Good Eating and Good Thinking

Wed, 23 Aug 1995 13:19:00 CDT

Greg Finnegan translates from Claud Levy-Strauss:
What L-S wrote was:

"We can understand, too, that natural species are chosen [as
totems] not because they are 'good to eat' but because they are
'good to think.'"

p. 89, TOTEMISM. Boston: Beacon Press, 1963. =20

When I used that quote (actually that TRANSLATION) in a recent article, my
editor got a little perturbed. "How," she asked, "can one use that phrase in
English? 'To think' is intransitive in all its usages, so there must be some
sort of object to follow it."

Technically correct, but to the rescue came an English professor from
Mississippi State who broke the impass with this translation that, I think, both
captures the spirit of the original French while rendering it into correct
English (and earned her a footnote at the bottom of the article!).

"We can understand, too, that natural species are chosen not because they are
*good eating* but because they are *good thinking*.

It took me a while to find it, too,as Greg Pointed out. I discovered, however,
a dictionary of French quotations in the library at Middlebury College when I
was visiting there one summer. It had all the appropriate citations and made it
easy to locate in the original text (after, of course, I had spent all that time
skimming and reskimming Pensee Sauvage, where I was sure I would find it!).

Andrew Petto
Dept Anthropology, UWisc
1180 Observatory Dr.
Madison 53706-1393