Lately I’ve been thinking about trickster spirits.
This past week I finished reading Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth and Art, which I’ve been absorbing slowly over the past few months. I don’t want to cheapen its depth and nuance by oversimplifying its arguments, but it does explore the mythologies of several trickster figures and how those mythologies inform and parallel the lives and methods of artists. Trickster figures have evolved in various cultures over time independently, but with strikingly similar qualities and stories: they live in the margins and by their wits, they move in between worlds and they subvert established laws for their own gains that nonetheless tend to change the overall status quo for the better. They provoke useful chaos, an elemental force the universe would seem to require in order to grow, break and remake. Across cultures and times, tricksters have emerged as beings both marginal and essential, beings who don’t belong while simultaneously providing the engine by which life continues.
In his book, Hyde brings these these qualities into the human realm by tying them to artists, the sort of people who exist on the edges of culture to challenge and change it—but I wonder if that energy can spread wider. Even in matters of regular life, I find I identify far more with a trickster than I do a hero or villain, or any other role laid out for us. It feels like our stories in recent times have flattened and polarized, and they have fewer joints at which ambiguity, subtlety and surprise can work. The trickster stories are nothing but joints, points at which fortunes turn and cleverness is worth more than strength. It makes me think that the spirit of the trickster could be a useful tool for anyone who feels betwixt and between, stuck in transition, no longer in one space or identity or understanding but not yet settled in another. It might be not that someone doesn’t belong or is in the wrong place. It might be that a little chaos is needed to propel them to something else. Maybe the trickster gives license to be a little craftier, a little wilier, a little more unpredictable, in order to find the holes and pores of an unjustly unfavorable world and slip through.
So if we have to just get by these days in whatever way that works, we can do it with some gleeful trickster chaos energy. It might be more fun. It will, at least, make for a better story, in the end.
In podcast news, this Sunday Quiet Little Horrors drops June’s mini episode on Rosemary’s Baby, as a prelude to our full-length episode Images. Available on your favorite podcatchers.
It’s a day that ends with a “y,” so that means it’s a day for more celebration of Jennifer’s Body.
- Angel Heart has been on my watchlist for a while and I knew it was some sort of horror/noir oddity. It just hit Amazon Prime so I took the opportunity to watch it, and it is definitely a horror/noir oddity. It’s stylish almost to a fault and unsubtle in its metaphors, but it mostly powers through on the courage of its convictions. If you like weird noir and/or character-driven horror, this is pretty much a necessity.
- I would recommend Mare of Easttown except 1) I doubt you need my recommendation, and 2) I was left largely unaffected by it. I think I’ve taken in too many “emotionally struggling rogue detective solving a heart-wrenching murder case” stories at this point. I’m slightly bored by them. But this one does what it does well.
- The Criterion Channel now has a collection of short films by my favorite outsider horror director Curtis Harrington. (I’m currently formulating a project about Harrington, so if you’re into these films stay tuned.)
Embrace some minor chaos.
This week’s quote is from Chaung Tzu: “The fish trap exists because of the fish; once you’ve gotten the fish, you can forget the trap …. Words exist because of meaning; once you’ve gotten the meaning, you can forget the trap.”