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Ambigere: The Euro-American Picaro and the Native American Trickster Author(s): Franchot Ballinger Source: MELUS, Vol.

17, No. 1, Native American Fiction: Myth and Criticism (Spring, 1991 Spring, 1992), pp. 21-38 Published by: The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States (MELUS) Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/467321 Accessed: 18/09/2008 19:13
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Ambigere: The Euro-American Picaro and The Native American Trickster

Franchot Ballinger
University Cincinnati of

The Trickster-incorrigible, insatiable,deceptive, comic and transforming-is a nearly ubiquitous figure in world triballiteratures.He seems to have an especiallyprominentposition in the oraltraditionsof Native Americans.The epithet Trickster also been applied to cerhas tain popular culture heroes and Euro-American literarycharactersas well: the Romanticoutlaw, the con man, and particularlythe fictional picaro. In fact, BarbaraBabcock-Abrahams explicitly associates the tricksterand the picaro,even assertingthat Trickstertales might well be termed "picaresque" (Tolerated159).In their Literature theAmeriof an canIndian, anthologyintendedto be a text,Sandersand Peek make a similarassociation(66).Tobe sure,therearegeneralsimilarities between Tricksterand the picaro that make them appear to be blood brothers: both areheroes of adventuresrecountedepisodically;both are roguish travelerswhose transgressionsagainstmoral and civil stricturesplace them in marginal relationship to their societies; both are said to be ambiguous figures; and both seem to serve satirical ends. However, there are such fundamental differences between the two, growing fromtheirrespectivecultures'ontologies,and, of course,socialconfigurations,thatthe similarities pale and it is clearthatwe arelooking at two differentcharacters. examining the common ground of their quite By I comedy, marginality,and "ambiguity," will contrastthe picaro and the trickster as to suggest how the latteris a distinctivedramatization so of the Native Americanview of life. Most importantly,we can see in the Native American tricksteran openness to life's multiplicity and moraltradition.1 paradoxes largelymissingin themodernEuro-American To begin then, perhaps the marginality of the charactersto their societies is the trait from which all others proceed. Certainly,in both Trickster tales and picaresquefiction,the fact that the protagonistslive at the edge of society's respectable environs (morally and in terms often of actual social status) or even act beyond such frontiers is the vehicle for much of the humor in the stories, but the characters' marginalityis of quite differentsorts and the humor is thus directed to different ends. In the picaresquenovel, society, not human society in
MELUS, Volume 17, Number I (Spring 1991-1992)



general but the author's contemporary society, is largely the object of satire. Unlike the trickster tales, which exist in the ahistorical world of myth, the picaresque novel treats the idiosyncrasies of an historical society. No matter how familiar to succeeding generations the novel's human types, foibles and vices might be, the novel exists because its author is at odds with his society, which has corrupted or lost essential values, generally ethical-social but also, especially in early examples, religious values. The picaro is then the means by which these values, their loss and society's responsibility in their loss are examined, and his marginality is the comic instrument by which that examination is completed. This young man (occasionally woman) usually (by the standards of society) of low birth or obscure origins (perhaps orphaned and thus without family status) and disreputable background travels about surviving by his wits, which often means living by begging, theft, deception and even, as in the case of Grimmelhausen's Corasche, sexuality.2 Thus the picaro is marginal because in background, behavior, values, personality he doesn't fit society's categories for respectable status. Even when, for one reason or another, the picaro acts within his society-with or without its consent-rather than at the fringes, he is marginal, for he is not permitted integration to its accepted moral structure. In any event, it is through the psychological distance afforded by such marginality that the picaro becomes the agent of satire. Actually, in the context of their marginality, there are two kinds of picaro, each satirizing society from a different perspective depending on the moral coloring each takes on. The first-favored particularly in early Spanish and German picaresque novels-is marginal because of his society's hypocrisy and self-delusion. Sharing with all men some intrinsic moral disorder, perhaps the pride of Original Sin, this picaro might be seen as a mirror of all that is worst in his society, but that society would have us believe that his sins are all his own and therefore casts him out. His adventures in the cracks and on the margins of society mirror the conflict between man's conscience and his desire for amoral freedom and, further, emphasize that the society of fallen humanity fails at its own ideals not because they are impossible of human achievement but because social man's venal perceptions and general concupiscence make attainable morality only a tartuffish vision. Guzman de Alfareche illustrates this picaro. The second picaro is probably more familiar to most readers. At least initially less tainted than the first (Roderick Random, for instance), this picaro also satirically reveals society's moral disorder and corruption from the margins, but as a foil rather than as a mirror. His society, too, is hypocritical and lives false values, but this picaro is marginal not because society refuses to acknowledge him as its moral scion but because his charac-



