Baipurangi’s dreams

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons | © John Leavitt. ISSN 2049-1115 (Online). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau7.2.042


Baipurangi’s dreams

The interface between ethnography and psychoanalysis in the work of Lucien Sebag

John LEAVITT, Université de Montréal

Lucien Sebag’s “Analysis of the dreams of a Guayaki Indian woman” appeared in Les Temps modernes in 1964. Never before translated into English, and never reprinted even in French, it marked a unique effort to combine ethnography among the Aché people of Paraguay with structural theory and psychoanalysis. This essay is an attempt to help orient the reader of Sebag’s work by sketching its context in the theoretical conjuncture of the times, in Sebag’s life and the body of his work, and in the history of the Aché people.

Keywords: Lucien Sebag, dreams, Aché, structuralism, psychoanalysis

It is possible that the dream is describing our common death. ... It would be for her death and my own that Baipurangi was weeping. But here there is no way to reach any kind of certainty.
—Lucien Sebag, “Analysis of the dreams of a Guayaki Indian woman”


In June of 1964, Jean-Paul Sartre’s journal Les Temps modernes, the flagship of the intellectual left in France and to a fair degree of French intellectual life in general, published a psychoanalytically inspired analysis of the dreams of a Guayaki (Aché) woman, carried out during fieldwork in Paraguay by the anthropologist Lucien Sebag (Sebag 1964b). The Aché are a hunting and gathering people who speak a language of the Tupí-Guaraní branch of the Tupían family (see an overview in Jensen 1999). They have lived for some hundreds of years in and out of the forests on the margins of territories controlled by numerically larger agricultural [498]populations: Guaraní, then Paraguayan peasant society. Aché “people” is the name these people use for themselves; the more widely known term Guayakí is an insulting name, apparently meaning “rabid rats” (Clastres 1968: 52, cited in Münzel 1973: 69, n. 1), used by surrounding Guaraní-speakers.1

The essay, which is now presented in an English translation for the first time—which has never to my knowledge been reprinted, and which is almost never referred to in the anthropological literature on dreams2—is one of the rare attempts to carry out an analysis that is both rigorously psychoanalytic, based on the particular history and repeating themes of a unique individual as these are deployed in her dreams, and rigorously anthropological. It is thus a potential model for rethinking the relationship between personal destiny and cultural frames. But the paper is also a historical object, and its historical value, given the identity and the subsequent fates of its author and its protagonists, should not be ignored.

The paper foregrounds two individuals: Baipurangi, a young Aché woman, and the author-analyst Sebag, an anthropologist who came from Paris to Paraguay and stayed with the Aché for some eight months in 1963. In the paper, Sebag presents himself as a conscientious scholar who for scientific purposes is hearing the dreams and therefore also the confessions of an unhappy young woman; he presents Baipurangi as someone who is looking for a way out of a marriage to a man she does not want to be with. The affection between the two seems real, and is what perhaps stands out the most. But a consideration of sources outside this essay itself gives a sense of the emotional-cum-intellectual load carried by this apparently straightforward scholarly paper. Sebag himself, as it happens, was one of the intellectual heroes of the 1950s and early 1960s, a central player in the theoretical-political debates of the time: a Marxist philosopher and activist who was both involved in the psychoanalytic movement (he was Jacques Lacan’s analysand) and a player in the development of structural anthropology (he was Claude Lévi-Strauss’ most brilliant student and, many felt and feel, his evident successor). Sebag’s passion and connectivity ended tragically: he killed himself in January 1965, some seven months after the publication of the dream paper. As for Baipurangi, both this paper and a book on the Aché written by Pierre Clastres, Sebag’s companion in the field, give us an idea of the double drama that was her life: she was a young woman looking to change her situation within a group whose world was in the process of being destroyed.

Here, I will offer a modest triple contextualization for the paper on dreams: of the paper itself and its place in the history of anthropological and psychoanalytic theory; of Sebag and his personal and intellectual destiny; of Baipurangi, her people, and their fate and struggles in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.[499]

Sebag’s paper on Aché dreams

“An absolutely novel attempt to unite psychoanalytic and anthropological methods in a study of an entirely new order.” This is how his childhood friend the archeologist Jean-Pierre Darmon characterized Lucien Sebag’s dream paper in a memorial to Sebag published in their hometown of Tunis in 1966. Some fifty years later, this looks like a fair judgment. Sebag’s paper is, as far as I know, unique in its genre: an extended—we might say longitudinal—study of a series of dreams dreamed by a single person belonging to a society with very different life patterns from those of the analyst, undertaken by someone with training both in anthropology and in psychoanalysis, and drawing on structural methods of analysis and interpretation. The only thing comparable is George Devereux’s book Reality and dream (Devereux [1951] 1969), which goes through a series of dreams of a Blackfoot war veteran. But Devereux’s theoretical bases, drawing on orthodox Freudianism and Culture and Personality theory, give his analysis a very different tone from the thoroughgoing structuralism that characterizes Sebag’s essay.

Sebag’s paper also takes its place as one of a series of what now seem like—and to a degree at the time seemed like—incredibly ambitious attempts by him to synthesize psychoanalysis, structuralism, and Marxism, and at the same time to grant phenomenology and personal experience their due (see Karsenti 2005; D’Onofrio 2005). Sebag was a dedicated Marxist with a real sympathy for phenomenology and existentialism; he felt nonetheless that the nexus of Lacanian psychoanalysis and the structural anthropology of Lévi-Strauss (cf. Zafiropoulos [2003] 2016) represented a major transformation in the human sciences and the key to a far more rigorous understanding of human society and human nature—something that could only be helpful in the struggle to improve human conditions. In a series of essays in the early 1960s, Sebag defended Lévi-Strauss’s structuralism against what he felt were misrepresentations and misunderstandings: first against Jean-Paul Sartre’s romantic historicism in an essay on “History and structure” (Sebag 1962) that would later be incorporated into his book Marxisme et structuralisme (Sebag 1964a); then against Paul Ricoeur’s attempt to limit myth analysis to non-Western societies, in a ringing defense of the philosophical sophistication of mythic thought (Sebag 1965, 1971).

In each of these texts Sebag follows the same strategy. First he identifies opposing positions then tries to clear up misrepresentations, and in each case this clarification amounts to a defense of the structural method. But there is always a step beyond this, toward something else: a continuing recognition of the importance of the subject, the individual, interpretation, and personal experience. In the end, for Sebag, one comes back to oneself, to one’s own lived experience.3

This openness to phenomenology, to the lived and the personal, is not surprising. Unlike both Lacan, who was a medical man, and Lévi-Strauss, whose aversion for phenomenology and desire to go beyond the surfaces of things was quite [500]explicit (see, for instance, Lévi-Strauss 1955: 60–66), Sebag saw the point of phenomenology and continued to be sympathetic to the study of subjective experience for its own sake. Both of his books end with a return to the individual and his or her own experience. Sebag, after having gone through a strict structural analysis of Pueblo mythology, writes, “a hermeneutic return becomes possible, and . . . I am still concerned with the stories a native of Acoma could tell me” (1971: 485).

Here, I would like to go into more detail on three important or problematic aspects of this paper: first, Sebag’s distinctive take on the relationship between myths and dreams; second, issues raised on the nature of Aché society and history; third, limits of the paper as read fifty years on.

Myths and dreams

One could say that the essential theme in the dream paper is respect: respect for the text of the dreams, respect for the specifics of the ethnographic context, respect for the dreamer and her dream process, and, methodologically, respect for the autonomy and specificity of what might, perhaps unfortunately, be called two levels of analysis: that of the individual subject with his or her own personal history and the continuing traces derived from that history; and that of the social institutions, the encounter with which led to the production of this subject. Dreams can be analyzed neither in isolation from their social context nor as a mere expression of that context.

