Transcription of a Mythic Journeys '06 Panel Discussion
By Brenda Sutton
William Doty is Professor Emeritus of Humanities and Religious Studies at the University of Alabama and former editor of Mythosphere: A Journal for Image, Myth, and Symbol. His best-known books include Mythography: The Study of Myths and Rituals, Myths of Masculinity, and Myth: A Handbook.
Terri Windling has won six World Fantasy Awards and the 1997 Mythopoeic Award for Novel of the Year. She is an artist, writer, folklorist and consulting editor for Tor Books. Terri is the Founder of Endicott Studio and a member of the Interstitial Arts Foundation
Heinz Insu Fenkl works as a Director of the Interstitial Studies Institute and the Creative Writing Program at the State University of New York. He also teaches at Vassar, Bard, Sarah Lawrence, and Yonsei Universities.
Kristen McDermott is a professor of English drama and literature at Central Michigan University, with interests in theater performance and history, musical performance and history. She explores the liminal spaces created between artist and audience in the moment of performing a play, singing a song, or telling a story.
William Doty: Well, I think the question that we're talking about is of course a central and interesting one. When I started working on this a couple of weeks ago, when we found ourselves suddenly assigned to this strange topic, I went immediately to a number of places trying to find out what the term referred to. I found a good entry in Brainy Encyclopedia online. Transgression may be a legal transgression: a crime. A social transgression: violating a norm. Interesting enough—anybody know what a transgression in geology means? Well, it means where the water is ingressing on the shore. Okay, so it's transgressing where it shouldn't be, as opposed to regressing where the shore gets larger and larger. It's quite interesting.
There's the famous 2005 album by the Los Angeles metal group Fear Factory, a science fiction novel by Ingerman, transgressive art, that type of art that goes against norms or mores, transgressional speculative fiction: a form of literature. I wanted to show you in just a second a few more usages of it, but I'm always a real etymologist. It's a bug that crept into my life in the third grade. I always have to say where did this come from, knowing full well the difference between etymological origins and historical applications. If you want to look for origins, go to the American Heritage Dictionary. The AHD is lovely because it gives you etymologies going all the way back to the ProtoIndoEuropean prototype and then cites it in the third edition.
The term goes back to Middle English transgraven from the old French trangressa from late Latin trangede through to transgrin—that means basically to step across (trans=across, and grade "to go" from gradus or step. This word is incredibly rich; it gives us degree and all sorts of things. And the ProtoIndoEuropean root is ghradh which means to walk. From this root we have such words as egress, dispense, and progress. A transgression is basically something which is off the path. It's off the Tao, one might say.
In terms of usages, I went to my local library and looked under key words for transgression. I found 132 entries ranging from psychotherapy, gender ambiguity, new medievalism, haunted journeys, desire and transgression in European travel writing, gothic fictions, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression—really quite an interesting book by Peter Stallybrass and Allon White. There are many things: social theory as transgression, adultery in the novel, the discourses of magic and witchcraft in early modern France and Germany, Victorian fiction, Maurice Blanchot—studied by one of my graduate students working on the humanities and cultural criticism. [Neither my student nor I have any idea what I actually might have been referring to, but this was part of his dissertation title] Feminist Critical Theory in Theatre. Then there's Buddhist approaches to sexuality, the Voice of the Other...it's probably (a lot of) examples to give you.
What I am trying to do is to deal with definition, not so much in fixing the fences (excluding and including) but determining how large we need to make the corral in which to include all of these various perspectives and choices. It is very interesting just how many there are. Physical, sexual, behavioral, body-builders, BDSM, martial arts, many references to the Bush administration for some reason, graffiti in terms of inscribing transgression on the urban landscape, the Hermes figure of the in-between, and then basically the whole question of "Othering" and looking toward the Other.
Terri Windling will probably say a little bit more about the arts, especially the carnivalesque in Mikhail Bakhtin and speculative fiction, which is something that I follow a great deal. What I wanted to contribute to the Technological panel, but couldn't ever get a word in edgewise, was to ask, "Where is the mythology here?" This has been going on as speculative fiction for years. It's a question of technology, the alternative future. I just finished teaching a course on "Mythology and Ideology." In the fall I'll be teaching on mythology and speculative science fiction in film and the social issues where we talk about Utopianism—all of these different ways of imaging the future and the past. But also the post-modernist novel—teaching magical realism, cultural studies, certainly the work of Michel Foucault, in a very famous essay "On Transgression".
In music — the experiential, the ambient, on the rock metal and so forth. And then the visual and performing arts, theater, surrealism, cubism, Art Brut, TV, Nam June Paik (who just died recently) the first great TV performance artist.
In film — those long films by Warhol (I don't know if you've ever sat through Sleep where poet John Giorno spends 5 hours and 21 minutes sleeping on a bed...every now and again he sort of twitches, and it's amazing to see.) The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Endicott Studio's work in mythical arts, which is my segue into saying, "Hello Terri and Kristen."
Kristen McDermott: At our meeting at breakfast we realized that there were so many ways to deal with transgression. One of the big questions we have is whether we want to talk about transgression as a ritualized form of behavior, or symbols that are created by a dominant culture in order to define itself. We could then say, "Okay, now here are the places, the transgressive rituals, and the transgressive stories that we tell to release the pressure under an organized society. Or we can tell people what not to do by telling these transgressive stories, using them as education or as example. That's one way to think about it.
