Monday, December 22, 2008

Reflections: Truckin' and Scroogin'

Bah. Humbug. I was planning to put up a rant today about how little I am able to get into the Christmas spirit as chaos reigns and the situation careens from bad to worse--with the global economy spearheading the rush. But I have decided against it. I’ll save that for a New Year’s summary of some kind. For the time being, I will just keep on keepin’ on. You won’t, however, be seeing any faux yuletide cheer on Rodak Riffs this year.

Yesterday I started reading a book that I saw mentioned in an article about its author as a title has been widely read among a group of writers whom I admire, and consequently borrowed from the library: Trickster Makes This World by Lewis Hyde.

Trickster is a mythological archetype that plays a role in the story-telling of virtually all polytheistic cultures from the dawn of time. In Greek mythology, for instance, that role is played by the god Hermes. In Native American culture, the trickster is variously called Coyote, or Raven. In some cultures trickster is a god, in others a wily animal, or a tiny human-like character; but in all he plays a similar role.

In his introduction to Trickster Makes This World, Hyde states his central thesis as being the idea 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 that cultures are based on.” Hyde states that he will essay “to give some sense of how this can be, how social life can depend on treating antisocial characters as part of the sacred.” I find this to be an interesting concept to explore and Hyde’s many supporting examples from world folklore and myth are a delight to anyone interested in the contemplation of those things which are essentially and universally human.

Hyde quotes anthropologist Paul Radin, who provides the following characterization of trickster:

Trickster is at one and the same time creator and destroyer, giver and negator, he who dupes and who is always duped himself…. He knows neither good nor evil yet he is responsible for both. He possesses no values, moral or social…yet through his actions all values come into being.

Bugs Bunny comes immediately to mind as a contemporary American trickster.

Trickster Makes This World was published in 1998. But working with Radin’s definition, Hyde makes the following observation on possible manifestations of trickster in the modern world which might well have been inspired by current events:

XX "In America, one likely candidate for the protagonist of a reborn trickster myth is the confidence man, especially as he appears in literature and film (most actual confidence men don’t have the range of imaginary ones, and come to sadder ends). Some have even argued that the confidence man is a covert American hero. We enjoy it when he comes to town, even if a few people get their bank accounts drained, because he embodies things that are actually true about America but cannot be openly declared (as, for example, the degree to which capitalism lets us steal from our neighbors, or the degree to which institutions like the stock market require the same kind of confidence that criminal con men need).
XX "If the confidence man is one of America’s unacknowledged founding fathers, then instead of saying that there are no modern tricksters one could argue the opposite: trickster is everywhere."

Did I hear somebody say “Enron”? Do de name “Bernard Madoff” ring a bell?

Yo! Merry Christmas, suckers!