ter puts him at the margin. Many of this picaro's adventures may result from an innocent yielding to his own roguish but not evil nature: his spontaneous authenticity places him at the margin of a society which cannot tolerate genuine innocence and which brands him therefore as an incorrigible reprobate. Although his freedom from social canon may seem to be disorderly and to threaten all with disorder, he, in fact, represents a promise of a superior moral order and harmony. This second picaro is relatively blameless, perhaps even represents humanity as it was meant to be; his character is less suspect by authentic standards than society would have us believe. Society, on the other hand, is not blameless, and its character is ripe for questioning and satirization. It is in the ironic contrast between the ostensibly disreputable picaro beyond the pale and the safely ensconced social man that the author finds his satire. Although this picaro is sometimes corrupted by the deceitful world and comes to share certain of its values, even while he maintains his marginality, he illuminates society's dark corners so that what is disclosed remains as an after-image, regardless of his final status. In conclusion then, both picaros are marginal because their societies define them as such and the definition makes satire possible. The humor and marginality of the Native American trickster are directed quite differently. First, we should note that Trickster tales are not always satirical in ways they are claimed to be. Paul Radin says that some of the humor in the Winnebago Trickster cycle is satirically directed at ritual. If he meant by satire our usual use of the term (that is, the use of humor and irony to expose folly and vice so as to effect change in human behavior), we probably should not take him at his word. It is doubtful that even the most skeptical of storytellers believed that his entertainment could or ought to transform ritual or its mythic sources, that which belief and experience proved must be for the spiritual and physical well-being of humanity. Radin is on safer ground when he describes the stories as an "outlet for voicing protest against the many, often onerous obligations connected with the Winnebago social order and their religion and ritual" (152). One can certainly protest while still accepting the inevitability of that which is protested. (I shall have more to say on this subject in discussing Trickster's "ambiguity.") Ricketts argues also that trickster tales are satirical of the shamans, but a satirically antinomian Trickster is essential to his portrait of the figure as a kind of native secular humanist.3 Actually, there is no evidence beyond conjecture that the tales satirize shamanism, at least to the degree that Radin suggests and that Ricketts clearly asserts. (However, such popular motifs as The Eye-Juggler, the Sharpened Leg, the Bungling Host and others as well do suggest that ridicule is appropriate for those who would imitate without the right-



whether by initiation or sacred character-shamans or any other being with mysterious powers.4) While there may be some doubt about the degree and nature of satire in the trickster tales, there can be no doubt that there are burlesque and parody aplenty. The butt of such humor is Trickster himself and the trickster in all humans. In the picaresque novel, the marginality of the picaro, whether un-social or anti-social man, is part of the satirization of society. In the trickster tales, Trickster's marginality-the unsocialized man-is in various ways the object of humor. Unlike the picaro, Trickster's marginality is not due to an accident of birth or to the distorted moral assumptions about caste and propriety of a stratified society. Deirdre La Pin writes of the African Yoruba trickster, Tortoise, that his origin is "wholly obscure; and hence, for reasons of birth he is denied the social place and definition enjoyed by others. Without parents, he cannot claim the rights of family and property as a person who truly belongs" (330). The temptation to apply La Pin's characterization of Tortoise's social condition to the Native American trickster is great because he, too, is often of obscure origin and thus of unclear social status. Sometimes, however, as in the case of the Clackmas Chinook Coyote or the Winnebago trickster, Trickster is a headman of some sort, and so the terms of the social contract give him social standing, which, of course, he continually abuses. But even when his origins are murky, this trickster is not perceived as the social bastard, as is the picaro and, it seems, the Yoruba Tortoise. Actually any obscurity in the American Trickster's origins seems to function as an image of and not the cause of his marginality. Trickster's marginality is not to be understood, then, in terms of his status location in the social web. The Native American trickster is on or beyond the margin because of his character alone. Typically, Trickster.wanders from place to place-from one village to another or throughout the wilderness. This failure to "bond" physically to the established social order (of which he is often a member) corresponds to his failure to bond psychically to socialized humanity, for governed by instinct and dedicated to the self-indulgent pursuit of his own appetites as he is, he possesses none of the individual self-discipline and self-awareness that sustain social order and stability. This lascivious, gluttonous, arrogant, disobedient, greedy, cruel, reckless, lazy, clever, tricky, creative, transforming, funny fellow repeatedly manipulates and violates our conventional moral notions, unlike the picaro whose marginality is the consequence of the Catch 22's of his society's moral strictures and categories. Furthermore, rather than growing from the corruption of society (the picaro is part of the European tradition which sees corrupting influences in the civilized as opposed to the natural), Trickster's vices and follies are all his own.



