Claude Lévi-Strauss—the man who has created anthropology as a total occupation, involving a spiritual commitment like that of the creative artist or the adventurer or the psychoanalyst—is no man of letters. Most of his writings are scholarly, and he has always been associated with the academic world. Since 1960 he has held a very grand academic post, the newly created chair of social anthropology at the Collège de France, and heads a large and richly endowed research institute. But his academic eminence and ability to dispense patronage are scarcely adequate measures of the formidable position he occupies in French intellectual life today. In France, where there is more awareness of the adventure, the risk involved in intelligence, a man can be both a specialist and the subject of general and intelligent interest and controversy. Hardly a month passes in France without a major article in some serious literary journal, or an important public lecture, extolling or damning the ideas and influence of Lévi-Strauss. Apart from the tireless Sartre and the virtually silent Malraux, he must be the most interesting intellectual figure in France today.
more from Sontag’s 1963 essay in the NYRB here.