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Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth and Art Paperback – August 17, 2010
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“[A] hymn to the gods of mischief, who are also the gods of artistic and cultural renewal.” ―Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
“A major work of scholarship that is also a major work of art.” ―Sacvan Bercovitch, Harvard University
“Brilliant . . . By the time [Hyde] is done he has folded language culture, and the very habit of being human into his ken.” ―The New Yorker
“Hyde is one of our true superstars of nonfiction.” ―David Foster Wallace
“[Trickster Makes This World] should be ready by anyone interested in the grand and squalid matter of all things human.” ―Margaret Atwood, Los Angeles Times
About the Author
Lewis Hyde is the author of The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property and Common as Air (FSG, 2010). A MacArthur Fellow and former director of creative writing at Harvard, he is currently Luce Professor of Art and Politics at Kenyon College.
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However, how is trickster embodied in our heroes? This is the question that causes Mr. Hyde to go on a quest to find important historic personalities that portrayed the trait of the trickster. Through case studies of the lives of Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Allen Ginsberg, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Frederick Douglas; Mr. Hyde demonstrates the traits of trickster at work historically. Offering us readers biographies of each of these figures lives he shows how they were boundary crossers as well as cultural transformers. For anyone who has studied biographies on these celebrities, Mr. Hyde doesn’t offer much new revelatory information. What he does do is re-weave what is known about these heroes to demonstrate how they contested and transformed the times that they were in.
For me, the case studies of John Cage, and Frederick Douglas were the most memorable, especially Frederick Douglas. I learned new information about Frederick Douglas that I had not been privy to previously. For instance, besides being part African American, and part Scotch, Frederick Douglas also had some Native American ancestry through his grandmother. This is important information because the life of Frederick Douglas was about crossing the color line in a society that forced people to be identified as merely ‘black’ or ‘white’. This color line was in place to justify the institution of slavery, and it’s ‘racialization’. Through contesting racial categories, Frederick Douglas was forcing people to rethink their ideas about race.
So was Frederick Douglas Scotch-European? Native American? African American? Society defined him merely based on the color of his skin, and it was this definition that Frederick Douglas contested throughout his life. The stakes were high, as a whole group of people were relegated to slavery merely because of their skin color, their diverse ancestries disregarded by society’s need for free labor. Ahead of his times, Frederick Douglas assisted in drawing the lines of debates about race that continue to this day, demonstrating trickster’s transformative powers.
As a child I enjoyed reading the trickster stories of Brer Rabbit, Raven, Coyote, and Spider. Yet, I never thought about their application to real life. The value of Mr. Hyde’s study on the trickster is that it demonstrates this archetype in real life and his cultural necessity; for Trickster, in whatever form he manifests, compels us to question the values and beliefs that we take for granted. Culture is organic. If it does not grow then it slowly perishes. The questioning that trickster figures force us to undertake helps to maintain our cultural vitality. If a reader takes anything away from this book, I hope that they take away this point.
Trickster still makes this world; and this book is a masterful manifestation of how it is & has always been done.
Difficult to put down; though I finished it the first time over a year ago, this memory is as fresh as this afternoon's late lunch.
Most recent customer reviews
That said, I felt the book could've been better organized