeat ‘a’ and allow the function ‘y’ to prevail (‘b’ is a
“master” of the very property he would overcome, like the ambivalent magician or wounded
healer). To this “turn” as a narrative movement corresponds the logical function of ‘b’ as a
mediating third to “solve” the problem that the oppositional duality poses, here through a kind of
double negation in which the negative value of ‘x’ is itself negated by means of the mediator ‘b’
whhich takes it on in order to defeat its representative ‘a.’23

The relation between ‘x’ and ‘y’ ‘a’ and ‘b’ which ‘b’ effects through its powers of
mediation must be understood in the specific sense of the double twist that characterizes the last
part of the formula. The function ‘y’ will be “substantialized” into a term, so that we should
think of ‘y’ as becoming the agent of a new function ‘a-1,’ the inverse value of ‘a.’
Substantialization signifies that the final situation of the myth does not simply return the
opposition of ‘x’ and ‘y’ to equilibrium, as would be written in the formula, fx(a):fy(b)::fx(b):fy(-
a), whereby the function ‘y’ arises thorugh simple negation of ‘a’. In this latter case, ‘x’ and ‘y’
are simply restored to equilibrium in so far as the character ‘a’ who was “pushing” ‘x’ as a
tendency has been negated. Rather, the fundamental formula represents a kind of “gain” or
asymmetrical result in which the substantialization of ‘y’ refers to the advent of a new narrative
situation in which ‘y’ is dominant over ‘x’: “mediation not only nullifies the initial impact but
exploits it to advantage: what gave the mediator its strength – the verbal proposition y in fy(b) –
is hypostatized or substantivized at the end. This implies the view that in such items a cultural, y,
is reinforced by a demonstration of its power. In effect, in addition to being able to match the
impact of the adverse action, it can at the same time nullify it and extracting more power from
this very performance, increase its own weight” (SM 52).

To be more precise with regards to the terms ‘a’ and ‘b,’ we should emphasize that in
analyzing the narrative sequence, we can speak of ‘a’ and ‘b’ as respectively members of two
sets A and B, “forming paradigms defined by their respective typologies in given societies (e.g.
dragon, devil, witch, ogre etc. in Indo-European traditions; turtle, octopus, shark, lizard in North
Mailatan traditions)” (SM 34). This allows an analysis of the narrative in terms of the total set of
terms a1, a2, a3… and b1,b2,b3,….which realize the overarching oppositions ‘x’ and ‘y.’ From this
point of view, a summing up of the different terms is possible in order to think the overall
quantities that ‘x’ and ‘y’ take on as a result of the narrative. Thus, we should think of ‘x’ and
‘y’ not only as in logical opposition but also as in dynamic antagonism as two “vectors” of
opposition in a play of quantifiable forces.

Cf. Wagner, Roy. Lethal speech: Daribi Myth as Symbolic Obviation. Ithaca: Cornell
University Pr, 1978.
For a more detailed explanation of the fundamental formula, the reader should consult
Structural Models in Folklore and Transformational Essays by Pierre and Elli Kongäs Maranda.
7. Quantity and Quality as The Key To Opposition

From this point of view, Pierre and Elli Kongäs Maranda’s beautiful parsing of Levi-
Strauss’s canonical formula poses us a direct philosophical problem. If, as we saw in Levi-
Strauss’ critique of Propp, both functions and terms should be analyzed in terms of their
intensional contents in terms of relations of mutual limitation by the presence/absence of
distinctive features (thus, as concepts), how can we make sense of the fact these concepts can
also be conceived as forces or magnitudes? The question is really how to make sense of the
relation of quantity and quality.