These principles derive from what was perhaps a fragile cross-disciplinary collaboration between structural anthropology, with its inspiration from structural linguistics, and Lacanian psychoanalysis, inspired in part by structural anthropology and itself drawing heavily on linguistics (see a discussion in Wilden 1968).4

At the beginning of Sebag’s paper, he lays out the rules of interpretation he will be following. There are two. First, interpret a dream in the syntagmatic context of the series of dreams of which it is part. Insofar as it is possible let the dreams comment on each other, allow interpretation of a symbol in a given dream to be guided by its appearance and role in other dreams. Second, read the dream symbols and events in light of the (paradigmatic) ethnographic context, including what the interpreter knows about dreamer, her history, and her current life. This broad, ideally encyclopedic ethnography is there as a background to be referred to at any point.

Note that this more or less the method Lévi-Strauss ([1955] 1963) proposes for the analysis of myths: to recognize that myth is a discourse, a form of language; to re-place the myth in the cycle or series of which it is part, look for repeating [501]patterns—images, events, themes—appearing through the cycle and use these as guides to interpretation; to interpret myth symbols in the context of other symbols appearing in the same myth or the same cycle, which define it by contrast (see especially Lévi-Strauss 1962); to consider the whole, initially at least, not as an expression of a postulated universal humanity but in terms of the society that gave rise to the myths.5

Myths are not dreams, and personal productions should not be confused with collective productions. Yet Lévi-Strauss’ view of myths and Sigmund Freud’s view of dreams have something important in common. What Nicole Belmont says of fairy tales applies a fortiori to myths: “The fairy tale, like the dream . . . presents a manifest content under which one suspects that there is a latent content” (Belmont 1999: 214; my translation). Freud’s reading of dreams, Lévi-Strauss’s reading of myths, are readings at two levels, calling for a method of interpretation. In fact, Lévi-Strauss’ analysis of myths is directly inspired by Freud’s interpretation of dreams, especially as carried out in The interpretation of dreams. This is clear from the chapter on “How to become an anthropologist” in Lévi-Strauss’ autobiographical essay Tristes tropiques (1955, chapter 6), an extended discussion of finding hidden messages “under” surface messages. But this is analysis, not replacement: the specifics of the surface text must be respected; they hold the signs of what lies beneath.

The respective modes of production of dreams and myths are, of course, completely different. Dreams are messages sent by the dreamer to the dreamer, while myths are messages that are elaborated over generations, with the constant possibility of adjustment and transformation as the story is retold and passed from teller to hearer to teller. Yet there is a parallel between dream texts and myth texts—not an identity or a direct derivation in either direction, but a parallel. Both are texts, first of all, and more specifically syntagmatic narratives, narratives of a series of images and events. Second, these are narratives that seem to lack surface coherence, that suggest, as we have seen, that there is more going on than the manifest story. Given the specificities of their respective modes of production, it may be argued that this more going on is made up of messages of importance to the subject in the case of dreams, to the multigenerational collectivity in the case of myths. In both cases we are dealing with coded messages, messages that for one reason or another the dreamer or the tellers and hearers of the myth are not ready to utter in a direct form.

Lévi-Strauss holds that myth is a form of language, and the model he draws on is from structural phonology. But myths are texts, not phonemes, or morphemes, or sentences. The analysis of texts was already the domain of the discipline of philology; modern linguistics has until recently operated primarily on lower levels, up to and including that of the sentence. The principles Lévi-Strauss actually uses to analyze [502]myths, and which Sebag will use to analyze dreams—that is, respect for the text and respect for the context—are the principles of good philology, the art, as Friedrich Nietzsche said, of reading slowly (Nietzsche [1886] 1982: 5).

* * *

Respect for text and respect for context motivate Sebag’s critique of some alternative approaches at the end of the dream paper. He uses exactly this kind of critique in his book on Pueblo myth, where he attacks “historical, psychological, or psychoanalytic theories of myth” for immediately replacing the myth text itself with

another level that is supposed to hold its secret. . . . The coherence that [these approaches] seek to introduce is an external coherence. . . . [For them] the myth may be merely a transposition of certain historical events that have been picked up and treated as exemplary by the collective imagination; it may be an attempt to respond to the intellectual concerns of those who seek to interpret the movements of the stars and planets; it may illustrate the Oedipal conflicts that constitute all subjectivity, or, again, may combine atemporal archetypes which are deposited in the soul and give it its depth. (Sebag 1971: 454; my translation)

In the dream paper, Sebag criticizes three approaches to dream analysis for neglecting either the specificities of the text or those of the context.

First, he attacks a common anthropological mode of defining the person entirely in terms of sociocultural norms. He calls this culturalism; what he is alluding to are primarily North American tendencies, which, starting in the 1920s but reaching a peak in the culture and personality, modal personality, and national character studies of the 1940s and 1950s, define cultural norms and locate individuals in terms of fit to or deviation from these norms (see Bock 1988). Such an approach in anthropology was compatible with the dominant North American mode of psychoanalysis as ego psychology, which saw the goal of analysis as strengthening the analysand’s ego, itself a cultural construct, and promoting good adjustment of the subject to his or her sociocultural milieu. All of this was anathema to Lacan (see, for instance, the attack on “adaptation” in Lacan [1953] 1977: 38; cf. Turkle 1978: 7–8, 53–54), then to Sebag, for whom the subject always exceeds what it is identified with and what defines it for the milieu. For Lacan, the ego was a paranoid construct, and the goal of psychoanalysis was by no means the patient’s adaptation to cultural norms, but the patient’s discovery of his or her truth.

In a sort of aside to this discussion of culturalism, Sebag proposes an equally sharp critique of its inverse: the orthodox psychoanalytic tendency to explain social institutions as projections of personal problems and obsessions. Freud himself launched this mode of explanation in Totem and taboo, first published in 1913, which sees all of human civilization as a reaction formation to an originary trauma of killing the father. This kind of explanation of whole cultural traditions as ways of dealing with the standard Freudian constructs (e.g., penis envy or the Oedipus complex), sometimes called an “ontogenetic foundation of society,” was extended by Géza Róheim (cf. Muensterberger and Nichols 1974) and continues to be a major tactic for “the psychoanalytic study of society” (the name of an important series of publications since 1960). Sebag sees it as the replacement of one level with [503]another, “a confusion of structure and event,” and therefore as an abuse. He is not alone in this: most anthropologists who are not psychoanalytically oriented (not to mention many who are) see deriving social institutions directly from individual complexes as unjustified, to say the least.

Finally, Sebag gives a synopsis and critique of C. G. Jung’s use of archetypes; these few pages probably represent the most important structuralist critique of Jung that we possess. For Jung, certain symbols figuring in the dreams of an individual—notably symbols that correspond to those of myths—are archetypal, part of the general human heritage that he calls the collective unconscious. Lévi-Strauss ([1955] 1963) had attacked this view of the symbols found in myths, arguing that to attribute a universal human meaning to any given symbol was the same kind of enterprise as attributing a universal meaning to a given speech sound. On the contrary, Lévi-Strauss argues, just as phonemes serve as elements of larger signifying systems, so do the images offered in myths: to know what a mother or a raven means in a given myth requires consideration of the cultural background and of other myths of the same cycle (Lévi-Strauss 1962). Sebag brings this kind of critique back to dream symbolism. If Jung is right, then any human being can serve equally well as the source for interpretation of archetypal symbols; the dreamer him- or herself has no privilege. Jung even says that he could free associate on someone’s dream symbols himself and, insofar as these symbols are archetypal, come up with material that is as valid as would be the dreamer’s associations. For Sebag, this shows the bankruptcy of Jung’s model. To the extent that the analyst’s associations provide valid material for interpreting the analysand’s dreams, he holds, this can only be because the analyst and the dreamer share cultural background knowledge. If there is a collective unconscious, Sebag writes, “it is coextensive with the myths, rituals, institutions, representations of a given culture”; it is neither universal nor subjective. The subject is both less and more than this.

