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binary opposition


Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631207535.1997.x


A relationship of opposition and mutual exclusion between two elements: a crucial term in the theories of STRUCTURALISM. Examples of such oppositions would be masculine/ feminine, cold/heat, or up/down. The phrase appears in the work of the French structural anthropologist Claude LÉVI-STRAUSS on myths, particularly those of the indigenous American tribes. He analyzes their legends as embodying major oppositions between mythical archetypes of certain animals, such as the Frog and the Snake. Each animal has certain associations, and the relations between these associations are analyzed according to the relations between the mythic figures which epitomize them. In effect every mythic creature stands for certain meanings. From this maneuver is extracted a general rule: a pair of antagonists is the fundamental element of all mythic narratives, When one element of the relation is present, so too, and necessarily, is the other by means of an operation of difference predicated upon direct opposition. Binary oppositions occur in all myths and so can be seen to be the universal factor in the production of stories. Lévi-Strauss asks why this should be so, and his answer is that these binary oppositions so produced are the symptoms in myth of the way the human mind works, the way in which language and thought operate. Many structuralist theorists take this position as a starting point, especially ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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