Yet, we must recognize that his antisocial,insatiable,libidinous proclivities are in all humans at all times. He is, in the words of Karl all Luckert,an "archaic person"(7). To whatever degree satire is to be found in trickstertales, it is to be found in this fact. And so Tricksteris marginalin anothersense:his foolishbehaviorsets by negative example the marginswe must not pass, and our laughterlays the fences at this frontier.Although the humor of the tales is aimed at the protagonist,it is also a warning against imitating his ridiculous excesses, not that it does much good, for we share timelessly, ineradicably some of Trickster's inevitableabsurdityand fall prey repeatedlyto many of the same vices with consequences similar to those that befall him. As Radinconcludes, "Ifwe laugh at him, he grins at us. What happens to him happens to us" (169). But there is more to Trickster'smarginalitythan the surveying of
moral and social boundaries and laughter at one who transgresses them. Trickster also defines in many ways the limits and nature of our humanity, even while we laugh at him. For example, his paradoxical character is sometimes nothing less than a cartoon of our own paradoxical confrontation with our mortality. Never mind that unlike us he-immortal mortal-walks away laughing from his own brushes with mortality (his or another's) or that he somehow is repeatedly resurrected from various deaths to play the fool another day in another story; psychologically, he is mortal through and through. He can be simultaneously absurdly myopic and pathetic. In the story Ramsey titles "The Girl Who Married A Ghost," for example, the trickster Blue Jay is killed in a prairie fire when returning home from visiting his sister in the land of the dead. Returning among the ghosts, now as one of them, Blue Jay continues his high jinks, refusing to believe in the possibility of his own death (Coyote 161-65). Even in our amusement, however, we must feel a touch of pity for such blindness which fails to accept its own mortality, but we also recognize perhaps that it is selfpity we feel which turns the laughter on ourselves. In "Coyote In Love With a Star," Coyote is quite human in his tenacity, even if the desired one is a being beyond reasonable mortal desire. And when the star takes him into the sky with her, only to let him tumble to earth, we recognize that he has gotten his comeuppance once more for reaching beyond his limits, but with the acknowledgment that there is a twinge of regret that there must be such limits and that we must suffer because of them (Coyote 210-11). And finally, in "Coyote and the Shadow People," Coyote-failing to retrieve his wife from the land of the dead because as always his impatience makes following directions and self-discipline impossible-touches us nevertheless, for his lack of restraint grows from his all too human desire for his wife (Coyote 3337).



To sum up then, the European picaro's marginality is largely a matter of socially imposed definition; he is delimited by the codes and categories of his society. The picaro's fictional creator turns his character, this marginalia, into a satirical gloss on that corrupt society. Given these qualities, there is a disquieting mixture of cynicism and idealism in many stories of the European picaresque tradition. The Native American trickster, on the other hand, is inherently a marginal character; he is what all are at one time or another and what some are all the time, unsocialized or asocial humankind. The call and response of his undisciplined egocentricity and weak-willed flesh and our answering laughter define the psychic-moral limits and the nature of our humanity. The parody and paradox of trickster tales create laughter that is neither cynical nor idealistic, but rather cautionary and realistic in its expectations for man. In a general way, the comic treatment of the picaro's and the trickster's marginality as it relates to their fictional worlds and the moral worlds of their audiences appears to have at least one thing in common: in both we seem to experience what is generally termed ambiguity. In the picaresque tradition, this ambiguity is related to the interplay between fictional style and Euro-American moral categories.5 Early picaresque novels were often ambiguous in tone because of the conflict between the author's moral aims and the dictates of classical style. In such works as Roig's Lo Spill and Aleman's Guzman de Alfareche, the author's intentions are ostensibly moral, yet scenes of immorality are conveyed with a comic delectation that seems almost to negate any possibility of moral edification. Such ambiguity is a result of a doctrinaire adherence to the classical separation of styles in which the treatment of everyday low life subjects-whether social class, occupation or actions in real places-required the "low" style, in effect a comic style. Thus by definition the exploits of the low-born picaro on the fringes of society had to be treated comically. Having become part of the literary convention, this tendency to portray with diverting gusto the bawdier and more ribald aspects of the picaro's life continued. However, in the picaresque novel the life of "sin" is often more entertaining than the morality recommended to us. When we consider this stylistic convention in the context of the picaresque novel's traditional first person point of view, the ambiguity is intensified. Speaking in retrospect, the narrator recounts frankly, entertainingly, his disreputable past. On the one hand, the narrator's adventures, moral freedom and candor are attractive to the reader. On the other hand, the narrator seems "split between an experiencing 'I' [an 'I' still relishing its past] and a narrating 'I' [one ostensibly speaking from conversion]." There is a "radical estrangement between inner and outer man" so that his confession seems untrustworthy, "lurid,