The relation of quantity and quality is germane to the problem of opposites. As Levi-
Strauss mentions in a few places, mythic thought has a tendency to alternate between antithesis
proper and simple relations of degree, either interspersing the two forms, or allowing the former
to degenerate into the latter.24 Levi-Strauss speaks frequently of the “weakening” of oppositions
as a fundamental process in mythic thought, and even uses the idea of this weakening to define
the genre of folktales, more localized narrative traditions (accruing only to given clans or social
groups), in distinction to myths proper.25 In certain cases, it seems that the “weakening” that
Levi-Strauss has in mind could be accounted for in terms of a principle of subdivision and
equivalence, as in a sky/earth duality being transposed into a land/water duality, in which
land/water is in fact a subdivision of ‘earth,’ while a relation of analogical equivalence can still
be established between the two oppositional pairs through the transformational analysis of
mythic variants.26 In this case, the weakening appears to be properly conceptual and could even
be conceived on the model of specification of the genus. In other cases, however, weakening
ought be conceived as a case of genuinely less “intense” forms of a single opposition where
magnitude is explicitly at play. One would wonder then, simply on the basis of what mythic
thought grants us, if there is not a kind of fundamental relationship between opposition and

Many familiar opposites in fact involve transition from one quality into another through
the variation of magnitudes. Heat is a good example, whereby a certain variation in quantity
results in the subjective sensation of a difference between “cold” and “hot” as well as a medium
zone of “lukewarm” (neither hot nor cold). Quantities that function in this way thus allow zones
of transition between opposite terms and thus make sense of polarity as being simultaneously
binary and ternary, which is the basis of the possibility of expressing opposites in terms of the
concept of contrary terms.27 The existence of a middle zone (neither one extreme nor the other)
means that it is possible that the proposition S is P(+1) and S is P(-1) might both be false where S is

Cf. “The Myth of Asdiwal” Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Structural Anthropology II. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1976.
This kind of subdivision accounts for binary-ternary relations that are ternary, not through the
medial term of an opposition, but because one term of the opposition is subdivided.
Note that the idea of contrariety also applies to cases of simple inapplicability of the concept,
such as a number being neither hot nor cold but also not lukewarm, simply because it is not
something to which temperature can be attributed, one reason why the idea of contrariety alone is
semantically weak in terms of capturing what is specific to opposition.
P(0) is true. Nonetheless, the differentiation between P(+1) and P(-1) requires that we can speak of a
threshold at which one or the other extreme ceases to hold of the object, even if this threshold
need not be exact.

We could also make a preliminary distinction, following Aristotle, between opposites that
involve privatives from those that do not. Light/dark would be a privative opposition if were
inclined to think of darkness as the absence of light, versus a non-privative opposition like
arrogance/humility in which each of the terms can be conceived as the positive or negative of the
other (arrogance is as much the absence of humility as humility is the absence of arrogance).
Privative oppositions can be represented with a scale from 0 to .5 to 1, while non-privative
oppositions could be represented in terms of -1 to 0 to 1. These reflections also suggest in a
provisional way that the duality of opposites require a bounding of their range of application that
determines the meaningfulness of the extremes. Even when we speak of large/small – as one of
the more obvious cases in which quality and quantity overlap in the determination of opposites –
there is an implicit sense of relativity to a specific zone of application. We can speak of large
buildings and small buildings, and in doing so, the range of application implicitly excludes the
idea of speaking of buildings as large as a black hole (exactly because we are speaking of

With regard to opposites we are also dealing with the question of limitation, either with
regard to the determination of extremes, or with respect to the the middle zone that differentiates
those extremes from each other. However, here the threshold of limitation need not be exact, in
distinction from the limitation that accrues to the “not” of judgement. In the analysis of the
infinite judgment, edge-limitation determined a purely binary relationship, with no possibility or
a ternary middle, since the structural correspondence between infinite judgment and edge-
detection meant the difference between P and non-P, for which there is no middle. Now, in
concrete perception, it is obvious that limits can also be seen not in fact absolutely discrete but a
kind of continuous, “infinitesimal” shading, in which nonetheless a genuine “zone of transition”
does exist between the object and its exterior. However, like the infinitesimal differences that
become blended in the synthesis of association, these differences tend to withdraw such that
absolute limits are perceived when it comes to determining the object as the discretized unit that
is the substrate. The discretion of the object actually involves a certain “neglect” of continuity in
order to allow for a genuine “gap” between object and background. Nevertheless, even if were to
conceive of the relation between object and background as ternary, that is, including the zone of
transition, the object and exterior do not at first seem to form extremes.

