Structuralism, deconstructionism, and post-structuralism
are the schools influential in this book.
Deconstructionism raised the problem of meaning.
It problematized interpretation. It thereby evoked hostility and
antagonism. Hermeneutics, the study of interpretation, was named
after the Greek trickster, Hermes. He is at the core of the problem
of meaning (and conversely, ambiguity).
Structuralism and deconstructionism have been applied
primarily to texts, but they are also relevant to the real world.
The linguistic root of these schools is always acknowledged, but the anthropological
root is rarely mentioned. Emile Durkheim influenced Ferdinand de
Saussure. The most eminent structuralist was anthropologist Claude
Deconstructionism and post-structuralism challenge
the Western conceits of objectivity and rationality. So-called “primitive”
views do also. The debates on totemism, magic, primitive classification,
and taboo were direct intellectual antecedents to structuralism.
The trickster is central to understanding those debates.
Magic (intentional use of paranormal phenomena) is a non-rational endeavor,
and it has side effects. When one enters a non-rational realm (e.g.,
deconstructionism) one may unknowingly encounter the trickster. Some
of his qualities were prominently on display in the lives of Paul de Man,
Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan, and Michel Foucault.
A few scholars have invoked the trickster for literary
theories, sometimes mentioning magical ideas.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s The Signifying Monkey
developed a theory of African-American literary criticism based on the
Yoruba trickster, Eshu, and the Ifa magical divination system. Though
Gates does not identify himself with deconstructionism, he drew upon its
ideas. He is one of few who has an appreciation for liminality and
Gerald Vizenor has extensive writings on the trickster
and deconstructionism. They have been described as “enigmatic, incomprehensible,
ambiguous, ambivalent” (Babcock & Cox, 1994). This is indeed
how the trickster appears to the modern Western mind. But Vizenor
knows that the trickster is actually “Life,” “Juice,” “Energy!" (Blaeser,
Both magic and meaning are found in the realm between
the signifier and signified, and it turns out that magic and meaning are
sometimes virtually identical. The betwixt and between is the domain
of the trickster.
For further explanation, see the description for Semiotics.