voyeuristic" (Babcock-Abrahams, Liberty's 110). The tone of the confessions hardly seems appropriate for the born-again social sinner the narrator often represents himself to be. In both early and more recent picaresque novels, another central cause of ambiguity is the picaro's inversion of values. His life turns society's conventional moral categories topsy turvy so that the utility, if not the validity, of such distinctions becomes a matter of for debate. In El Buscon, example,evil is initiallyequated with unreality and deception with the real and normal. But... the reality that young Pablos confronts is so grotesque and deformed that he can only cope with this evil by assuming a role which is not a true one, by opting for Quevado raisesthe moraland unreality....Throughthis nondisjunction metaphysical question, "Whatdoes it mean to choose unreality with one's eyes open?"(Babcock-Abrahams, Liberty's 110) Similarly, Lazarillo de Tormes must adopt deception in order to survive his master's cruelty. A more familiar example for most American readers of the picaro adopting unreality as reality (although in this case unwittingly) and the further inversion of values is Huck Finn, with his "sound heart" and "deformed conscience," who in his acts of intrinsic goodness makes himself, society's criminal, into an inadvertent hero, in the process revealing the moral blindness of even those he loves and admires most. Such inversions join with the reader's perception that the picaro's "natural," perhaps even initially innocent, values seem more authentic than those of the reader's society. In those picaresque novels where the hero is somehow reintegrated into society, thus apparently confirming the reader's social and moral order, we might feel even that something valuable has been lost to the picaro and his society. Still, in the picaro's inversion of values, that life the reader lives is stripped and shown to be false. At any rate, its values are no longer so clearly defined and acceptable. All of this, of course, is part of the author's tactic of satirical questioning. But the picaro threatens our orderly world as he leads us to the suspicion that our moral categories are wrong because we have misconstrued reality and the nature of good. Much of the ambiguity of the picaresque novel is due then to the ambivalence of both creators and audiences toward this protagonist who is at the same time an attractive free spirit and a threat to the moral and social order to which all outside the novel subscribe. The picaro's life is one "that the social fabric can't survive without disintegration" (Babcock-Abrahams, Tolerated 154). Thus the picaro stimulates an uneasy polarization of values. But Euro-American, Christian culture survives by clear definition of categories. Indeed, the entire Christian conception of history-individual and cosmic-as a



struggle against the evil empire demands such definition. As Stanley Diamond points out, two works central to the Euro-American and Christian world view, the BookofJoband Plato's Republic, bent "upon are human ambivalence and social ambiguity" (xii-xiii). Miroslav denying Holub notes the same tendency in Christian culture in his poem, "The Last Judgement": In the landscape of chaos one-way streets are a real relief. In the landscape of extinction precision is more than godliness. (142-44) But, again, the marginal picaro creates ambiguity in a society that, like Othello, cannot endure ambiguity. To complicate matters more, the picaro himself sometimes displays ambivalence about the marginality of his or her life, for even while living at the fringes of society, the picaro may pursue many of the same values as society and repeatedly attempt accommodation, even if in some cases that means accepting what is most unsavory in society. Thus Gil Blas, the product of a respectable environment to begin with, ends up finally adopting the ideals of the eighteenth-century gentleman (Parker, 121-22). Moll Flanders achieves final gentility, although in the process losing much of herself (Michie 75-92). And even Huck Finn, although he intends to light out for the Territory, is still burdened by the baggage of his society's definitions. Finally, however, the picaro's society dominates, and one sometimes has the sense of having witnessed nothing more than a rite de passage to respectability. At the end of his journey, the picaro may appear to be, or may be in fact, unrepentantly at odds with society, but nevertheless submits to its rule. Tom Jones, for example, if we can classify him as a picaro, though essentially unchanged and winking every inch of the way, is brought back into the fold. Regardless of whatever affection for and imaginative identification with the picaro the reader might feel, the culture which gave the picaro birth demands such resolution, which is dramatized in the kinds of closure the picaresque novel uses. Babcock-Abrahams identifies three alternative endings for picaresque novels (Liberty's 111). The first two, marriage and punishment, including death, dramatize society's last word and the protagonist's integration. Gil Bias and Guzman provide examples of such closure. The third, a "to be continued" ending leaves matters somewhat more indecisive, as in El Buscon. (However, I believe that even in many of these there is evidence of moral closure.) In one way or another, then, at the conclusion of the picaresque novel, its protagonist often lives less or not at all on the margin.



