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Intcrtcxts, Vol. 4, No. 1,2000 Stranded: Claude Levi-Strauss on Fire Island D . A . B o x w e l l U n i t e d S t a t e s A i r f o r c e A c a d e m y, C o l o r a d o ...this outpost where nothing is wicked But to be sort)' or sick. But one thing unneighborly, work. The sunset happens, the bar is copious With fcrA’ent life that hopes To make sense, but down the beach some [decaying Spirit shambles away Kicking idly at driftwood and dead shellfish And excusing itself T o i t s e l f . . . —W. H. Auden, “Pleasure Island” * * ♦ Cultural observers, anthropologists, are often them¬ selves in the fishbowl, under surveillance (for example, by the omnipresent kids who won’t leave them alone). —James Clifford, “Traveling Cultures” BeforethefirstarrivalonFireIsland,intheearly1930s,ofagayand lesbian coterie (associated with the New York theater world and the New Yorkermagazine),thebarattheisland’sonlyhotelcateredtochildren.In his memoirs, recorded at atime when the resort was gradually changing in termsofitssexualdemographics,long-timeresidentRobertCableremi¬ nisced that during Prohibition, Onanyfinemorningduringthesummerseasonaferry'landsatCherry Grove and many mothers with coundess children udll flock to the bar. There are many bottles of milk to be put on the ice for the day, while the motherswatchthechildrenplayonthesandybeachorwadeinthewash of the surf. Returning they all go to the huge ice-box and find their own; a queer bar. (qtd. in New'ton 18) Two decades later, and in another reminiscence of Cherry Grove, milk is similarly invested with significatory' power by the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss. Only this time, milk functions asymbol of corrupted 4 9 5 0 I N T E R T E X T S innocence on aqueer sandbar. In bewildered exile from aEXirope con¬ sumed by war and genocide, Levi-Strauss visited Cherr>' Grove at some un¬ specified point between 1941 and 1945, when he was living in New York City and teaching at the New School and at the Ecolc librc dcs Hautes Etudes.i In Tristes Tropiques, that multigencric magnum opus of tra\'el writing, anthropology, philosophy and autobiography, he writes of “the sterile couples” on Fire Island who “can be seen returning to their chalets pushing prams (the only vehicles suitable for the narrow' paths) containing litde but the weekend bottles of milk that no baby will consume” (163). In this astonishing digression from the record of his explorations of the inte¬ rior of Brazil in the late 1930s, Levi-Strauss makes Eire Island serv eas a chronotope of the modern condition in all its sterilitv', futility, inauthenticity, and absurdity. Fire Island is culture degree zero. In this article, Iexplore Levi-Strauss’s representation of the tribal rites of Fire Island in these terms, and argue that this textual irruption is not sim¬ ply amatter of homophobic revulsion, although it is clearly that, as Craig Owens also insists (228). Fire Island unwittingly foregrounds the anthro¬ pologist’s own existential and professional crisis. The very' idea of Eire Is¬ land, as fact and fantasy, is necessary to legitimate the validity of structural anthropology as atheory and as aproject. The text’s subsequent, lovingly detailed account of the contrasting authenticity and cultural integrity' of BrazilianIndiantribesattemptstoresolvethatcrisis,demonstratingthat exceptions to structural anthropology’s theoretical models can be assimi¬ latedinto,andresolvedby,thediscipline. In The Predicament of Culture, anthropologist James Clifford borrow's Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of the chronotope to explain’s sense of his situatedness in space and time. As Clifford contends, “specific places—Rio, Fire Island, new Brazilian cities, Indian sacred sites—appear as moments of intelligible human order and transformation surrounded by the destructive, entropic currents of global history” (237). However much Bakhtin defines the chronotope as afictional location, Clifford finds the concept useful to foreground the textualite of Levi-Strauss’s work: “these are not historical records but complex literary commemorations” (237).As Bakhtin put it: In the literary artistic chronotope, .spatial and temporal indicators arcfused into one carefully thought-out, concrete whole. Time, as it were, thickens,takesonflesh,becomesartisticallyvisible;likewise,spacebecomes charged and responsive to the movements of time...