The problem is more complicated however, since in fact the object and its exterior do
seem to form contrary opposites if we treat it as the relation inside/outside, which seems to be a
good example of a pair of opposites. Inside/outside also admits of a middle term if we think of
“on the border” as being the zone of transition between the two terms. The border is
simultaneously then the limitation of the two extremes, and in fact mutually limits them, and also
the middle term. Our hesitancy to treat the object and its exterior as opposites must then have
been the fact that the opposition is indeed asymmetrical or uneven, since the exterior refers to the
“infinite totality” of the background, while the interior refers to the precisely marked off and thus
finite individual. Thus, to solve our problem we should make a broader distinction between
symmetrical and asymmetrical polarities, of which object/exterior would be an asymmetrical

However, the point at which the limitation of the object involves a middle term (the
border zone of transition) is precisely when limitation should no longer to be read in terms of the
infinite judgment and thus is not in fact limitation in the specifically Kantian sense. The infinite
judgement understands limitation in terms of a binary discretion of the substrate and its outside,
and this is based on the not of the judgment (negation proper) which brings the terms back to
contradiction, since P and non-P are properly contradictory. Thus, polarity must be understood
as related differently to the form of the judgment. As already explained, “non-P” will adequately
differentiate intensional contents by their distinctive features, but it will omit the distinction
between features which are differentiated simply or by opposition. Thus, negation omits a
semantic differentiation germane to features, without, interestingly enough, changing the
intensional relation between predicates as simply a series of inter-defined places (places that are
different due to the presence or absence of distinctive features regardless of how those features
are “distinctive”). So we nuance our earlier genetic account: limitation gives rise to two
different possibilities of logical development: the first culminating in an experience of negation,
the second in terms of opposition proper.

These reflections make it understandable why Kant claims in the “Amphibolies of

Reflection” that opposition is not in fact a logical relation at all and pertains to the relationships
of magnitudes in intuition. Opposition, for Kant, refers to predicates that can be in the same
subject without thereby creating a pure contradiction but a “cancellation” of magnitudes as in the
case 3-3=0.29 However, since we do not start with the presupposition of a distinction between the
faculties of understanding and sensibility, for this distinction rests on the presupposition of
developed logical forms, of which we are trying to give a genetic account, we cannot simply note
after the fact that opposition is inassimilable to contradiction. We have to develop the basis of
the distinction from the constitutive processes of synthesis that are the conditions of possibility
for the development of logical forms. So instead we are dealing with the ramification of these
two as two different relations to the manifestation of quantity, quality, and their relation, as
emerging in a transcendentally reduced consciousness.

One might ask how exactly changes in quantity produce changes in quality. We could,
however, reverse the formulation and instead ask: how exactly does quantity become abstracted
from quality in the first place, given that, genetically speaking, a reasonable hypothesis might be

The complexities of the problem of symmetry and asymmetry, no doubt essential for a
transcendental logic of mythology, are too vast to be investigated here and must be postponed for
later work.
“If reality is represented only through the pure understanding (realitas noumenon), then no opposition between
realities can be thought, i.e., a relation such that when they are bound together in one subject they cancel out their
consequences, as in 3-3=0. Realities in appearance (realitas phaenomenon), on the contrary, can certainly be in
opposition with each other and, united in the same subject, one can partly or wholly destroy the consequence of the
other, like two moving forces in the same straight line that either push or pull a point in opposed directions, or also
like an enjoyment that balances the scale against pain” (A265/B320-321).
that in the genesis of perception quantity and quality are originally fused. Indeed, the perception
of any quality must be thought already to involve a magnitude, either as in Kant with respect to
intensive magnitudes, or in the “opening” of space and time through the generation of extensive
magnitudes. Time plays a key role in this generation, for it is in the unfolding of continuous time
that extensive spaces emerge as experience unfolds (spatial relations are simultaneous but they
enter into perception successively). In addition, in agreement with Kant, the initial possibility of
counting is based on time, for it requires that under the “horizon” of a given kind of thing (the
concept of a thing to be counted), the number of instances of that thing can be treated in
succession, one after the other.30 In this sense, time allows for a certain “synthesis of the
homogenous” either in terms of an arithmetic summing up of homogenous units (counting a
number of “horses” each time as a horse, under the horizon of the sense ‘horse’ as a genus) or
the synthesizing of a continuous and homogenous spatial field. The possible varying of intensive
magnitudes should also be seen as unfolding continuously in time as one imagines the
attenuating or intensifying of a color shifting through a series of “grades.” “Magnitudes of this
sort can also be called flowing, since the synthesis (of the productive imagination) in their
generation is a progress in time, the continuity of which is customarily designated by the
expression “flowing” (“elapsing”)” (A170-B212).