Trickster, on the other hand, remains structurally and mythically marginal, "exploit[s] and make[s] permanent the liminal state of being," as Babcock-Abrahams says in another context (Liberty's 105). Except for some of those exasperating and long bewildering cases where Trickster makes a pitch at the last to be a culture hero, he survives only in a timeless irremediable marginality. This condition is reinforced by the absence of closure in most collections of trickster stories.6 Of course, the conditions of the oral tradition contribute to the absence of closure, just as the linearity of the literate tradition of which the picaresque novel is a part contributes to closure. Still the oral tradition does not preclude closure, as many stories demonstrate. There seems to be a kind of M6bius strip continuity about trickster cycles in the way that episodes can he told sequentially or picked up at any point in Trickster's career. This is appropriate for the kind of indeterminacy that Trickster's marginality represents. While "ambiguity" is the word found most frequently in discussions of Trickster's and the picaro's marginality, the truth of the matter is that, while we might use the same term for both, by no means are we talking about the same kind of character. As I've shown above, the ambiguity which attaches to the picaro is largely an effect of the society with which he is at odds. He is marginal because society classifies him as such. Rather than a tolerance for his behavior, society asserts a kind of control by classifying him, or more accurately, by denying him a place in any of its classes, hence making him marginal. Still, that society admiringly and enviously glances from the corner of the eye at the picaro's apparent freedom and joyous existence, which as stated above often spring from more authentic moral sources than society's values. This ambivalence generates a confusion in the beholder, a state of mind that is transferred to the beheld. Most of the ambiguity of the picaro, then, is in the eyes of society. It has little to do with the nature of the picaro himself. What we call ambiguity in Trickster, on the other hand, is part and parcel of the character himself. Mircea Eliade capsulizes the Native American trickster as "both intelligent and stupid, near the gods by his 'primordiality' and his powers, but even nearer men by his gluttonous hunger, his exorbitant sexuality, and his amorality" (157). To be sure, there is often an ambivalencesuggested in Native American attitudes toward Trickster. For instance, many (but not all) regard Trickster figures with mixed awe and amusement. When the Anishinabe listeners laughed at a trickster story, the story teller would interrupt himself to say, "Nanibozhu is also smiling and pleased because his great exploits are admired" (Chamberlin 195). Such irony points up the mixed nature of the Native American attitude. But the ambivalence is a response to what Trickster represents-that is, he indeed elicits am-



bivalence-rather than a confusion of moral judgement in the audience. One might argue that we can use such terms as ambivalenceand ambiguity in reference to Trickster only by applying Euro-American, especially Christian, moral assumptions. The denotative and connotative limitations of one culture's terms applied to another people's experiences and perceptions certainly raises that specter, as do our continued and repeatedly inconclusive attempts to arrive at some analytical and classificatory grasping of Trickster. We may be attempting for Trickster what the picaro's society accomplishes for him: prescription by taxonomy. Frequently, the discussion of Trickster's ambiguity is couched in the classificatory terms of dualism. Radin, for instance, trying to delineate the multifarious personality and role of Trickster is finally reduced to simply listing dualisms: "He became and remained everything to every man-god, animal, human being, hero, buffoon, he who was before good and evil, denier, affirmer, destroyer and creator" (169). Levi-Strauss, in a well-known characterization of Trickster, adopts a different strategy toward the dualistic when he calls Trickstera mediator who "occupies a position halfway between two polar terms" and who therefore "must retain something of that duality-namely an ambiguous and equivocal character" (441). No doubt, Trickster's contrariness encourages such attention to dualities. We find further encouragement in noting the prominence of various dualisms in Native American society and ceremonialism: moieties such as Winter and Summer People, religious dualities, Sun Father and Earth Mother, male rain and female rain, tree and rock. Still, focussing on contraries as dualism and taking our lead from ceremonialism when observing Trickster may be, arguably, one reason for our difficulties with comprehending him. Perhaps we are looking with the wrong eyes. In ceremony and social structure, the goal is to balance eternal forces and cosmic dualisms, or at other times to reinforce their complementarity, perhaps even to mediate them, but as Eliade says in another context, "what is true in eternity is not necessarily true in time" (167). We might rephrase this for Trickster as what is true in ceremony is not necessarily true in the exigencies of the human condition. The contrast here is between the promise of ritual to harmonize humanity with the order of cosmic life and the actualities of human experience. Coyote's role as marplot in the Maidu creation myth, as in others, reminds us that the grand design of the gods is not always of an appropriately human dimension, and it is Coyote who establishes the human realities of earthly life (Loeb 467-93). In other myths and ceremony, dualism (along with its foliation in the sacred directions) is the conceptual stuff of more than one model of cosmic order, to be



sure, but these models must compete existentially with the concrete, daily experience of paradox, precariousness and the threat of disorder. The truth is that the opposing forces of life aren't always and can't always be balanced. There are times when even the boundaries of the sacred directions seem inadequate to contain experience. There are finally times when life asserts itself over ritual. Trickster reminds us of all this by making us laugh at the patness of our beliefs. Ritual may be a model of belief; Trickster, on the other hand, is a comic dramatization of experience flying in the face of ritual. This is not to argue, as I believe Ricketts essentially does, that Native Americans were or are a sort of aboriginal humanists. At the same time, however, we should not assume that Native Americans were so enraptured by ritual and the hierophanies of their spiritual lives that they were anesthetized to other levels of experience. Rather, like the sacred clowns (whom we'll look at briefly later) Trickster reminds us (whether in mythic or nonmythic story) that there is another reality which must be taken into creative account along with the sacred, timeless, cosmic reality: that is, the human reality of the paradoxical here and now. (Babcock-Abraham calls Trickster "paradox personified," Tolerated 148.) It is no coincidence that, of all the mythic figures of various tribes, Trickster is the one shown by the oral tradition to be wandering about experiencing the twentieth century. More simply, and less conjecturally, it may be that we see in the dualistic approach to Trickster the influence of what Luckert calls "the matter/spirit dichotomy of the Indo-European worldview. Once an ontology has been cut into opposing halves, and once the parts have in a given language been named, speakers of that language will thenceforth have great difficulty thinking about that which was once an undivided whole" (4). In a similar vein, Melville Jacobs writes, "Elements that feel contradictory in Western Civilization were fused in normal Chinook personalities" (151). If Trickster seems to mediate between two poles only, if he seems a bundle of dualities, these appearances may be a consequence of our own misfiring perceptions. In our efforts to know something about Trickster, it might be best to forget our customary use of ambiguity as something with two or more meanings which, our culture biases tell us, must be resolved or "mediated" somehow. For Trickster there can never be resolution, no matter how many Euro-American scholars put their shoulders to the wheel. Like a subtatomic particle, Trickster never allows final definition of time, place and character. He never settles or shapes himself so as to allow closure, either fictional or moral. We may believe that we have somehow fixed him at one moment, but if we look from another angle, he's gone; if we ask a different question, we get a different answer which, we must confess, is conterminus with the first. It may be that