This point is worth elaborating. For Sebag, as for Lacan, the subject always exceeds the norms, keeps the prerogative of reorganizing cultural material at his or her will. Such reorganization is what is happening both in play and in dreams.

To focus this claim, Sebag compares the dreamer to the small child who produces all the sounds of all human languages in prelinguistic babble, and who learns a single language by suppressing most of them. As a model for socialization, this suggests that entering into a human cultural order is largely a process of suppression, of loss of possibilities. This figure is one of the key images in what we might now be entitled to call classical structuralism: it plays a central role in Lévi-Strauss’s setting-up of The elementary structures of kinship ([1949] 1969: 93–94), where he uses it as a metaphor for the potential variety and actual limitation of social arrangements.

Lévi-Strauss himself says he derives this model from Roman Jakobson; however, it was current in North American linguistics and anthropology from early in the twentieth century and this is presumably where Jakobson got it. It plays a central role in “culturalist” work such as Ruth Benedict’s Patterns of culture (1934: 23–24), and the idea that speaking a given language means limiting an originally limitless set of sounds, and therefore of potentialities, is fully in place in Franz Boas’ introduction to the Handbook of American Indian languages (1911: 15–16). What Lacan brings to this anthropological-linguistic chestnut, which will be picked up by Sebag, is the idea that this original free play is still there, potentially, in playing, [504]in lapses, and in dreams: culturalized, but never fully culturalized, human subjectivity is the result of the encounter of the subject with a specific, historically given cultural order. This argument will be the central theme of Louis Althusser’s essay “Freud and Lacan” ([1964] 1999), published the same year as Sebag’s dream paper.

* * *

Sebag’s goal is, again, dual: on the one hand, to see how dream material illuminates ethnography; on the other hand, to see how the ethnography illuminates the dream material. He is quite happy about the results of the first: “dream analysis, pursued steadily in certain privileged circumstances, reveals whole sections of the cultural edifice which remain hidden to normal observation and interrogation.” But this is not to say that the dreams simply reflect what’s there in daily social life. On the contrary: in dreams, the subject is free to distort and play with whatever he or she knows. Sebag will use this fact as a key to interpretation. The dream “message [takes] on its full value from the disparity between the code proper to the society in question and the transformations it undergoes on the level of the individual. This dislocation has revelatory value.”

This is another parallel between dream and myth that echoes the myth-work of Lévi-Strauss. In “Asdiwal,” Lévi-Strauss ([1958] 1976) criticizes Boas’s earlier attempt to describe Tsimshian life and society on the basis of Tsimshian mythology (Boas 1916). Such a project ignores one of the essential things about myths: that they are not reproductions of known reality but narratives that use elements of that reality for their own purposes. They are, therefore, just as likely to reverse a cultural or ecological feature as to present it “straight.”

This play of distortion in dreams and myths seems not simply possible but perhaps is a fundamental part of their elaboration, their conveying of multiple messages. Certainly, it doesn’t seem excessive for Belmont (1997: 124ff.) to propose that the mechanisms Freud attributes to the dreamwork—figuration, condensation, secondary elaboration, and displacement—are also behind the creation of myths. This is not because myths and dreams are the same thing, but because these are the kinds of mechanisms we would expect to find in the elaboration of any text that carries multiple levels of meaning. So we come back to philology.

* * *

When Lévi-Strauss analyzes a series of myths, he is trying to get at the nonlinear, nontemporal armature of oppositions that underlies the unrolling narratives. We have already seen the parallels between Sebagian dream analysis and Lévi-Straussian myth analysis; here, we have to note that Sebag ends up taking the syntagmatic development of the dreams as seriously as the unstated frame behind them. In the analysis of myth, only Terence Turner (1969) would undertake something comparable, as seen in his reanalysis of the Oedipus cycle. For Turner, each new incident recalls preceding incidents but also transforms the situation: there is a dynamic of transformation from the beginning of the cycle to the end.

The twenty-nine dreams that Sebag selects and presents in chronological order represent about two months of working and transformation in Baipurangi’s understanding of her own, equally evolving, situation. The movement can be considered as one of deepening of levels. At first, and throughout the series of dreams, [505]Baipurangi wants to get away from her husband, Jakugi. In her dreams, she tries out a series of variations on this theme, including her own death—murdered by Jakugi or taken by the souls of the vengeful dead; Jakugi leaving her for another woman; her parents taking her back; her own transformation into a solitary unmarried woman, directly or in the shape of her dreamed daughter; finally, Jakugi’s death. But through this series of dreams that are ostensibly about the current situation, we keep getting glimpses of another narrative: her sense of abandonment by her parents, and particularly by her father, Kandegi. The issue that emerges is her own acute feeling of having disappointed her father by being born a girl and the fantasy of making it up to him by producing a son. And this links into Baipurangi’s growing anxiety about her own childlessness.

One wonders about the omnipresence of Jakugi, given the situation of dreamtelling. Sebag makes it clear that Baipurangi was transferring onto him—this mysterious stranger who was so interested in her dreams, with whom she talked about her dreams and her life every morning. Transference is a psychoanalytic term for falling in love. Some of the dreams are quite explicit, showing Baipurangi dreaming (she is dreaming of dreaming) of making love with Sebag and having a daughter with him. The continued negative attention to her husband could have been a way of telling Sebag that she was interested. This, of course, does not affect the broader analysis, which is about childhood and identity more than about flirtation.

Some Aché notes and queries

The Aché people, who are so present in this paper, have become known to the international community both as victims of an apparent genocide and as subjects of some of the most ambitious work to be done on the relationship of culture and ecology. A number of questions about Aché ethnography and history remain open.

Aché economy. The Aché are presented in this paper, as elsewhere, as almost paradigmatic hunter-gatherers and primarily as hunters. We know that personal names among the Aché are drawn from game animals; Sebag writes: “Meat has extraordinary affective and social value for the Guayaki. A Guayaki who spends a week without eating meat becomes morose and seems to have lost all interest in life” (“Analysis,” note 26; cf. Baldus 1972: 507; my translation: “For the Guayaki, a meal with lots of meat is the finest banquet.”). For hundreds of years they have lived in the forests on the margins of settled agricultural societies, Guaraní and Paraguayan. The prevailing interpretation of this situation is that the Aché way of life is a survival from the Stone Age. As León Cadogán puts it in the preface to his Aché dictionary, “We were dealing with the most primitive culture of the Tupí-Guaraní group, probably the most primitive culture of the Americas” (Cadogán 1968: v; my translation). Four years later, in his own book, Clastres presents the Aché as immemorial hunter-gatherers; this view is maintained in the more recent work of Hill, Hurtado, and their collaborators (e.g., Hill and Hurtado 1996). Yet there is an alternative interpretation. Particularly given the close affinities of the Aché language with those of neighboring peoples who have had agriculture for a very long time, other scholars see the Aché as marginalized former agriculturalists. Indeed, Clastres himself expressed this view several years before publishing his book: “The Guayaki are nomadic hunter-gatherers. We must ask ourselves therefore whether or not this is [506]a case of survivors from a more or less distant period in which agriculture was still unknown in South America. On the contrary, we have noted cultural discordances which suggest a horizon that included agriculture: rather than archaic, the Guayaki are regressive” (Clastres 1968; my translation). The Aché would be another example of the “archaic illusion” (Robert Crépeau in Beaucage and Crépeau 2001) well known elsewhere in South America (Lévi-Strauss 1955).