The reader might object that these considerations in no way justify the transition from
quantity to quality. However, the point is simply that the distinction between quantity and quality
is an abstraction that must be made after the initial encounter with a world in which qualities and
quantities emerge “at once.” The abstraction is justified in so far as it is possible, for many
qualities, to eidetically vary them while holding in place the same quantity. Number is an
obvious example, in which an abstraction from the specific quality of the things counted allows
one to formulate pure rules of succession for the abstract sequence of numbers as abstract
entities. However, numbers too involve an initial qualitative variation of the “small” and the
“large” which also must be abstracted from to determine a pure sequence. If interest doesn’t
develop towards this abstraction, it is reasonable, as is the case in some cultures, that number
concepts will not be fully developed and a simple distinction between “few” and “many” will
suffice in terms of the unfolding of the lebenswelt. The enacting of the abstraction, which
thereby might become a cultural “possession,” retroactively validates its possibility. Or, as
another example, we might consider a certain length or volume in space, in which we abstract

This does not mean that only finite numbers or a merely “potential” infinity are thinkable.
Rather, the a priori structure of time allows a rule of succession to be grasped, independent of
the actual number of units that are counted in any given sequence of summation. And, in
addition, once this rule is itself grasped as an object, it allows the formulation of an actual
infinity. The axiom of infinity in set theory arguably posits an actual infinity, through the
specifying a set that would consist of all elements that can be generated through the rule, once a
base element is also given. In this case, the rule is specifically formalized as taking of the union
of a set and its singleton, starting with the positing of the empty set as the base element, but a
similar effect can be produced through specifying any base element and successor operation:
. Similar considerations are involved in making sense of the possibility
of mathematical induction.
from the colors that “fill” it, precisely in Kant’s understanding of the anticipations of perception.

So in essence we need to distinguish between qualities which can vary with the quantity
remaining constant and qualities for which this is not possible, qualities which vary precisely
through a variation of quantity. “Few” and “many” cannot transition into each other without an
accompanying variation in quantity given that they “follow” changes in magnitude, just like
“fast” and “slow,” “long” and “short” and “cold” and “hot.” However, the relation between
quantity and quality is not reciprocal, for quantitative variation can always be abstracted from
qualities, so that a pure number sequence can be thought without any relation at all to the “few”
and the “many.” Quantity is “more universal” than quality in so far as it is always abstractable
from quality, while only some qualities are abstractable from quantity. Our hypothesis is that this
subdivision internal to quality determines the domain of opposites as those qualities that are not
abstractable from quantities so that they retain the initial “fusion” of quantity and quality in
perception. This relation to quantity determines the possibility of transitional zones as a variation
of quantity through thresholds and relates opposition to the problem of continuity. We
distinguish then 1) qualities that need not “track” quantitative changes, such as color, in which
we can imagine a colored object of any size, or any number of things of the same color 2)
qualities that do track quantitative changes, and if they allow for the determination of extremes,
count as opposites 3) quantity as universally abstractable from quality.31

Nonetheless, qua qualities, opposites can be treated as predicates in the judgment and
thus have conceptual value. However, as should be clear by now, the genus as horizon of the
opposition gives rise to three terms. Once quantitative variation has determined the extremes and
the middle, through a non-exact and continuous scale of transitions, these three “regions” can be
treated as terms if attention is directed to them as specifically objects of an orientation of interest.
Phenomenologically, two things are necessary for such a genesis to occur: first, we would need a
substrate as that to which the variations are attributed and to which the three possibilities can be
thought of as qualities of a thing in terms of feature-coherence, similar to what we already saw in
our reading of Husserl; second, a horizon of meaning, that determines the three possibilities as
different variations of a certain “sort” of quality and genus, as “fast” and “slow” are variations on
“speed” or “raw” and “cooked”32 on the state of a food product. In addition, we should also make
a similar distinction between the pre-predicative and predicative levels. In the pre-predicative,
the substrate is properly speaking a background, allowing for a figural differentiation of its
various moments, here the three oppositional terms, but in the predicative an equal ray of
attention must be leveled at substrate and whichever of the three predicates is to be affirmed.
Only in this case, do the three terms enter as discrete units into the judgment form, whereby they
can be manipulated in the burgeoning form of a logical calculus.