from the Native American view, Trickster is marginal not only in the sense that he refuses to abide by human moral and behavioral categories but also in the sense that he eludes all attempts to place him within the categories of definition and classification (especially in "either/or" or "both" terms). His "liminality" is inevitable, for he can never come in from the periphery, never allow himself stasis. Among the Dakotas, stories about the trickster Ikto traditionally ended with "And from then on, who knows where Ikto went next?" (Deloria 8). If we nonNative Americans are going to write and talk of Trickster's ambiguity, it might be well to remember-paradoxical though it seems-the term's English etymology: ambigere,from the Latin, to wander about. Trickster wanders beyond conventional order and among the many poles of the real world. To be sure, Euro-American picaros roam in their adventures, as do tribal tricksters from elsewhere, but in few of their stories is the liminal man's wandering as emphatic and as dominant a theme as in the Native American's adventures. Between villages, in the non-human realm throughout the wilderness-the Native American Trickster is the quintessential wanderer. We need only recall formulaic closings to stories, like that of the Dakotas above, or the equally formulaic openings to trickster episodes ("Coyote was going there") to understand the truth of this statement. And where Trickster wanders there is a mosaic of values and truths to experience, just as the Navaho patient's symbolic journey in a sing exposes him to the sources of complex universal spiritual powers. It is best to think of Trickster not as one who mediates bivalence (any stay-at-home can do this) but rather as one whose wanderings reveal to us multivalence, the "many-sidedness of what is."7 Similarly, Trickster's power to transform himself reinforces our perceptions of him as an image of many-sidedness . One brief example must suffice in explanation. The following episode is from the Gros Ventre oral tradition, but can be found in other versions among other tribes. "Nixant was traveling. As he went, he heard the noise of a sundance." Searching about for the source of the sounds, he discovers mice holding a dance in an elk skull. Commanding the hole through which he looked to enlarge, he puts his head in the skull, scattering the mice in the process, and becomes stuck in the skull. Unable to see, he stumbles off, bumping into trees (which identify themselves for him, thereby revealing that he is getting closer to the river) until he finally falls into the river. As he floats toward a camp, he frightens swimmers who think that he is a bax'aan (water monster). When Nixant says, "I allow only girls to get me," two girls wade in and catch the skull by the horns and pull him to shore. He grabs one of the girls and begins to have sex with her. Now aware of his identity, everyone else runs back to camp spreading the alarm that



Nixant is raping a virgin. The girl's mother runs to where Tricksteris violating the girl and begins pummeling him with a club. He merely laughs, proclaimingthat the blows make him thrustinto the girl more vigorously and that "theplace where you can kill me is in the middle of my head."The woman strikesthere,breakingthe skull. Nixant runs off pursued by all the women (Kroeber68-69). In this single episode, Tricksteraccomplishesthe following: 1. points up the moralthattherearelimitationsto what a particular person can do and that some behavior isn't appropriatefor a person (a large person shouldn't stick his head into a small hole); 2. warns against abusing one's powers for inappropriateand idle ends; 3. as a buffoon able to wield magic, blurs the boundariesbetween profane behavior and a shaman's sacred powers (which can be its own kind of sacredness,as in the behavior of ceremonial clowns); 4. teaches some naturalhistory regardingwater-loving trees; 5. ridicules human gullibility; 6. but at the same time, by inversion, reminds us that the mythic world interpenetratesthe world of human experience; 7. while also burlesquing stories of sexual union between mythic creaturesand humans; 8. parodies ritualistic and other restrictions placed on human contactwith spirits; 9. takes advantage of human belief to indulge his inordinate sexuality; 10. and, of course, amuses us. Experience,indeed, has many-sides and is a mosaic of values, not all of which fit the others quite neatly enough to satisfy the Euro-American thrust to certainty. An essential difference, then, between the Euro-Americanpicaro and the Native Americantricksterseems to be that the lattersuggests a higher tolerance for the indeterminate character of multi-valent reality, as representedby Trickster'sambiguity,that is, wandering. Babcock-Abrahams argues that Tricksterderives his power from his "ability to live interstitially"(Tolerated148). Such a description reminds us, of course, that Tricksteris the derelict of codified and conventionalized experience. But it may be closer to the truth to say thathe derives his power fromwandering in paradoxicalrealityrather than from living in the cracksof classificationwhere all the life can be squeezed from him. Saying that he lives interstitiallygives too much