There is a third possibility, raised by Philippe Edeb on the basis of ethnohistorical and field research conducted in the middle and late 1980s (Edeb 1992). Edeb puts together evidence that the current Aché dependence on meat protein is a relatively recent development, and that the earlier Aché economy was largely based on the exploitation of sometimes massive and extremely dense stands of pindo palms (Butia capitata, also called the jelly palm). The pith of the palm provided, and to some degree still provides, several kinds of highly nourishing food of which the Aché are very fond. What Edeb proposes is a traditional economy based both on hunting, carried out primarily by men and involving high mobility, and on exploitation of the pindo palm, carried out by women and involving periodic settlement. This fairly unique mode of production, a nonagricultural way of life based on an extraordinary abundance of plant resources, presents a very different picture from either that of primordial nomadic hunters or that of marginalized former farmers. That there was once a parallel drawn between hunting animals and cutting pindo palms is suggested by the fact that the word designates both meat and the “meat” of the pindo (Cadogán 1968: 131, cited in Edeb 1992: 153n23). This parallel also would mean that there was a greater balance between men’s and women’s work than what is suggested by the simple valorization of hunting, a balance that would fit the “profound respect for women” found in traditional Aché society (Münzel 1973: 30).

Work as play. One of the most memorable scenes in Sebag’s paper is evoked by Baipurangi’s third dream, the dream of many laughing children. That day, Sebag reports, Baipurangi had “cleared an area of ground using an axe; all the children helped her and the work turned into a game in which Baipurangi and her little companions enjoyed themselves tremendously.” For this reader, at least, this scene of work turning into play, of work as play, is both touching and amusing, and it clearly charmed Sebag. But its resonances may go deeper. Years later, Edeb will be told of the hilarity marking intense periods of women and children’s work cutting pindo palms and extracting and preparing their pith: “More than the energy invested or the violent effort required for grinding the pulp of the pindo, it was the routine nature of this drudgery that must have traditionally been the greatest obstacle to its intensification. It must therefore have been animated by motivations that went beyond the domain of (immediately) utilitarian rationality. We know, from those involved, that this work was most willingly carried out collectively, in a real atmosphere of wild festivity (atmosphère de liesse) in which the exchange of jokes and general good humor came together to encourage the participants” (Edeb 1992: 152; my translation).

A mode of working as playing, then, may have typified at least the women’s part of the traditional Aché economy. The picture of Baipurangi and the children making a wild game out of clearing some ground may owe as much to a cultural pattern as to the particular circumstances, or to the particularities of Baipurangi’s personality.[507]

The individual as species. Aché personal names are derived from the words for the animals one’s mother ate while she was pregnant (Baldus 1972: 515–16; Clastres [1972] 1998: 52–56). This would seem to be an essential aspect of personal identity; it would be extremely helpful to have consistent—instead of apparently haphazard—translations of these names. Checking Cadogán’s Aché dictionary helps with many names, but not much with Baipurangi’s. He gives the word baipurä as meaning horse (Cadogán 1968: 16); were the Aché catching and eating horses in the late 1940s, the time of Baipurangi’s conception?

Yet the very close baipu, the source of the name of Baipurangi’s mother Baipugi, means jaguar (Cadogán 1968: 16); bai by itself means animal in general (12). Jakugi is named after a large bird resembling a pheasant (66); the name of Baipurangi’s father, Kandegi, comes from the small peccary (87), that of her other father, Pikugi, from a fish (143), that of her late husband, Krajagi, from the howler monkey (94–95), that of her jware (the man who molded her head when she was born) Japegi from the crocodile (68); the name of her jware Doro Paregi simply means “first-born son” (43). The important male figures Kybwyragi and Jyvukugi, the latter often presented as the “chief” of this group of Aché, are named for a bird and for “a large feline” respectively (105, 83). I was not able to elucidate the names of Baipurangi’s grandmother Pampigi (called Pampingi by Clastres) or of her friend and protector Japekujagi.

In one case, in the discussion of Dream 24, not knowing the meaning of names becomes very frustrating. In the dream, Jakugi kills a couple of deer. Sebag takes pains to tell us that his own name among the Aché was Wachu “deer”; this was also the name of Baipurangi’s little brother, who had been sick, whose death had been foreshadowed in a number of the dreams, and who by the time of this dream had died. But Sebag does not make the connection with something else we know about Baipurangi: in the discussion of Dream 21 we are told that just before her birth some men from the group happened upon a deer that had just been killed by a jaguar; Baipurangi’s mother-to-be “took part in the meal, which explains why the child, who was born a few weeks later, is named after the deer.” Putting these stories together suggests that Baipurangi, Sebag, and Baipurangi’s brother are all deer, and certainly suggests a wider interpretation of the dream. Is the horse, baipurä, thought of as a kind of deer? Or is one of Baipurangi’s names Wachugi as well?

Another important gap in information involves incidents around her brother’s death, of which Sebag tells us almost nothing but Clastres tells a good deal. I will return to this issue below.

Limits in the paper

While there is no denying that Sebag’s dream paper shows its age fifty years after its publication, we must distinguish between real insufficiencies and mere changes in taste and mode. The paper reflects the prevailing assumptions of the time, some of which are different from prevailing assumptions today; yet, as Jürgen Trabant says in a little apothegm worthy of Freud, “What has collapsed has not necessarily been superseded” (Trabant 1986: 206; my translation).

Let me put on record my own strong sense of the unfairness of judging earlier writers in terms of today’s criteria, which are themselves likely to look like temporary fads in twenty years; such “presentism,” as George Stocking calls it (1968), seems utterly unanthropological and utterly un-self-critical, and it smacks of a [508]smugness and self-congratulation that, probably because of elements of my own personal history, I find abhorrent. Having said that, let me now proceed to do the abhorrent and note aspects of this text that are likely to put off its readers in 2017.

One thing that may strike a reader today, especially a North American reader, is Sebag’s belief in cultures as boundable wholes, his apparent assumption that you can discuss Aché culture as a single, homogeneous entity. This contrasts with the recent interest in hybridities between cultures and divisions within them. Note, however, that this opposition is much sharper in English-speaking North America than in France or, for that matter, in the French- or Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking world. These intellectual cultures had never gone in for what now seems to have been the idealistic faith in the uniqueness and homogeneity of cultures-as-wholes that dominated North American anthropology in the 1970s: the monism of Clifford Geertz, a version of what Sebag calls culturalism, or the sealed Parsonian layers of David Schneider, for whom culture, society, and personality formed autonomous internally coherent “systems.” Anthropologists of romance languages, therefore, never experienced the despair felt by many American anthropologists when things turned out to be a lot more complicated, when it was no longer possible to avoid facing transcultural processes, intracultural variation, and the role of the ethnographer as part of the situation. While Sebag and Clastres do not make a big deal about problematizing the notion of Aché culture, they do constantly show how problematic, how fragile, how threatened, how reactive to outside forces, how internally divided it is between young and old, women and men, collaborators with and resisters of the Paraguayans.

Related to this relatively uncritical view of ethnographic activity is the political activist Sebag’s apparent failure to discuss two essential aspects of his own role among the Aché: what must have been a striking disparity in power relations between the European anthropologist and the members of a marginalized, harassed, and threatened indigenous South American society; and between himself as an adult man (he was twenty-nine and thirty when he was in Paraguay) and the eighteen-year-old woman who was telling him her dreams.

But again, condemnation is too easy and requires some nuance. Calling Sebag European is not actually so evident. Sebag was in fact African, although French-speaking; although he was French-speaking he was no vieille souche Frenchman but a North African Sephardic Jew. Consider his two teachers: one, Lévi-Strauss, was an Ashkenazic Jew, an Alsatian actually, from a line of rabbis; the other, Lacan, was a French Catholic, educated by Jesuits, which made him ethnically part of the majority culture but a minority figure in psychoanalysis, which has always had a strong Jewish representation and something of a Jewish spirit (Schneiderman 1983: 14). Of course, there is nothing new about the marginalized members of a politically and economically central society being the ones to go off and live with even more marginalized people.