It should be said that our whole discussion anticipates a certain central opposition in the

In addition to the abstractability of quantity, we might also note “formal-ontological” concepts
like “set” or “relation” which also seem to be abstractable from quality and play a fundamental
role in modern mathematics.
Raw/cooked can be seen as a privative opposition, in which the quantity is “more or less
cooked” and “raw” is “not cooked at all.”
study of myth, that distinction between continuous and the discrete which parallels that between
nature and culture. The nature/culture dualism is both binary and ternary in so far as it is possible
to find a number of “ambiguous” entities that act as transitional elements that are not totally
natural or not totally cultural. It might seem more difficult to do so in the case of the continuous
and the discrete. Here, the relation to quantity comes to save us again, and in fact, it is exactly
how Levi-Strauss will understand the role of chromaticism and the rainbow in his concept of the
“dialectic of long and short intervals.”

8. Chromaticism

In The Raw and The Cooked, Levi-Strauss argues that the rainbow should be seen as a
symbol of transition between natural continuity and cultural discontinuity. The concept of
“interval” anticipates the problem of the perceptibility or imperceptibility of difference. Short
intervals between differentiated qualities allow differences to emerge but at the same time
anticipate the merging, blending, or confusion of differences that plunges order back into the
chaos of continuity. Levi-Strauss’ points to the role of death and destruction in the establishing
of a cultural order of differences. In the chapter “Bororo Song,” Levi-Strauss analyzes a mythical
figure amongst the Bororo named Bokodori, who is known both for his massacre of many
Indians after they bring him “insignificant” or insufficient gifts, and also for his role in another
massacre which involved the drowning of an entire village after forcing them to walk across a
log on top of a wide river, from which he then brings back to life only a select few. In each case,
the aftermath of Bokodori’s massacre results in a series of physical and cultural differentiations
between people: “men had to become less numerous for the most closely related physical types
to be clearly distinguishable. For if we admit the existence of clans or tribes bearing insignificant
gifts – that is whose distinctive originality is as weak as one can imagine – we should run the risk
of finding that between any two given clans or communities there was an unlimited number of
other clans or tribes, each one of which would differ so slightly from its immediate neighbors
that they all would ultimately merge into each other; whereas in any field a system of
significances can be constructed only on the basis of discrete quantities” (RC 53). As Levi-
Strauss puts it, the quantative reduction of the number of differing things allows for a logical
enrichment once the elements become sufficiently distinct as to allow for a classification (RC
53). Thus, a sort of “negativity” is at play in the transition to a cultural domain of discontinuous
classification, reflected in the character of Bokodori himself who is maimed and limps:

“In all these instances, therefore, a discrete system is produced by the destruction of certain elements or
their removal from the original whole. In all these cases, too, the originator of the reduction is himself in a sense
reduced…Mythological figures who are blind or lame, one-eyed or one-armed, are familiar the world over; and we
find them disturbing, because we believe their condition to be one of deficiency. But just as a system that has been
made discrete through the removal of certain elements becomes logically richer, although numerically poorer, so
myths often confer a positive significance on the disabled and sick, who embody modes of mediation…”Negativized
being” is entitled to occupy a whole place within the system, since it is the only conceivable means of transition
between two “full” states” (RC 55).

Levi-Strauss notes the frequent South American belief that the rainbow produces disease.
There is a transformational relationship between the Bororo myth of the woman who, after
abandoning her small son to gorge on the heaps of dead fish left after a fish poisoning excursion,
releases all the diseases in the world in the form of her groans. Through transformational
analysis it is shown that the woman latently “is” the rainbow (they are part of the same
paradigm). Also, it is from the body of the rainbow-snake that birds acquire their distinctive
plumage, a natural discontinuity for sure, but if we are to refer to Levi-Strauss’ theory of
totemism, whereby society constructs a resemblance between the series of differences between
cultural groups and the taxonomic discontinuities of natural species, then here too the rainbow-
snake forms a transition into the cultural order. Lastly, myths about the rainbow-snake are in
transformational relationship with myths about timbo, a fish poison which causes an “epidemic”
for the fish, and in turn these myths link back in various ways to the woman who gorged on fish
and so was at the origin of disease. Timbo should also be seen as a kind of “intrusion” of nature
into culture, since it is a natural, vegetable product, which at the same time seems to be more
powerful than any of man’s technical creations, thus another instance of the transitional zone
between nature and culture which parallels the movement from continuous to discrete.