to the classifications, for Trickster, like the picaro, is still at the mercy of moral parsings. Rather, say that, as he travels defying the norms, Trickster swallows all, classifications and cracks, in his ravenous and extravagant appetite for life. What makes Trickstermythically powerful is that he embodies all, reveals all raw reality. He has the power of reality in his hands, prodigal though he is, for like the sacred center, all flows into him and in his travels he touches all directions. Like any traveller, Trickster crosses boundaries, in his case from sheer self-indulgence. Often, he also wanders in an attempt to escape the consequences of that self-indulgence and the transgressions it leads to. And thus he often finds himself in circumstances ripe for new transgressions. His rule-breaking and common-sense-defying antics on his journeys keep him beyond the pale of conventional social and even natural order, and so his wandering confirms his marginality. Laura Makarius argues that Trickster's mythic power derives from such transgressions: he is the "magician violator of taboos," the "transgressor for the good of all," for his violations shape the world and bring power to man (Crime 671). As in the picaresque novels, Trickster's transgressions involve the inversion of accepted codes and categories, but in the trickster tales the inversions are often crucial to his shaping the worlds we live in, both natural and social. Repeatedly, Trickster's whims and caprices, his ungoverned appetites, his psychic disorder, lead to power, control and order regardless of his motive. His higgledy-piggledy way of going about things leads Ramsey (following Levi-Strauss) to call Trickster bricoleur,and his creation a bricolage,a piece of do-it-yourself work (Reading 41). Not a skilled craftsman, Trickster inverts all the customary rules in his haste to realize his designs, or simply on an improvisatory whim, and ends up with a new scheme of things. Hence, the scatalogical becomes the creative in one version of Nanibozhu's creation of the earth, for he makes earth to escape his own feces floating in the Deluge. In a Wasco tale, Trickster betrays his hunting partners, the wolves, by stranding them in the sky where they become part of the constellation we call the Big Dipper. Treachery, always a threat of disorder, ends in natural order. In a Navaho story (with variations in other tribes), the First People throw a hide scraper into the water, saying that if it floats people will not die. Coyote capriciously throws a stone which, sinking, negates the first act and guarantees that there will be death. In response to the People's anger, he rationalizes that the world would get too crowded without death, and a caprice rationalized becomes part of the natural order. But Trickster does more. As he violates the rules, as he gives free rein to his multifarious personality, and as he thus shapes the world, he also shapes human perception. The most significant creative power



he brings to humanityis vision, of the world and of self. His inversions realize the world and then establish the rich potential for human becomes a model of human possibility: action in that world. Trickster "If[Ma'i]did not do all those things [thegood, the foolish, the terrible], then those things would not be possible in the world,"Yellowmantold Toelken (8). Trickster frees man from the imaginative and moral impoverishment attending enslavement to codified and solidified thinking. Moreover,what is most significant about Coyote, Blue Jay, Raven, Wakdjunkaga,et al. in their trickster (as opposed to their transformer and social marauder) roles is that they manifest the trickinessof reality, whether naturalor social, and demonstratehow easily we aretakenin by our perceptions.In "TheCrimeof Manabozo," Laura Makarius states that the characteris rightly called Trickster because he "practicesthe essential trickof magical violation of taboo" (669). In this present context, I might also add that he practices the essential trickof violation of what appears-to-be. of In this respect,Trickster the fictionalcounterpart the ceremonial is sacredclowns.8Barbara Tedlockshows that in theircontraryand rulebreaking antics Native Americanclowns open people to "immediate experienceand so liberatehumans from conventionalnotions of what is sacred and dangerous in the religious ceremonies of men." They reveal creative variationsby transcendingconventional categories of buffoonery,for instance, thinking and morality.In their trickster-like Navaho and Pueblo clowns defy the formal outlines of ritualism and contributeto the creative power of the ceremony (105-11and Gill 7378). Further,their ugly, poor, bedraggled appearancebelies the terrifying power they possess. Similarly, the contrary behavior of the Heyoka, behavior which defies all definitions of "commonsense," conceals the fatal courage they possess. Finally,because the first koshariof Acoma was afraidof nothing and accepted nothing as sacred,he was allowed to be everywhere (Tedlock 110). Like these clowns, ubiquitous, traveling Tricksterbreaksthe rulesthroughcontrary behavior-his foolishnessinitially masking his power-and discloses for us the limits of perceived categories and the possibility of creative action even in a sometimes threateningworld. By contrast,because marginalityis not his but ratheris assigned to him and is of a different sort from Trickster's,the Euro-American picarocan never be truly mythic,if we mean by mythic that which is a creativemodel of the world and of value (as Trickstermost assuredly is in many ways). Thepicarochallengessocietyand offersthe possibility He of satiric correction,but beyond that he doesn't matter. embodies no statementsaboutthe people's physicalor psychic origins.He reacts to social reality but creates nothing. He doesn't define limits, but is