It remains that in this paper Sebag presents himself both as the visiting foreign anthropologist who does not apparently question his own role or his own reactions—and this is acute, given his immediately subsequent history—and as the analyst who analyses the analysand but leaves his own countertransference in the dark. We would feel more comfortable—again, especially given what would follow this period in Paraguay—to have Sebag’s own dreams to put next to Baipurangi’s.[509]

While the relationship of male to female among the Aché is pretty sharply analyzed in this essay and in Clastres’ book, it remains unproblematized here in terms of the relationship between visiting male analyst and local female analysand. In fact, some recent work on dreams (Handman 1996; Xanthakou 2002) suggests that in a great many societies, what women tend to dream about is women’s specific oppression. It happens that the same issue of Les Temps modernes that published Sebag’s essay also contains the last part of the French translation of Betty Friedan’s The feminine mystique.

The story of Sebag

Lucien Sebag was at the heart of one of the great intellectual ferments of the twentieth century: he was at the confluence of phenomenology, the renewal in Marxist philosophy, the reorientation of psychoanalysis by Lacan, and the new structural anthropology of Lévi-Strauss. Sebag was born in Tunis in 1933 and lived there until the early 1950s. As an adolescent, he was a student of the philosopher François Châtelet. He became an activist for Tunisian independence in the Tunisian Communist Party. After he moved to Paris at age twenty, he became an activist in the French Communist Party. Sebag spent his twenties moving among key sites and players in the developing structuralist and Marxist paradigms of the 1950s and 1960s. In 1956, Sebag was critical of the Party’s support for the Soviet crushing of the Hungarian rebellion. He was expelled from the Party in 1957, from which point on he continued to agitate from the left. Around this time, he completed his philosophical training and discovered both ethnology and psychoanalysis, quickly coming to the attention of both the leading psychoanalyst of that place and time, Jacques Lacan, and the founder of structural anthropology, Claude Lévi-Strauss. By the early 1960s, Sebag had begun an analysis with Lacan; he was a member of the CNRS, the French research corps, teaching courses under Lévi-Strauss’ auspices at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes.

This was the time that Lévi-Strauss was carrying out his exploration of South and North American mythologies that would lead to the four volumes of the Mythologiques. In the course of this research, two North American civilization complexes seemed to stand out as internally coherent and distinct from the rest: the Iroquois in the northeast, the Pueblos in the southwest. Lévi-Strauss handed the analysis of Pueblo mythology over to a team of anthropologists-in-training led by Sebag. The group included, among others, the Africanist Pierre Smith, the South Americanist Jacqueline Bolens (later Duvernay), and Sebag’s analyst’s daughter, Judith Lacan, herself destined for a distinguished career as a philosopher and guardian of the Lacanian heritage: a “hot group” (Lipman-Blumen and Leavitt 1999) if there ever was one. Lévi-Strauss (1971: iii) would later write about how wonderful that seminar was: “May I bear witness that through a long academic career I have never known an enterprise pursued with regularity, week after week, that offered the chance for such a fervent, and I believe I may also say fruitful, collaboration between the working group, the auditors, and their professor?”

While Sebag was working on Pueblo mythology, Lévi-Strauss arranged for him to undertake fieldwork in South America along with his fellow philosophy student [510]Pierre Clastres, another name to reckon with. In 1963, on the eve of his departure for South America, Sebag handed in the manuscript of a major attempt to integrate the paradigms that were of greatest concern to him, called, straightforwardly enough, Marxisme et structuralisme, the publication of which would coincide with his return to France in 1964. From February to September 1963, Sebag conducted field research with Clastres among the Aché. In September, Sebag went to the Chaco to live with Ayoréo groups in Paraguay and then in Bolivia. He returned to France in February 1964.

Upon his return to Paris, Sebag’s future seemed assured. He is remembered widely as the most brilliant of Lévi-Strauss’ students, often as his apparent successor, and often enough by those who knew him as “le plus intelligent, le plus beau et le plus sympa” among the anthropologists of his generation (Rémi Savard, pers. comm.). He was slated to conduct a second period of field research in South America in July of 1965. He was planning a new book, an analysis of the discourse that takes place in the course of a psychoanalysis.

Sebag, by all accounts a person of intense engagement both intellectual and personal—Lévi-Strauss (1965: 6) would call him “this infinitely intelligent but vulnerable being”—was in love with his teammate, Judith Lacan; his book Marxisme et structuralisme is dedicated to her. She was finished with the relationship, but Sebag was not. The interpersonal dynamic seems oddly and sadly reminiscent of the one around which Sebag constructs the dream paper: a man in love with a woman who is not in love with him, with, as in the dream paper, the complicating factor of the powerful and hard-to-define presence of her father. Oral tradition has it that Sebag gave Judith Lacan a specific ultimatum, an attempt at emotional blackmail to which she did not bend; he made good on his threat and killed himself on January 9, 1965, at the age of thirty-one.

Sebag’s death immediately entered into legend. Lacan expected to be blamed for it (Althusser [1992] 1993: 180–81; Roudinesco 1993: 400–401), and those who didn’t like Lacan indeed blamed him;6 orthodox Communists, for their part, claimed at the time that Sebag didn’t kill himself for personal reasons at all but because he was unable to overcome the antinomy between structure and history (Jean-Claude Muller, pers. comm.). The anthropologist Lucas Bessire, who lived with the Ayoréo after Sebag’s visit, tells another story. One of the shamans with [511]whom Sebag had worked blamed himself for Sebag’s death. He had allowed Sebag to persuade him to sing a song that was simply too powerful for the good of either of them. “This chant was so powerful that it broke Sebag’s reel-to-reel tape recorder. In that instant, the words also infected Sebag. ‘Before, I did not know how to put my words to one side and Luciano died because the ujñarone broke his recorder and went directly to him.’” (Bessire 2014: 32). And I have been told two different stories of who found Sebag’s body.

Sebag’s death was a trauma for many who knew him (see, for instance, Boons and Boons 1965; Guattari [1977] 1984), and they are still pained by it fifty-odd years later. As Sebag’s fellow student, the anthropologist Rémi Savard, put it, “Il est passé parmi nous comme un météore” (pers. comm.). At the same time, Sebag’s death represented a trauma for a central slice of the French intellectual community and marked the end of what might be called structuralism’s first—growing and optimistic—phase. In fact, this period of increasing interdisciplinary ferment was about to be consolidated in a series of big books: 1965 would see the publication of Althusser’s For Marx and Reading Capital with his antihumanist and antiphenomenological reading of Marx, as well as Barthes’ Elements of semiology and Critique et vérité; 1966 produced Foucault’s The order of things, Benveniste’s selected writings in linguistics, and Lacan’s Ecrits; 1967 brought Barthes’ Système de la mode, Foucault’s Archaeology of knowledge, Derrida’s Grammatology and Writing and difference; and then came 1968 and a new constellation. On January 15 and 22, 1965, Sebag was scheduled to give lectures at the Collège de France, an institution that allows the general public access to intellectuals who are considered to be national treasures. Especially in 1965, with the increasing fame of and curiosity about Lévi-Strauss, this would have meant a large and probably enthusiastic audience. Had he lived even a little longer, it is likely that Sebag would have been one of the major recognized intellectual figures of the period.

Sebag’s death was at least as great a trauma for the Tunisian Jewish community, which had seen him as one of their brightest stars (Muriel Djeribi-Valentin, pers. comm.). In a heartbreaking memorial essay published in Tunis in 1966, Sebag’s friend J.-P. Darmon wrote of “his warmth and the luminous gaiety that shone from his extreme intelligence,” saying that Sebag was on the way to becoming a millennium-transforming thinker, the like of which Tunisia had not produced since Ibn Khaldûn.

After Sebag’s death, a considerable body of his work was published, largely at the impetus of Lévi-Strauss. This included a long essay on shamanism among the Ayoréo (1965b). In 1971, Sebag’s manuscript on the mythology of the Eastern Pueblo was published as L’invention du monde chez les Indiens pueblo. Sebag had completed the draft not long before his death.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Sebag’s work was translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and German; none has heretofore been published in English.

