Not since Clifford Geertz’s “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight” has the publication of an anthropological analysis been as eagerly awaited as this book, Terence S. Turner’s The Fire of the Jaguar. His reanalysis of the famous myth from the Kayapo people of Brazil was anticipated as an exemplar of a new, dynamic, materialist, action-oriented structuralism, one very different from the kind made famous by Claude Lévi-Strauss. But the study never fully materialized. Now, with this volume, it has arrived, bringing with it powerful new insights that challenge the way we think about structuralism, its legacy, and the reasons we have moved away from it.
In these chapters, Turner carries out one of the richest and most sustained analysis of a single myth ever conducted. Turner places the “Fire of the Jaguar” myth in the full context of Kayapo society and culture and shows how it became both an origin tale and model for the work of socialization, which is the primary form of productive labor in Kayapo society. A posthumous tribute to Turner’s theoretical erudition, ethnographic rigor, and respect for Amazonian indigenous lifeworlds, this book brings this fascinating Kayapo myth alive for new generations of anthropologists. Accompanied with some of Turner’s related pieces on Kayapo cosmology, this book is at once a richly literary work and an illuminating meditation on the process of creativity itself.