The rainbow is a potent image of the differentiations in quality that make possible
taxonomic distinctions and an example of mythic thought expressing something about the
genesis of perception. But we also see that differentiation in qualities must be related to quantity
in the sense of the “intervals” of difference. Making sense of the dialectic of long and short
intervals brings us back to our investigations of the synthesis of association and the disjunctive
synthesis. We saw there that the opening of homogenous sense-fields exactly relied on a
blending of differences, precisely those differences that were so “small” as to begin to be
imperceptible, while differences that were not “small” marked out contrasts in the disjunctive
syntheses that precipitated the differentiation of features at the basis of classification. We can
now give a certain phenomenology of the rainbow as a symbol. The rainbow indicates the the
disjunctive synthesis by placing a series of contrasts back to back, but in such close succession
that they anticipate the associative synthesis that would result in their blending. Yet, by placing a
series of contrasts back to back that also envisions the totality of the domain of color-qualities,
the indication of blending indicates the possibility of a complete elimination of the taxonomic
order itself. The rainbow then indicates taxonomic organization and in doing so allows a
transition towards it (by disease or the natural discontinuity of species) while simultaneously
bearing within itself the indication of a total blending that would eliminate all distinction.33

Of course, the elimination in blending is not a true return to homogeneity; rather, it

indicates a kind of excess of difference over the “finitude” of perception which would not
identify those differences that are “too small” and to be unified into consciousness. The excess of
difference that the continuum holds within itself is thus a kind of negativity as the withdrawal
into imperceptibility of an excess of content.

These reflections on imperceptibility return us to question of the ramification of negation

“Consequently, every time colors occur in myths, we must consider what type of
polychromaticism is involved: do the color shade into one another, so that it is impossible to say
where one ends and the other begins; or on the contrary, do bold colors or groups of blended
colors form a series of contrasted sets?” (RC 324).
and opposition as two logical possibilities to be developed from the generation of perception. As
we saw, the binaristic form of limitation in the sense of the infinite judgment was based on the
withdrawal of the continuous zone of the border in order to treat the substrate as a unit separate
from its background. On the other hand, opposition emerged through the perceptibility of a zone
of transition between extremes in the variation of a quantity and situated opposition as
simultaneously binary and ternary for this reason. However, chromaticism now allows us to
understand this ramification at a higher level, for chromaticism is itself a zone of transition
between the imperceptible and the perceptible in the emergence of differentiated units, whether
these units differ by binary limitation (imperceptible transitional zone) or binary-ternary
opposition (perceptible transitional zone). Thus, the rainbow in Amerindian mythic thought is
itself a kind of phenomenological tùpos, an Idea that condenses something about the essence of
perception’s structures.

Consideration of the rainbow as a mythic signifier leads one to a comparison between

phenomenology and mythic thought itself that has been under the surface throughout our
analysis. It seems that the rainbow as a mythic symbol is itself a kind of incarnation of a number
of phenomenological relationships and articulations. It “condenses” the very relations between
imperceptibility and perceptibility, continuity and discontinuity, as if it were itself a kind of
synthetic unity of all these concepts. Would it be more apt to say that it is really just a kind of
“aesthetical symbol,” a medium to guide us toward the more direct contemplation of the ideal
forms? To say so would be to misunderstand everything that has been said here about the nature
of mythic meaning and to misunderstand the mythic signifier itself.

