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Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art Paperback – February 16, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

A model of rangy, creative, but not far-fetched interpretation, in this case of a common mythological archetype, the shifty trickster. With often inspired readings of a variety of myths, including the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, North American tales of Raven and Coyote, myths of the Yoruba god Eshu and the Norse god Loki, Hyde (Art and Politics/Kenyon Coll.; The Gift, 1983) delineates some of their common themes: voracious appetite, ingenious theft, deceit, opportunism, and shamelessness. Through such themes trickster tales dramatize a mythic consciousness of accident and contingency (supplementing fate), moral ambiguity, foolishness, and transgression--in other words, the world as it is, rather than the way it may originally have been intended by the more senior gods. While careful to note that tricksters are heroes in a symbolic, imagined world and fixtures of wider polytheistic moral orders, Hyde ultimately identifies the trickster's crucial role as boundary-crosser with the provoking one often taken up by the artist in modern times. Without ever being heavy-handed about universal archetypes, Hyde uses such examples as Marcel Duchamp, Allen Ginsberg, and Maxine Hong Kingston, vividly illustrating the ``trickster consciousness'' as a vital component of human imagination. His choice of the fiery 19th-century African-American orator Frederick Douglass may at first seem puzzling in this regard. But in light of the real-life gravity of the ``boudaries'' Douglass crossed, and the ingenuity with which he did so, Hyde's example makes sense. Indeed, with his clever interpretive skills and his eye for the meaning-rich detail, Hyde brightly illuminates the ways in which his examples struggled to subvert such seemingly intractable elements as the defintion of art or slavery and segregation. Eclectic and cunning in its own connections, Hyde's wandering journey through cultures shows him to be nearly as versatile and ingenious as that master trickster, Odysseus. (illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Persuasively celebrates the need for the kind of paintings, music, books and ideas that society initially finds unpleasant...[A] hymn to the gods of mischief, who are also the gods of artistic and cultural renewal."--Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

"Hyde is one of our true superstars of nonfiction."--David Foster Wallace

"Brilliant...By the time he is done he has folded language, culture, and the very habit of being human into his ken."--The New Yorker

"A major work of scholarship that is also a major work of art."--Sacvan Bercovitch, Harvard University

"[Trickster] should be ready by anyone interested in the grand and squalid matter of all things human..."--Margaret Atwood, Los Angeles Times

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: North Point Press (February 16, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865475369
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865475366
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,295,722 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Lleu Christopher on November 30, 2002
Format: Paperback
The Trickster is a mythological or archetypal character found in stories throughout the world. The best known in Western myth are Hermes and Loki. In this fascinating study, Lewis Hyde gives equal time to the Native American Coyote, the Chinese Monkey King and India's Krishna. At first glance, these characters are merely pranksters; humorous, sometimes annoying and occasionally dangerous ne'er do wells who disrupt the normal flow of things. As the title of this book suggests, Hyde believes tricksters are much more than this. He makes a convincing case that tricksters are essential in both preserving and transforming societies. Without their disruptions, cultural stagnation would result. He points out that tricksters can either help to maintain the status quo or bring about radical transformation. An example of the former case is illustrated by carnivals such as Mardi Gras, where social customs are predictably and temporarily ignored or reversed. This allows people to vent their frustrations and unleash their inhibitions before returning to normal life. Hyde mentions the abolishionist Frederick Douglas as an example of the more radical sort of trickster who brings about permanent change. Within the institution of slavery, slaves were allowed one week of freedom and revelry. Douglas was not satisfied with this; he wanted to completely overhaul the status quo and indeed helped to accomplish this. Trickster Makes this World describes the antics of both actual (e.g. Douglas, the artist Marcel Duchamp) and mythic (e.g. Hermes, Coyote, Krishna) tricksters. This, of course, suggests a worldview similar to that of Joseph Campbell and others, who see the mythic as the foundation of real life.Read more ›
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47 of 48 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
A brilliantly written, funny and moving book--filled with substantial scholarship and honest about its own stakes.
To tell you the truth, I was moved to write this review by the two reviews below, both of which fall pretty wide of the mark. First, this is an amazingly well-written book, and that goes for both Hyde's prose style and his winding structure. His reflections of his own project do not upstage the subject matter but rather deepen and situate it in "time-haunted history." I wonder why anyone would expect or want a book about tricksters to be linear and transparent. By this I don't mean to suggest that Hyde is exactly "performing" the trickster in his writing. He announces his approach perfectly well: Saturn dreams of Mercury.
I suspect that this book will frustrate all species of lazy reader because it asks for a sustained, continuous, and thorough reading. All the chapters are rewarding individually, but they are best read sequentially. If you want to be able to look at a table of contents and pick one or two chapters by topic, find a doctoral thesis, or a utilitarian academic monograph.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is an extraordinarily well-written and perceptive book that examines the Trickster archetype in depth with wit, imagination, and an appreciation for the vagaries of life. One of Hyde's strengths is his ability to untangle the common threads in such diverse areas as Native American mythology, African divination, the art of Marcel Duchamp, the chance-based music of John Cage, and the life and thought of Frederick Douglas. As its subtitle implies, it is weighted heavily towards "culture work" (myth, literature, art, storytelling, etc.) and does not really explore the social territory of the Trickster-- the domain of cons, grifters, snake-oil salesmen, chain-letter writers, illusionists, pranksters, and scam artists of all stripes. But given that the 20th century Western art world was largely dominated by a succession of Trickster figures, this book is a useful antidote to the hoary idea of art as simply a harmonious search for beauty or a form of self-expression that somehow takes place in a vacuum, unhindered by cultural constraints. I suspect that, in keeping with its subject matter, this book is likely to engender a deep sense of anxiety in some readers, while coming to others as a breath of fresh air.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By David Petry on July 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book, like the myths it describes, is an interpretation. It is one man's exploration of his own exploration of the trickster myths. True, some of the tricksters he indentifies don't live up to his own definition; and true, his own definition is elastic. The structure of the book is a bit circular and tangential, not the most eloquently structured thing I've read. But... the book is also full of insights about how we erect a world, both in story and in fact. It makes distinctions that, as other reviewers have said, are glaringly obvious once you've read them, but were somehow beyond the pale before you read the book.
I've not yet read The Gift, though I did purchase it after reading half-way through this book. I found "Trickster" inspiring and insightful, often funny, always surprising.
Hyde does not promise us a scholarly dissection, which, when you consider that we're talking about myths, is entirely appropriate. His writing, even when he takes us on tangents, is fluid and clear. He's someone I'd want to have dinner with, maybe once a month or so, just to hear where his thinking is going and where it's been.
Read the excerpt. See for yourself.
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