“Setting Out,” from Tristes Tropiques
Author: Claude Levi-Strauss
The chapter opens with the author candidly stating that he hates travelling and explorers, making plain that he believes explorers and their accounts are largely useless. The pictures and exaggerated stories, according to Levi-Strauss, told by the amateurs in his view don’t amount to anything learned by the audience consuming them, but rather turn locales and their so-called discoveries into entertainment. He is frustrated by their popularity in his contemporary France, as he by then has travelled, studied, and made genuine discoveries of his own within the field. However, he admits in this chapter that he is setting out to write his own account of the journey into the tropics as a form of instruction and to better understand the phenomenon that is making explorers’ accounts so popular. Here, with commentary and anecdotes, he begins his narrative by relating the account of how his teacher George Dumas gathers him and his colleagues at a banquet given by the Comité France-Amérique. There, Dumas gives a lecture and invites the scholars to travel to Brazil for study and an easy life as “habitués” of casinos and racecourses. The account in this initial chapter frames the narrative and sets the tone for later chapters in the work.