Lévi-Strauss thus promised two things: first, a combinatory schema that would reveal the basic operations of the human mind – all kinship systems would be conceived as variations on a single theme, and all myths would operate around a set of basic differences – and second, a demonstration of the superiority of forms of thought that came before writing, before the fundamental alienation that occurred when writing intruded into an authentic idyll.
However, Lévi-Strauss’s dominance of western thought evaporated after Derrida devoted a 40-page analysis to the anthropologist’s foray into the world of the Nambikwara Amazonians. Derrida showed that Lévi-Strauss’s position, far from breaking with a Eurocentric model, reproduced it. He demonstrated how the notion that the Nambikwara inhabited a different and better world, one before writing, reflected a long-held western prejudice that ignored the way in which any system of language had all the features of a writing system that Lévi-Strauss considered distinctively modern. The Amazonian enjoyed no more direct and unmediated a relationship with his surroundings than the western anthropologist trying to persuade little girls to break tribal taboos.