Mythic trickster narrative: Articulating the ‘truth’

Tricksters are known for telling great lies that contain a good deal of truth, but to understand their craft we must get past easy opposites that would differentiate falsity from veracity in the simple sense of contradicting truth. For what the trickster accomplishes in a “lie” is the subtle disruption of boundary markers erected to mark off the line between what passes as reason and fantasy. Rather than simply transgressing truth boundaries trickster artists call into question “assumptions about how the world is divided up” and skillfully remake “truth” on their own flexible terms (Hyde, Trickster Makes This World, p. 72).

Take the confidence man for instance, the covert American “reborn trickster” hero who gains the trust of others only to con them. Even though he violates the legal order he also “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)” (Ibid., p. 11).

Tricksters thus are a cut-above the common thief and liar; while they might appear to be foolish or clownish they certainly are not bereft of intelligence. This is because trickster is of two minds, at home in a neutral state of things, in contrast to criminals who merely violate previously decided rules (Ibid., p. 70). As a result of challenging culturally biased assumptions surrounding modern binaries and patriarchal mechanisms of sacrifice, for example, tricksters extricate themselves and others from some cultural traps, shed a crack of light on the ambivalent limbo of reality and create a few alternatives.

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