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Institute of Advanced Study

Dr Boris Wiseman

(January - March 2007)

Dr Wiseman studied in London at King's College and the London School of Economics and in Paris at the Sorbonne Nouvelle and the École Normale Supérieure. He has been a lecturer in the French Department at Durham University since 1997.

His research belongs in the area of contemporary French thought and is centrally concerned with various forms of interdisciplinary connections. The main premise of his recently completed monograph, Lévi-Strauss, Anthropology and Aesthetics (to be published by Cambridge University Press in 2007) is that Lévi-Strauss's thinking on the aesthetic is an integral part of his anthropological thought and that it has a contribution to make to our general understanding of aesthetics. His aim in this book was to try to combine the different perspectives of anthropology, philosophy, aesthetic theory and literary criticism. Lévi-Strauss, he argued, should be read not only as a major contemporary thinker but also as a writer (mytho-poet) in his own right. Dr Wiseman is the editor of the Cambridge Companion to Lévi-Strauss (forthcoming) and is currently working on a volume entitled Chiasmus in the Drama of Life, which will be published by Berghahn Books in their ‘Studies in rhetoric and culture' series. It forms part of his ongoing involvement with the ‘rhetoric culture' project initiated by anthropologists Ivo Strecker and Stephen Tyler (see

The project he will pursue during his IAS Fellowship relates to a further strand in his research which is concerned with the ways in which different disciplines -- critical theory, philosophy, anthropology, geography and others still -- theorise the qualitative dimension of experience and integrate the sensual into their working-models of a range of phenomena. He is planning a conference entitled ‘Qualia'.

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Nature, Culture, Chance: From Caduveo Body Painting to the Readymade

9th March 2007, 17:30 to 18:30, Elvet Riverside, room 142

The aim of this talk will be to explore some convergences between aesthetics and the anthropology of art, two disciplines often thought of as incompatible. Its impetus is the conviction that we have much to gain by a more systematic and concerted attempt at constituting an ethnoaesthetics. Dr Wiseman will take as his starting point Lévi-Strauss’s studies of Caduveo body painting and try to show how, beyond the clichés often repeated about structuralism, they provide valuable insights for an understanding of various forms of avant-garde art, from Duchamp’s readymades, to Anthony Caro’s abstract sculptures and assemblages by the Nouveau Réaliste artist Arman. Although these forms of art would constitute for Lévi-Strauss what he would call, pejoratively, an ‘academism of the signifier’, Dr Wiseman will argue, here, that Lévi-Strauss’s own theorisation of the relations between nature, culture and art enables us to see them, in at least one of their dimensions, as a prime example of the fulfilling of the mytho-poetic function.

Dr Boris Wiseman

Wiseman, B. (2007) 'Tangled up in blue: are as incantatory magic' in Volume II of a Festschrift, Strecker, I. &Verne, M.(eds) in honour of anthropologist Stephen Tyler.