The rainbow is indeed a signifier, a “tangible” and “sensuous” unit which signifies an
ideal meaning as its signified. However, it should be noted that even the sensuous side of the
sign is ideal in so far as it is recognizable over and above its particular tokens, a point well noted
by Derrida in Of Grammatology.34 But more than this, the sensuous side of the signifier must be
seen as in an essential complementarity with its signified, such that it “moves with it.” The sign
that the rainbow is as a whole is a type at both levels and a type which has its meaning through
the overall articulation of the mythic universe. As we have seen, this meaning emerges through a
system of variations and defined relations. These relations are, in the last instance, relations of
metaphor, linkages of similarity that pass through difference, relations that unfold essence in
time. Transcendental phenomenology also is itself a kind of metaphorical experimentation, since
it attempts to open the horizons of meaning through variation, a variation which also requires the
shifting and fixing of its signifying “expressions” and their reasonable limitations. The rainbow
is the expression of a meaning in the same way.

Suffice it to note to what degree mythic thought is suffused with considerations about the
nature of perception and the emergence of Being to consciousness. We might draw an
improvised list of mythic elements like floods, which throw the world back into indifferentiation
in order for both spatial topographies and natural taxonomies to take form again, ancestral
figures, who are so many characters and who may be at the origin of topographical features and

Derrida, Jacques, Gayatri C. Spivak, and Judith Butler. Of Grammatology. Baltimore: JHU
Press, 2016.
synthesize their multiple meanings and values, animals as so many figures of species
differentiation, and the processes involved in the emergence of axiological and intersubjectively
defined values.

Conclusion: The Essence of Mythic Thought

Mythic thought can be put in the form of propositions. These propositions are verbal
propositions, in subject-predicate form, in which the subject is an actor and the predicate an
action, both of which are concepts, intensionally defined by mutual limitation/interdefinition
either through binary negation or binary-ternary opposition. They find their place in the
canonical formula which expresses both a narrative and a logical structure. Mythic thought aims
at mediation through terms that taken on, in sequence, both sides of an opposition. It reasons by
analogy through the linking of similar relations despite relations of difference. Mythic thought,
as propositional, then makes claims. Obviously, these claims are about the past, about what
happened so that things came to be as they are, claims about the emergence of the cosmos. Yet,
as we also saw, myth, in its essential metaphorical productivity, is also a meta-semantic activity
par excellence, and it aims to signify signification itself. How can we reconcile this dual
orientation of mythic thought, a thinking that would seem to be about nothing except the mind
itself and its process of signification, while also one which, consisting as it does of propositions
about the way things are, orients itself to nature of the world?

Following Deleuze, we might hypothesize that mythic thought speaks not of a past that
was at one time present, but a mythic past, qualitatively distinct from the present in so far as
having never been present, not a “past present,” but rather, the past as form, always-already
presupposing the present as the very condition of present meaning.35 A virtual past, then, in
which a series of events do “occur,” but as a kind of narrative structure treating the essence of a
process, simultaneously synchronic and diachronic. If ethnotaxonomy appears prior to mythic
productivity to the mythic analyst, we should remember that it is actually myth that grounds the
taxonomic system and gives it meaning, for myth relates the taxonomic system to its “origins.”

Though it is true that myths sometimes incorporate historical events, as Levi-Strauss

shows in “The Myth of Asdiwal,” myths are all too often concerned with inverting or
transmuting the empirical realities of the present so as rather to explore the conceptual
possibilities and parallelisms of interdefined terms. If myth includes the historical, it is not
because it must, but, because it is ultimately a bricolage. Myths move from the data of
perception to the essences of that data such that historical reality is as good a raw material as any
other. For the very same reason, myth is open to the events of the future, from which it then
might “revise the past,” in so far as new presents call for new reflections on their conditions of
possibility, just as in transcendental philosophy.

As we have seen, myths articulate a system of places, but a system of places that emerges
through the generativity of time and variation. Myths tell of the emergence of space and time

Cf. Deleuze, Gilles. Différence Et Répétition. Vendôme: Presses Universitaires De France,
2000. Ch. 2 “La Répétition Pour Elle-Même.”
while being themselves figures of the spatialization and temporalization of meaning. Mythic
thought then operates what Derrida would call “espacement,” the spatialization of time and the
temporalization of space.36 Through temporal variation, the differentiation of places emerges,
and these places situate the given horizons of temporal variation. Yet, both Deleuze and Derrida
privilege difference over identity in their respective “reversals of Platonism.” In doing so, they
miss how every variation is already a passage through unity and every unity constituted by
variation in the emergence of limitation, such that the two terms of identity and difference are
reversible and non-hierarchical. They miss the specificity of the transcendental unity of space
and time that myth itself is engaged in unfolding.

