Trickster Makes This World, by Lewis Hyde

Trickster Makes This World, by Lewis Hyde

These are scattered thoughts I had while I was reading the book Trickster Makes This World, by Lewis Hyde, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Hyde has the trick of the great mythologists of drawing out all sorts of information about culture and mores from reading a myth, and his ability to synthesize this information is just astonishing. Unfortunately, for some reason, I stopped taking notes (or I lost them) in the second half of the book. Oh well, I'll just have to re-read it at some point.

"I not only want to describe the imagination figured in the trickster myth, I want to argue a paradox that the myth asserts: that the origins, liveliness, and durability of cultures require that there be space for figures whose function is to uncover and disrupt the very things the cultures are based on." p. 9

This sounds exactly like Pirsig's point about Dynamic Quality from Lila. Cultures are embodiments of static quality, but without the impetus of dynamic quality pushing them forward, they become stale, and fossilized. It makes a lot of sense that the trickster myth would be identified with dynamic quality - Hyde also identifies the trickster as being not only a boundary crosser, but often a boundary-creator.

"I work by juxtaposition, holding the trickster stories up against specific cases of the imagination in action, hoping that each might illuminate the other. If the method works, it is not because I have uncovered the true story behind a particular work of art but more simply that the coincidences are fruitful, making us think and see again." p.14

I just like how he puts this. He states the the Trickster myth does the job of illumination by making us see the world afresh. It confirms for me the idea that there are no absolute truths, just different perspectives, and that the relationship of ideas is very powerful for that reason. The association and juxtaposition of ideas across subjects is thus one of the most valuable tasks we can perform (he says, being committed to doing that himself).

"Each of these tales has a predator-prey relationship in it - the fish and the fishermen, for example - but the bait thief doesn't enter directly into that oppositional eating game. A parasite or epizoon, he feeds his belly while standing just oustide the conflict between hunter and hunted. From that position the bait thief becomes a kind of critic of the usual rules of the eating game and as such subverts them, so that traps he has visited lose their influence." p. 22

For some reason (possibly because of the earlier connection), this evoked images of Pirsig's metaphysics. The trickster standing beyond the encompassing predator-prey relationship feels to me very much like Pirsig's Quality standing beyond the subject-object duality. And, as such, it gives the observer a place to stand to comment on the typical relationship without perforce being part of it. Hence, Hyde's description of the experienced coyotes who dig up traps and defecate upon them is metaphorically similar to Phaedrus thumbing his nose at centuries of metaphysical thought by putting Quality above the subject-object duality.

"A first answer might be that whoever has no way but is a successful imitator will have, in the end, a repertoire of ways." p. 43

Herman Melville's novel "The Confidence-Man" p. 53

"With some polytropic characters it is possible that there is no real self behind the shifting masks, or that the real self lies exactly there, in the moving surfaces and not beneath." p.54

aka "Can you see the real me, can you, can you?" So how does this apply to me? By having many faces to many people, where lies the real self?

Umberto Eco in "A Theory of Semiotics":
"Thus semiotics is in principle the discipline studying everything which can be used in order to lie. If something cannot be used to tell a lie, conversely it cannot be used to tell the truth: it cannot in fact be used "to tell" at all." p. 60

Speaking of the first lie of childhood:
"We may not actually doubt the reality of our parents' world, but still, a lie is a bit of an experiment with its solidity, an artificial world sent out to see if it can blend in and survive. If it can, the authority of the "real" may be shaken slightly and the first lie ring an early awareness of artifice." p. 64

The first chance to penetrate beneath the simple reality of the world, and realize that you can change the reality you live in.

Odysseus and the oar/winnowing fan (changes function with location):
"...only the person who has traveled (in fact or in mind) can realize that the meaning of an object (or a word) is connected to its location or context." p. 65

Ding ding. There is no meaning without context. Everything is relative. Trickster shows us meaning by moving things from their normal context, juxtaposing and creating new meaning.

"...a prohibition on theft is an attempt to constrain meaning, to stop its multiplication, to preserve an "essence," the "natural," the "real."" p. 65

This reminds me of something but I'm blanking on what. Pirsig maybe talking about how Dynamic Quality can not be fenced in?

How the very act of prevention imbues the act with meaning. As Hyde said elsewhere, without theft, there could be no meaning, because then there would be no change of context when the item is moved. If it were not forbidden, it would be meaningless - this seems like a reflection of human nature - the grass is always greener kinda thing. Prevention is the beginning of creativity (via Dealers of Lightning, talking about PARC - they were told not to buy a PDP-10, so they built their own). Or in Hyde's terms, the trickster and the first lie - or speaking of a child, "...she is in that world as an independent creator, setting out to make meaning on her own terms, not subject to the prohibitions that preceded her..." p. 65

In other words, reality is what you make of it.
"There is no spoon" cf. The Matrix.

"Anyone whose lies merely contradict the truth is still part of a game whose rules have preceded him; he or she merely inverts the case, offering not-A in place of A. The problem is to make a "lie" that cancels the opposition and so holds the possibility of new worlds." p. 70

This is the key. I'm not playing your game at all - I'm playing my own. There are always more than two choices - you just don't see it yet, and the trickster is here to bend your mind. This is totally where I want to be. I think this is part of why I like playing word games, and why I like doing free association in conversation - like Hyde, I'm juxtaposing disparate objects to see if by holding them on top of each other, I can create insight. It doesn't always work, but it's the place where I'd like to be.

"One of the West African tricksters, Legba, has been well described in this regard as "a mediator" who works "by means of a lie that is really a truth, a deception that is in fact a revelation."" p. 72

cultural webs: "Typically, such webs of signification are built around sets of opposites: fat and thin, slave and free...What tricksters sometimes do is to disturb these pairs and thus disturb the web itself." p. 72

Card in Xenocide: "Madness, and then illumination"
Only through confusing the issue can we see it clearer.

"He leaves what Theodore Roethke called "the weary dance of opposites" and finds a third thing." p. 73

Hunter S. Thompson: You must find a NINTH way.

"For those epi-predators who work with the signifiers themselves rather than the things they supposedly signify, language is not a medium that helps us see the true, the real, the natural. Language is a tool assembled by creatures with "no way" trying to make a world that will satisfy their needs; it is a tool those same creatures can disassemble if it fails them." p. 75

Language is a plaything - it is signifiers, not the "real", if such a thing exists. It may even be a reflection of reality, which we can warp in different ways to create new realities, or new impressions of it at least.

Nietzsche: "[the truth is] a mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, anthropomorphisms, in short, a sum of human relations which were poetically and rhetorically heightened, transferred, and adorned, and after long use seem solid, canonical, and binding to a nation. Truths are illusions about which it has been forgotten that they _are_ illusions." Hyde, p. 77

what more is there to be said?

Wilde: "beautiful untrue things"

Maybe it's my tendency to get sucked into the last thing I read, but this trickster thing is really attracting me. I want to play this role of mixing up the boundaries, finding truth by rejecting duality, etc. Language is just a tool, like any other, except this one can be used to mess with people's reality. Need to study more Semiotics. Reality is a fragile concept; most people live in a solid reality, surviving on instinct alone. Their way is not my way. Like the trickster, who has "no way", and yet all ways, I want to survey all the possibilities, and then synthesize the most useful to me. There is no truth - there is only useful and not useful. (non-Euclidean geometry is brought to mind - What is true, or "real" - Cartesian or polar, Riemann or Euclidean - None of these are true, but all can be useful in the right situation). Hopscotching along in the spaces where normal people don't tread for fear of disrupting their own realities is right where I want to be.

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