Trickster ethics, Richler and King fiddling

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Author: David Heinimann
Date: Sept. 2004
From: English Studies in Canada(Vol. 30, Issue 3)
Publisher: Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English
Document Type: Article
Length: 6,499 words

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THE CONTEMPORARY TRICKSTER is the closest to a postmodern, postcolonial persona we have in literature. Representing both the play and the politics of current fiction, the trickster can permit a new narrative route to problems that range from legitimacy of voice to canonicity. I want here to construct the figurative relationship between reader and work that I call trickster ethics. The new emphasis on ethics in literature demonstrates a turn from theory to conduct and performance. I do not see this turn as a new moralism, however; pluralism has discredited prescriptiveness. Ethics now emphasizes a closer understanding of how to describe the ethos of the subject, as Wayne C. Booth, Charles Taylor, and Richard Rorty, among others, have shown. Under the influence of postmodernism and postcolonialism, our own subjectivity inscribes our critical positions as never before. The most valued critique becomes a congruently mixed metaphor of one's own subjectivity and the exclusionary status of the object studied. We have made ourselves metonymies of the politics and stylistics of the literature we admire--and, of course, anti-types of the literature we loathe.

Mordecai Richler's Solomon Gursky Was Here and Thomas King's Green Grass, Running Water are exemplary texts through which to demonstrate the trickster ethic. They will illustrate my development of the trickster persona (which I shall gender male; though as important, there are fewer female tricksters, and "it" denies the human element). Both Richler and King raise issues and questions relevant to our current and historical ethical relationship to alterity, and as minority writers--Richler Jewish, King mixed race but emphasizing his First Nation's heritage--they do so from the position of the now privileged outsider. But they also upset that position in the way Naipaul does with his mimic men, writing parody rather than praise. It is that upset, that trickster play, that I believe defines the persona--the off spring?--of the cohabitation of postmodernism and postcolonialism. Dee Horne alluded to this cohabitation in King's novel in her analysis of its "creative hybridization," combining satire and postcolonial interaction between cultures (257; I continue her consideration in a cross-cultural context to describe a universal trickster. In my description, moreover, the phenomenon of return that Mircea Eliade elaborated encodes the helix of this character. If repetition is about inculcation, then we can say that this trickster ethic, this "pomoco" off spring (postmodernism + postcolonialism), is a didactic literature deeply concerned with alternative ways of showing us the recurring problems we encounter in the recognition and accommodation of alterity.

I: Ethics in the Pomoco World

A survey of ethics in literature presents a troubled field. Historical and cultural difference prohibits general agreement as to what is a suitable ethics and how to constitute it. Postmodernism and postcolonialism both inspire and frustrate attempts to prescribe an ethics of salvation, yet the paradox of postmodernism and postcolonialism is that salvation is not found in its pursuit but rather in ignoring it: pursuit means following the path of prescription and then scapegoating when the path is inevitably discovered to...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A169457885