* * *

A word must be said here about Pierre Clastres. Clastres was born in 1934, the same year as Sebag. Like him, he was a student of philosophy, and both turned toward anthropology, and Lévi-Strauss, at the same time (J. C. Muller, pers. comm.). Clastres returned to the Aché for a second period of field research in 1965. His time with them resulted in a remarkable document, the Chronicle of the Guayaki [512]Indians, published in 1972. It is a classic of sensitive ethnography, which was translated into English by Paul Auster; after many misadventures befell the manuscript of the translation (described in Auster’s preface to the English edition), it would be published only in 1998. Clastres’ experience with the Aché, a people with no coercive leadership, led him to construct a political anthropology that was neither structuralist nor Marxist, but that saw the rise of the state as the great watershed in human history. His collection of essays, Society against the state ([1974] 1977) had an enormous impact on a new, essentially anarchist, political anthropology and political philosophy. Clastres died in an automobile accident in 1977.

Baipurangi, Jakugi, and the Aché

If Baipurangi is still alive, she is in her seventies. We know about her as a young woman from this essay: unhappy with her husband Jakugi, whom she finds to be jealous, frightening, and sexually demanding, she turns to Sebag himself, the outsider who listens to her dreams every morning but, unlike the “enterprising” Paraguayans, maintains what he calls an “affective neutrality.” This is apparently quite entrancing for a while: at first, Baipurangi’s dreams seem to indicate to Sebag how much she likes men who are not sexually insistent (she wants to be with her undemanding late husband, Krajagi, rather than the desirous Jakugi), then move on to express direct sexual interest in Sebag himself. But in the end, she seems to tire of the game.

The picture of Jakugi we have from Sebag is of a husband who appears as jealous and angry, full of desire and frustration, who, Sebag lets us know, starts getting nervous about all the time his wife is spending with Sebag. Clastres gives us a much richer picture of Jakugi in his book, one that is both more sympathetic and more disturbing. Here is how Clastres presents Jakugi and his marriage:

Jakugi was a peaceful man. At certain times, he suffered from the knowledge that he was being deceived. The alluring Baipurangi, his young wife, did not know how to say no, and she often forgot what a good husband she had: he was always in the forest, tracking game, spotting beehives, and gathering grubs. She had everything she could wish for and yet she was not satisfied. He could have beaten her, but he did nothing. Who was playing the flute sadly, after nightfall? The five pure notes escaped from the tubes of rosewood. Prettily, they called out to the woman who no longer wanted to sleep next to her husband and who had taken refuge at a distance in her parents’ tapy. When he was troubled, Jakugi did not become violent. He would take up his flute. ([1972] 1998: 251)

Is it just me, or is there something a little sinister in this repeated insistence on how peaceful Jakugi is? We are not really surprised to read the next sentence: “And yet he was called Brupiare, Killer.” And Clastres spend much of this chapter telling the story of a series of deaths of children, killed to compensate for the deaths of other children,7 which culminated in Jakugi killing a young girl.[513]

Toward the end of the book, Clastres tells the story of the events surrounding the death of Baipurangi’s young brother. Here we learn that it is not only Baipurangi’s father, Kandegi, who would like her to have children, but also her husband: “Jakugi . . . who was very much in love with his wife, Baipurangi, was suffering for two reasons: she was unfaithful to him and had not yet borne him any children” (Clastres [1972] 1998: 342). When Baipurangi’s brother died, the Aché cooked and ate his body: this was at a time when they were supposed to have given up cannibalism. Remember that in Dream 21 Baipurangi dreams of the death of Jyvukugi: “the meat is divided among all the members of the camp; as for me, I eat the penis.” Eating the penis is supposed to guarantee that she will give birth to a son. Now this was in a dream. In waking life, according to Clastres, Jakugi, eager to resume normal relations with Baipurangi and to have her produce a son, tried to get her to eat her late brother’s penis. Baipurangi refused indignantly: one does not eat any part of one’s close kin. Angry, Jakugi hit her; it was at this point that she left him and moved in with her father—not the father Kandegi, her mother’s current husband, who figures so centrally in her dreams, but her other father, Pikugi.

During the time Sebag tells us that Baipurangi was fantasizing and dreaming about leaving Jakugi and recreating a childhood situation by moving back in with parents, Clastres tells us that she was doing just that; and she was doing it, it turns out, at least partly as a refusal to have a son with Jakugi—even though her dreams show how much she wants to have a son—and at least partly as an expression of support for an etiquette, a proper way of doing things, that was already in ruins. One thinks of Lacan’s treatment of Antigone (Lacan [1960] 1992; cf. Schneiderman 1983: 165–71), who becomes the instrument of the Gods’ order rather than of her own wish to live.

The fate of the Aché

Baipurangi and Jakugi were living out their personal dramas in the midst of a collective trauma. The picture Sebag and Clastres give of the situation of the Aché is dire. In 1959, the Aché Gatu, Baipurangi’s group, unable to survive in the forest that was left to them, had settled at Arroyo Moroti under the authority of a man whose name Sebag gives as “Manuel de Peyreira.” This is the group otherwise known as the Ypety Aché (Hill and Hurtado 1996: 49). A number of people Baipurangi was close to had already been kidnapped or otherwise disappeared. Clastres writes that at the time of his arrival, there were about one hundred Aché living in the group; by the time of his departure, a quarter of these had died. But worse was to come.

Apparently, “between 1963 and 1968, about half the members of the Yvytyruzu [the Aché Kwera] and Ypety groups died from contact-related respiratory infections” (Hill and Hurtado 1996: 49; for a history of this period and after, see Hill and Hurtado 1996: 49–56). The early 1970s saw an intensification of the invasion of Aché lands by Paraguayan peasants and a concomitant effort to move Aché groups into mission-controlled reserves. The result—whether through deliberate murder and enslavement or through illnesses and other situational factors—was a decimation of the population. A number of reports in the 1970s detailed and denounced what came to be known as the Aché genocide (Münzel 1972, 1976; Arens 1976). [514]The individual who comes in for the greatest blame in these reports is Manuel de Jesús Pereira, the same “Peyreira” who figures in Sebag’s essay as the “protector” and exploiter of the Aché and who is a major player in Clastres’ book.

Clastres ends his book with a prediction of the imminent disappearance of the Aché, and reading the genocide reports makes one wonder if there are any left. Yet peoples have a way of not dying out when they are expected to. After the outcries of the 1970s, we find that the scholarly literature on the Aché in the 1980s and 1990s is dominated by research on forest ecology and forest economics carried out by North American–based teams of anthropologists and biologists (e.g., Hill and Hurtado 1996) working with an apparently viable society; a number of these publications appear with the names of Aché coauthors (e.g., Hill, Padwe, Bejyvagi, Bepurangi, Jakugi, Tykuarangi, and Tykuarangi 1997). This crop of authors presents a less apocalyptic picture of the Aché present and their recent past. While they recognize that the Aché have gone through terrible times, Kim Hill and Magdalena Hurtado (1996) deny that there was an Aché genocide as such, but say that there was rather a “situation in the twentieth century . . . of small-scale war between the Aché and invading peasants. . . . This was a classic case of conquest, but not a case of genocide. . . . It should instead be described within the context of the slow conquest of the Americas that has been going on for more than five hundred years. Perhaps that entire process could be labeled genocide, given the all too frequent extermination of small tribal populations” (p. 169). Aché did die in great numbers in the 1970s, the period of intensive contact and settlement, but this, they say, was due more to respiratory illnesses picked up in the contact situation than to an anti-Aché policy.