The mythic emergence of a typology and cosmic order in which humanity situates itself,
(this is part of the meaning of “culture” if we follow Levi-Strauss in The Raw and the Cooked)37
mirrors the openness of Being in perception, as a movement from continuity, the imperceptible
excess of difference to discreteness, the large gaps that allow the human mind to gain a grip on
the universe as an ordered system of classification in its relations of similarity and difference. If
mythic thought is logical thinking, as we saw, it is not about the present, like science is. For it is
perhaps one of the conditions of science to assume the past did not operate fundamentally
different from the present, that is, to elide the qualitative distinction that myth makes in the
domain of time. Since myth is a a priori thinking, and appears to be practically transcendental,
we now see that we were all the more justified in attempting a transcendental analysis of its
structures as we have tried to do here, building off of Levi-Strauss’s own analyses, and taking off
from his own suggestion that mythic thought can be organized into the form of propositions,
warranting specifically then a transcendental logic. Through an analysis of the structures of
perception, we came to see how myth could be simultaneously a thought endowed with tangible
qualities and also a logical order of similarities and differences, an articulation of intensional
contents as forming concepts as constituents of the judgement.

Levi-Strauss himself did not take a transcendental approach, however, but rather, on
frequent occasions, such as in the very last chapters of The Naked Man, the final text in the
Mythologiques series, affirmed that his great accomplishment was actually to have reduced myth
to a kind of thing or object. The steps he took in constructing a science of myth meant that myth
would now reveal itself as “objectified thought,” and this would reintegrate man into nature as a
natural being amongst others. A quote like the following shows the degree to which Levi-Strauss
saw myth as rooted in embodied perception, but in no way from a transcendental point of view,
and while letting slide many of the important distinctions we have tried to emphasize if the link
between perception and logic should be rigorously described: “Let me emphasize for the time
being that the eye does not simply photograph visible objects; it codifies their relationships, and
what it transmits to the brain is not so much figurative images as a system of binary oppositions
between immobility and movement, the presence or absence of color, movement occurring in

Cf. Derrida, Jacques, Gayatri C. Spivak, and Judith Butler. Of Grammatology. Baltimore: JHU
Press, 2016.
In Amerindian myths at least, the emergence of culture, linked to that of cooking fire, is
simultaneously the emergence of cosmic mediation. Cf. The Raw and the Cooked, “The
one direction rather than in others, a certain type of form differing from other types, and so on”
(NM 678)38.

So, Levi-Strauss, though he did so much to affirm the dignity of mythological thinking as
eminently logical, does not seem to have seen that, in simultaneously pursuing the scientific task
of treating mythic thought as “objectified thought,” he actually came against the antimony of
psychologism. Nonetheless, there are indications that Levi-Strauss saw that his own science of
myth would also have to partake of mythic meaning. For it too was asking about the nature of
signification, and a combinatory of myths placed in transformational relations was not after all so
different from the combinatory of mythemes that defining a myth, so Mythologiques might itself
be a kind of a “myth of myth” (RC 12).

These reflections finally seem to show the difficulty in distinguishing transcendental

phenomenology from mythology: they are both meta-semantic activities, of translation, horizonal
variation, and metaphor, hoping to get at the a priori conditions of meaning. Phenomenology
takes place in the realm of the transcendentally reduced field of “consciousness” and it is “about”
the phenomena describable there. But we have indicated to what degree myth too is about the
genesis of form in perception and the sense-essences that allow the field of the real to take on
being. Our initial project of a transcendental logic of myth seems to have created a kind of
interference pattern for us, an interference between mythology and philosophy itself.

If transcendental phenomenology is really a kind of mythology, this is because

mythology is a kind of transcendental philosophy. Yet neither of these two thoughts thereby
abdicate their relationship to logic and to the necessary forms of thinking. Levi-Strauss’s
thought, with its one foot in science, due its blindness to meaning and commitment to real, and
his other in mythology-cum-philosophy as the discourse on the meaning of meaning, perhaps
points to a unified thinking yet to come, once the problem of psychologism might find its
definitive resolution.

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Every phenomenon Levi-Strauss describes here would actually require its own
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