The trickster is one of my favorite mythological archetypes, with his humorous ways of outsmarting the powerful. He is also a character that I study. Tricksters are often misunderstood as impish thieving devils who do more harm than good. However, it is often through their thievery that humans are liberated—Prometheus, who stole from the gods, brought fire to humanity, and Raven, who stole light from an old man, brought light to the world.
Gerald Vizenor, Distinguished Professor of American Studies at The University of New Mexico, is a scholar in the realm of Native American trickster figures and has written not only novels about the figure in a modern context, but academic texts as well. I am currently reading The Trickster of Liberty: Native Heirs to a Wild Baronage, a series of short stories. In the Prologue, Vizenor explains the trickster trope and its place and function in today’s world:
Jacques Lacan reasoned that what arises in language returns to language; words are ambiguous. ‘The word never has only one use,’ he said at a seminar. ‘Every word always has a beyond, sustains several meanings. Behind what discourse says, there is what it means . . . and behind what it wants to say there is another meaning, and this process will never be exhausted.’ Words, then, are metaphors and the trickster is a comic holotrope, an interior landscape ‘behind what discourse says.’ The trick, in seven words, is to elude historicism, racial representations, and remain historical. The author cedes the landscape to the reader and then dies, the narrators bear the schemes, bodies are wild, and the trickster liberates the ind in comic discourse.
In Vizenor stories, trickster is playing the language game to tell us tribal history, the light of the world for some and for others, tales that they would prefer remain in darkness.
—Rachael Benavidez, Associate Editor