There are now about fifteen hundred Aché living in six communities, four of which have “resident missionaries.” The Aché continue to hunt and forage on land adjoining these communities, particularly in the Mbaracayu Forest Reserve, established in 1991, where they have “permanent use rights for traditional subsistence activities” (Hill and Hurtado 1999: 95). Some of the Aché are getting money from USAID “to improve reservation infrastructure” (Hill and Hurtado 1999). The year 2000 saw the foundation of the Liga Nativa por la Autonomía, Justicia y ética,8 an organization for the defense of Aché rights, by Aché and sympathetic non-Aché. At the same time, the Aché are said (Hill and Hurtado 1999) to be losing many of their traditional practices and to be giving up their language in favor of Guaraní. Again, how much these changes are their own choice, how much they are being forced on them, and to what extent they are reactions to an enormous collective trauma, will be matters for historians to decide.

The Aché have certainly not disappeared. With the election of Paraguay’s first leftist president, Fernando Lugo, in 2008, the Aché activist Margarita Mbywangi—who had been kidnapped as a child—was named Minister of Indigenous Affairs, the first indigenous person to hold this post. Mbywangi lost her position in 2009 and went on to help found a new Aché community at Kuetuvy. While this community, like the others, remains under pressure from corporations and what are called landless peasants, they are defending themselves and continue to play a role in Paraguayan society.[515]

* * *

In the preface to his translation of Clastres’ Chronicle ([1972] 1998: 13), Paul Auster writes: “No matter that the world described in it has long since vanished, that the tiny group of people the author lived with in 1963 and 1964 has disappeared from the face of the earth. No matter that the author has vanished as well. The book he wrote is still with us.” Stéphane Mallarmé once wrote that the world was made to produce a beautiful book (le monde est fait pour aboutir à un beau livre)—but it does matter whether or not the Aché have disappeared. They have been through hell but they have not disappeared. Sebag is gone, Clastres is gone, Baipurangi and Jakugi may well be gone, you and I will be gone soon enough, but it looks like the Aché will reside on Earth for some time to come.


Thanks to Mark Mancall who gave me Sebag’s text and proposed that I translate it. In the intervening forty years, I’ve done some informal folklore research on Sebag himself, asking about him in Paris and among colleagues in Montreal who had known him. For help, suggestions, and/or reminiscences I am grateful to Marion Abélès, Nicole Belmont, the late Hélène and Pierre Clastres, Muriel Djeribi-Valentin, Lori Harreman, the late Michel Izard, Patrick Menget, the late Jean-Claude Muller, and Rémi Savard; and thanks to Robert Crépeau for his guidance in the forest of South American ethnography. Any errors or misrepresentations are my own responsibility. Some parts of this text were published in French as “L’analyse des rêves” in the “Dossier ‘Autour de Lucien Sebag’” in Gradhiva 2: 109–24 (2005).


Althusser, Louis. (1964) 1996. “Freud and Lacan.” In Writings on psychoanalysis: Freud and Lacan, translated by Jeffrey Mehlman, 7–32. New York: Columbia University Press.

———. (1992) 1993. The future lasts forever. Translated by Richard Veasey. New York: Norton.

Arens, Richard, ed. 1976. Genocide in Paraguay. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Baldus, Herbert. 1972. “Die Guayaki von Paraguay (nach Angeben von F. C. Maynthausen und eigenen Beobachtungen).” Anthropos 66:465–529.

Beaucage, Pierre, and Robert Crépeau. 2001. “Interview with Rierre Beaucage and Robert Crépeau on Pierre Clastres’ book, Chronique des Indiens Guayaki.” By Jean Larose. Passages, Radio-Canada, Montreal.

Belmont, Nicole. 1999. Poétique du conte: Essai sur le conte de tradition orale. Paris: Gallimard.

———. 2002. “Editorial: Récits de rêves.” Cahiers de littérature orale 51:7–15.

Benedict, Ruth. 1934. Patterns of culture. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Bessire, Lucas. 2014. Behold the black caiman: A chronicle of Ayoreo life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.[516]

Boas, Franz. 1911. “Introduction.” In the Handbook of American Indian Languages, edited by Franz Boas, 1–83. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office [Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 40, Part 1].

———. 1916. Tsimshian mythology. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office [Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 28].

Bock, Philip K. 1988. Rethinking psychological anthropology: Continuity and change in the study of human action. San Francisco: Freeman.

Boons, Jean-Paul, and Marie-Claire Boons. 1965. “Lucien Sebag.” Les Temps modernes 226:1603–06.

Cadogán, León. 1968. Diccionario guayakí-español. Paris: Société des Américanistes.

Clastres, Pierre. 1968. “Ethnographie des Indiens guayaki (Paraguay-Brésil).” Journal de la Société des Américanistes 52:9–61.

———. (1972) 1998. Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians. Translated by Paul Auster. London: Zone Books.

———. (1974) 1977. Society against the state: The leader as servant and the humane uses of power among the Indians of the Americas. Translated by Robert Hurley and Abe Stein. New York: Urizen Books.

Darmon, Jean-Pierre. 1966. “Lucien Sebag. In memoriam.” Tunis: La Presse de la Tunisie.

Detienne, Marcel. (1972) 1994. The gardens of Adonis: Spices in Greek mythology. Second edition. Translated by Janet Lloyd. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Devereux, George. (1951) 1969. Reality and dream: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian. Second edition. New York: International Universities Press.

D’Onofrio, Salvatore. 2005. “Dossier ‘Autour de Lucien Sebag.’ Le discours du mythe.” Gradhiva, n.s., 2: 69–88.

Edeb, Philippe. 1992. “Les Ache du Paraguay et le palmier pindo. Eléments pour un réexamen de la stratégie économique et du mode de résidence.” Anthropologie et Sociétés 16 (2): 135–58.

Freud, Sigmund. (1913) 1955. Totem and taboo: Some points of agreement between the mental lives of savages and neurotics. Translated by James Strachey. Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud, XIII, 1–161. London: Hogarth Press.

Guattari, Félix. (1977) 1984. “Sepulchre for an Oedipus Complex, in the form of a dedication to Lucien Sebag and Pierre Clastres.” In Molecular revolution: Psychiatry and politics, 5–8. Translated by Rosemary Sheed. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Handman, Marie-Elisabeth. 1996. “Le rêve entre au-delà et ici-bas.” Terrains 26:83–98.[517]

Hill, Kim, and A. Magdalena Hurtado. 1996. Ache life history: The ecology and demography of a foraging people. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

———. 1999. “The Aché of Paraguay.” In Cambridge encyclopedia of hunters and gatherers, edited by Richard B. Lee and Richard Daly, 92–96. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hill, Kim, J. Padwe, C. Bejyvagi, A. Bepurangi, F. Jakugi, R. Tykuarangi, and T. Tykuarangi. 1997. “Monitoring hunting impact on large vertebrates in the Mbaracayu Reserve, Paraguay, using Native research assistants.” Conservation Biology 11:1339–53.

Jensen, Cheryl. 1999. “Tupí-Guaraní.” In The Amazonian languages, edited by Roland M. W. Dixon and Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, 125–64. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Karsenti, Bruno. 2005. “Dossier ‘Autour de Lucien Sebag.’ L’expérience structurale.” Gradhiva, n.s., 2: 89–108.

Lacan, Jacques. (1953) 1977. “The function and field of speech and language in psychoanalysis.” In Ecrits: A selection, 30–113. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton.

———. (1960) 1992. The ethics of psychoanalysis, 1959–1960 (Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book 7). Edited by Jacques-Alain Miller, translated by Dennis Porter. New York: Norton.

Leavitt, John. 2011. Linguistic relativities: Language diversity and modern thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. (1949) 1969. The elementary structures of kinship. Translated by James Harle Bell, John Richard von Sturmer, and Rodney Needham. Boston: Beacon Press.

———. 1955. Tristes tropiques. Paris: Plon.

———. (1955) 1963. “The structural study of myth.” In Structural Anthropology, 202–28. Translated by Claire Jacobson and Brooke Grundfest Schoepf. New York: Basic Books.