ratherdefined and perceivedthroughthe limits his society has already established. He can't be said to be a negative illustration of proper value or behavior, for the point of his story is that the society he challenges already provides its own negative examples. Ratherthan claims for Trickster, picaro the mediating, the power that Levi-Strauss himself is caught in a dualisticconfrontation between what may be his authenticvalues and those of the hypocriticalsociety that judges him. He provides no undeniable vision of things as they are. And finally, while his freedom may be tempting, it serves no power, no ends but his own; nothing changes because of that freedom. It is interesting that while the European folk tradition contains trickstersand stories aboutthem, none in the modem era achieved the popularity and promise of the Native American trickster.Certainly, none has the mythic significance of the North American character. None even exists with culturally specific identities as do Native American tricksters(and many other world tribal tricksters).To be sure, the picaro may he the literarydescendent of the folk tradition's tricksters,but he is no chip off the old block;the blood line has thinned considerably. He is the victim of the selective moral-ontological breeding attending the Western Judaeo-Christiansearch for moral certitude noted earlier in this paper. On the other hand, Trickster's blood is thick and vigorous yet, not only in himself, it would seem, but perhaps in other charactersin the Native American oral heritage. JaroldRamsey sees Tricksteras "conceptuallycentral"to native literature,as "the one native type whose protean nature seems capable of subsuming all other possible types sooner or later"(Reading25). It is possible one can see the family resemblancein such personages of the Native American oral tradition as the Navaho chantway heroes, the various Twin Heroes (the Zuni Ahayutta, the Kiowa Half-Boys, and Lodge-Boyand Thrown-Away)and others.But even without his relatives,Tricksterstands as powerful mythic testimony to the Native American's acknowledgment of the many-sidedness of human experience.
Notes 1. Some of the points I make about the Native American trickster in this paper could be made as well for tricksters of other oral traditions. I have tried, however, to emphasize those qualities which I believe to be unique to the American trickster. At this point, I should also note that throughout this paper I refer to Trickster in the masculine. There are relatively few female tricksters in the Native American oral tradition, just as there are relatively few female picaros in the Western tradition. For this reason, I have chosen masculine references over more awkward constructions. The relationship between the picaro's character and social status is often part of







6. 7.


the author's judgement of society. For complete treatments of such issues and the conventions of the picaresque novel see Christine Whitbourne's Knavesand Swindlers:Essays on the PicaresqueNovel in Europewhich has directed much that I say about the picaro in this paper. Speaking of humor in Nez Perce mythology, Dell Skeels makes a point that may be true of most trickster tales as well. Conscious satire is unusual, he says, no doubt because the "timeless quality" of mythology obviates its use for satirizing a present person, group or situation (62). In Zuni Mythology, Ruth Benedict refers to a Bungling Host tale which makes this point quite explicitly. Coyote tries to imitate Badger's sword swallowing trick. (The Badger clan was associated with the Lewekwe medicine society which practiced this trick.) When Coyote fails, cutting himself and bleeding, Badger says, "you don't belong to Lewekwe and you can't do that" (307-8). In the following discussion of the picaro, space requires that I focus on the tradition as a whole. I cannot treat variations or exceptions to my main points. In any event, it appears that most of the possible exceptions are contemporary works which might be only picaresque influenced and not strictly speaking part of the tradition. Parts of the following paragraph are based on Parker (121-22) and Christine Whitbourne, "Moral Ambiguity in the Spanish Tradition" (2-5). A possible exception might be Blowsnake's Trickster cycle as recorded by Radin, but as in other respects, here too the cycle is suspect. Robert Pelton has preceded me in using the term "multivalence" to express the concept of reality's many-sidedness which a trickster embodies, in The Trickster in West Africa: A Study of Mythic Irony and Sacred Delight. Luckert expresses something of the same idea in saying that the Navaho Coyote roams across many status levels (10). Makarius calls the sacred clown the "earthly counterpart" of Trickster ("Ritual Clowns and Symbolic Behavior" (46-47).

Theearlyresearch thisarticle theoriginal and for presentation which from thearticlewas developed undertaken theSummer 1983 duringA. were in of LaVonne on IndianLiteratures. thanks My RuoffsNEH Seminar American to the National Endowment the Humanitiesfor its supportand to for and direction. Ruoff hergenerous helpful Professor for
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