Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Lévi-Strauss - "shattered hologram" of aging.

I've been having a go at Jim Holt's popular book  "Why does the world exist? An existential detective story."  After three chapters of fascinating quotes from famous ancient and modern philosophers and scientists I skipped to the epilogue, and found a striking account given by the author of attending a small party at the Collège de France in celebration of the ninetieth birthday of Claude Lévi-Strauss. Lévi-Strauss was asked to give a little speech to the group, and begins with:
"Montaigne said that aging diminishes us each day in a way that, when death finally arrives, it takes away only a quarter or half the man. But Montaigne only lived to be fifty-nine, so he could have no idea of the extreme old age I find myself in today" - which, he adds, was one of the "most curious surprises of my existence."  He says he feels like a "shattered hologram" that has lost its unity but that still retains an image of the whole self. 
Lévi-Strauss goes on to talk about the "dialogue"  between the eroded self he has become - le moi réel - and the ideal self that coexists with it - le moi métronymique.  The latter, planning ambitious new intellectual projects, says to the former,  "You must continue."  But the former replies, "That's your business - only you can see things whole."  Levi-Strauss then thanks those of us assembled for helping him silence this futile dialogue and allowing his two selves of "coincide" again for a moment - "although," he adds,  "I am well aware that le moi réel will continue to sink toward its ultimate dissolution."
What an incredible description of what we experience as we continually loose our brain cells during aging: a receding shadow of the richness of the world once integrated by their antecedent and larger ensemble.

The final lines of Holt's epilogue, and the book:

Philosophy, n. A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing.

-AMBROSE BIERCE, The Devil's Dictionary


  1. Thank you for this citation - a very moving speech indeed! Shouldn't it be titled "Levis Strauss's shattered hologram of aging" though?

  2. Wow, thanks. I fixed it. That was a real brain-fart....

  3. Very good article! Anyways, I wonder why did you chose that title for this article?

  4. Good question. I guess because I was so struck by the description of aging given by Lévi-Strauss, I've thought of doing more comment on the Holt book, which I'm still ploying through.