———. (1958) 1976. “The story of Asdiwal.” In Structural Anthropology, Volume II, 146–97. Translated by Monique Layton. New York: Basic Books.

———. 1962. La pensée sauvage. Paris: Plon.

———. 1965. “Prefatory note to Lucien Sebag, ‘Le chamanisme ayoréo.’” L’Homme 5 (2): 5–6.

———. 1971. “Préface.” In L’invention du monde chez les Indiens pueblo, by Lucien Sebag, i–iii. Paris: Maspero.

Lipman-Blumen, Jean, and Harold J. Leavitt. 1999. Hot groups. New York: Oxford University Press.

Métraux, Alfred, and Herbert Baldus. 1946. “The Guayakí.” In Handbook of South American Indians, edited by Julian Steward, 435–44. Washington: Government Printing Office [Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 143].

Muensterberger, Werner, and Christopher Nichols. 1974. “Róheim and the Beginnings of Psychoanalytic Anthropology.” In The riddle of the Sphinx, or human origins, by Géza Róheim, ix–xxvi. New York: Harper & Row.

Münzel, Mark. 1973. The Aché Indians: Genocide in Paraguay. Copenhagen: International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. [IWGIA Document 11.]

Nietzsche, Friedrich. (1886) 1982. Daybreak: Thoughts on the prejudices of morality. Translated by R. J. Hollingwood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Roudinesco, Elisabeth. (1986) 1990. Jacques Lacan & co.: A history of psychoanalysis in France, 1925–1985. Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

———. 1993. Jacques Lacan: Esquisse d’une vie, histoire d’une système de pensée. Paris: Fayard.[518]

Schneiderman, Stuart. 1983. Jacques Lacan: The death of an intellectual hero. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sebag, Lucien. 1962. “Histoire et structure.” Les Temps modernes 195:281–306.

———. 1964a. Marxisme et structuralisme. Paris: Payot.

———. 1964b. “Analyse des rêves d’une Indienne Guayaki.” Les Temps modernes 217:2181–2237.

———. 1964c. “Compte rendu de mission chez les Indiens Ayoré.” L’Homme 4 (2): 126–29.

———. 1965a. “Le mythe, code et message.” Les Temps modernes 226:1607–23.

———. 1965b. “Le chamanisme ayoréo.” L’Homme 5 (1): 5–32; 5 (2): 92–122.

———. 1971. L’invention du monde chez les Indiens pueblo. Paris: Maspero.

Stocking, George W., Jr. 1968. Race, culture, and evolution: Essays in the history of anthropology. New York: Free Press.

Tallis, Raymond. 1997. “The shrink from hell.” Times Higher Education Supplement, October 31. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/books/the-shrink-from-hell/159376.article.

Trabant, Jürgen. 1986. Apeliotes oder Der Sinn der Sprache. Wilhelm von Humboldts Sprach-Bild. Munich: Wilhelm Fink.

Turkle, Sherry. 1978. Psychoanalytic politics: Freud’s French revolution. New York: Basic Books.

Turner, Terence S. 1969. “Oedipus: Time and structure in narrative form.” In Forms of symbolic action: 1969 proceedings of the American Ethnological Society, edited by Robert Spencer, 26–68. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Wilden, Anthony. 1968. “Lacan and the discourse of the other.” In The language of the self, 152–322. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Xanthakou, Margarita. 2002. “Rêves en écharpe: Anamnèse onirique dans le Magne (Grèce).” Cahiers de littérature orale 51:79–118.

Zafiropoulos, Markos. (2003) 2016. Lacan and Lévi-Strauss or the return to Freud (1951-1957). Translated by John Holland. London: Karnac.[519]

Les rêves de Baipurangi: La croisée de l’ethnographie et de la psychanalyse dans le travail de Lucien Sebag

Résumé : Le texte de Lucien Sebag “Analyse des rêves d’une Indienne guayaki” parut dans Les Temps Modernes en 1964. Jamais auparavant traduit en Anglais, et jamais republié depuis, même en Français, il s’agit pourtant d’une tentative unique en son genre de combiner l’ethnographie auprès des Achés du Paraguay avec la théorie structurale et la psychanalyse. Cet essai contextualise le travail de Sebag en ébauchant le contexte théorique dans lequel il fut écrit, ainsi que sa situation dans la vie de l’auteur et parmi ses oeuvres, ainsi que dans l’histoire du peuple Aché.

John LEAVITT teaches in the anthropology department of the Université de Montréal, specializing in linguistic anthropology. He has conducted field research in the Central Himalayas of northern India and in Ireland and has published on oral poetry and divine possession, comparative mythology, and the history of linguistic relativity.

John Leavitt
Département d’anthropologie
Université de Montréal
C.P. 6128, Succursale Centre-Ville
Montréal, Québec
Canada H3C 3J7


1. On the Aché, see Métraux and Baldus (1946); Clastres (1968a, [1972] 1998); Baldus (1972); Hill and Hurtado (1996).

2. An honorable exception is the introduction to an issue of the Cahiers de littérature orale on dreams (Belmont 2002: 8).

3. This willingness to suspend the will to unity, to accept two parallel tracks—one rigorously scientific, seeking the realities behind appearances, the other dwelling on appearances in order to understand them better—reminds one of the dual philosophical legacy of Gaston Bachelard (cf. Leavitt 2011: 192–97).

4. More recent years have seen returns to psychoanalytic inspiration among anthropologists both in North America (note the work of Katherine Ewing, Gillian Gillison, Gananath Obeyesekere, Robert Paul, Melford Spiro) and in France (e.g., Nicole Belmont for European folk traditions; Patrice Bidou for South America; Bernard Juillerat for New Guinea; C. H. Pradelles de Latour for Africa; these scholars are all affiliated to the Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Sociale at the Collège de France, which has a team on “Recherches en anthropologie psychanalytique”). The names I have listed represent different tendencies that range from a pretty orthodox explanation of specific social institutions by a generalized Oedipus complex to considerations of the interaction of social expectation, personal constellation, and discursive process.

5. Lévi-Strauss himself carries out this program most coherently in his analysis of the Tsimshian myth of Asdiwal ([1958] 1976), a text that Sebag cites frequently. The mass of Lévi-Strauss’s mythwork, notably the four volumes of the Mythologiques, follows along from myth to myth, cycle to cycle, and society to society, seeking the cognitive patterns that emerge in myth rather than the role of myth in a particular social formation. For an exemplary structural analysis of myth that holds still long enough to reveal a given cosmology, see Detienne ([1972] 1994).

6. Lacan told Althusser that he had felt it his duty to withdraw as Sebag’s analyst when he learned that Sebag was in love with his (Lacan’s) daughter; on the other hand, he insisted, he continued to see Sebag every day and to give him moral support. This account, reprinted by Elisabeth Roudinesco from Althusser’s memoirs, has undergone a remarkable twist in Raymond Tallis’s diatribe against Lacan (“The shrink from Hell”)—ostensibly a review of Roudinesco’s history of psychoanalysis ([1986] 1990)—published in the Times Higher Education Supplement and frequently reprinted and cited on the Internet; this may be the only information that many English-speaking readers have about Lacan’s life. Tallis’s version (1997: 20) is that “The brilliant ethnologist Lucien Sebag killed himself at 32 after having been discharged abruptly from treatment—because Lacan wanted to sleep with Sebag’s teenage daughter.” If Sebag had a teenage daughter I haven’t heard about her; since he died at thirty-one, he would have been a teenager himself when she was born. Note that one of Tallis’ favorite tactics is to accuse others of distorting the facts.

7. In a radio interview on Clastres’ book (Beaucage and Crépeau 2001), Robert Crépeau proposes that what Clastres presents as a constant desire for revenge on the part of the Aché, and of their spirits, might better be understood as a religion of sacrifice.

8. www.geocities.com/linaje79/.