But we were also talking about the way that transgression naturally seems to kind of get out of the boundaries that are set for it in the first place. Its nature is to resist boundaries. Transgression itself leaves its original purpose and starts taking on new purposes. So the kinds of actions that are seen, or defined by a culture, to be other or wrong or beyond the limits of approved society become closer to the norm. They take on an energy where people transgress against the transgression like an almost endlessly repeating fractal. We might also get feed back from all of you on which kind of transgression we can try to talk about.
For my purposes, I work historically. I work in theatre, so I tend to be interested in the idea of carnival. These are moments in time where a culture says, "You are allowed to act up. You are allowed to turn the world upside down. You are allowed to dress in outlandish clothes; men can dress as women and women can dress as men. You're allowed to eat too much and drink too much. You're allowed to act out all these bodily urges that our cultures (western cultures, specifically) say are not good. This is where I got interested in the idea, because the 16th century and the 17th century theatre took carnival out of its calendar place and put it in a daily experience. Because it was inside a theatre building, the authorities said, "Okay, it can still go on."
William Doty: I just want to ask you to be aware of the fact that car-ni-val, in the small town, middle-American context, means these groups of cruddy little people who come in and do cruddy little shows. If you've lived in Europe or South America, then you have probably been exposed to carnival, which is a very different scene. Can you clarify that just a little bit better?
Kristen McDermott: Yes, this is what we know as Mardi Gras, that time of the year when you're allowed to celebrate being human, as opposed to focusing on that part of you which is supposed to be divine. Carnival comes from carne vale: farewell to the flesh. During the medieval and renaissance time, in the days before Lent when the Catholic Church forbade the eating of meat, you would cook up all the meat and eat it all up in one big bash, after which you'd be living on fish and fasting for forty days. This also applied to the Christmas season. Advent season was followed by the carnival of the twelve days of Christmas where again you celebrated the world upside down. The rich were supposed to feed the poor, so the poor were allowed to enjoy the good things of life temporarily. They would elect a boy bishop to parade through the streets and be in charge of the church for one day. There would be lots of skits and acting out, children making fun of the clergy by pretending to be priests and monks. Making fun of authority was allowed because it was only for those twelve days of Christmas. It was allowed, and then you had to stop and go on about the normal hierarchical scheme of things.
Terri Windling: But the Christian carnival was rooted in the older pagan ceremony, Saturnalia, where the transgressive—the world turned upside down—had a sacred context. It was considered in most of these traditions that spring would not follow winter unless these rituals were performed. That sacred acts, sacred body, sacred sexuality was what kept the world turning. It has this specific job to do.
Kristen McDermott: It was the energy that kept the Wheel (of the Year) going. The Wheel kept going, but you always had to worry every year whether it would turn again. You couldn't trust that it would keep going of its own accord. You had to give it a little push.
Heinz Insu Fenkl: Of course, when the monarchies tried to do away with Christmas, it created huge social problems and it had to be reinstituted. That's a great example of transgression being necessary for the normal functioning of the culture.
Kristen McDermott: That was under the Puritans?
Heinz Insu Fenkl: Yes.
Kristen McDermott: And that was terrible. The theatre, especially in Shakespeare's time, forbade women from the stage, and so men dressed as women and acted their parts. You had essentially a form of carnival occurring on a daily basis. It is fun to think about what that means. Was storytelling operating in the same way because of that stricture? It certainly wasn't the same as, say, the stories they told at church or the stories you learned at your mother's knee, or the harvest tales. Was it the same kind of storytelling, but with an added layer of oddness or festivity, or upside-downness to it? We have lots of various ways of looking at those questions.
Heinz Insu Fenkl: This morning when I was thinking about good examples of transgression, Terri pointed out that I should look at my own experience. I realized, that instead of looking for examples of transgression in Korean folk tales which I specialize in, I could talk about my own life, which by definition was transgressive.
I was born at a time when mixed marriages were officially forbidden. My father was in the US Army at the time, and they had these anti-fraternization policies so technically children like me were not supposed to exist. Of course many of us did exist. They couldn't prevent American soldiers from having relationships with Korean women, but we technically did not exist in a social environment where there was a thing called "Command Sponsorship." If an American soldier wanted to have his family in Korea, he had to be Command Sponsored for his family to be given special privileges on Army bases. But there were so many Amer-Asian children and the children of mixed marriages in the area where I lived, which was outside the major in-processing center called the Army Service Command near the port city of Inching. There were so many of us that the Army base itself couldn't officially say, "We have X number of these mixed children around." And so they pretended we didn't exist, and we got to go on base.
I learned a great deal about American culture by going to the movie theater, which allowed us to go into any movie whatsoever because we didn't exist. They couldn't sell us a Child's ticket because, to do so admitted that children existed on that base. It was an odd position where I was constantly reminded of things that I was not supposed to be able to do—lots of Thou Shalt Nots. In context, I was then not given any guidance; there were no real consequences for this kind of transgression. So I grew up in a very odd environment.
Later, of course, with some academic training, I look back on that experience as both interstitial and liminal. We'll talk a little about that as we go on. I started a Ph. D. program as a folklorist, and then I went into things like ethnographic theory. I didn't finish my Ph.D. but instead published my first book, Memories of My Ghost Brother, which was all about this liminal and interstitial childhood. A liminal condition is a condition of being in between or on the threshold of the door. Liminality is an in-between position from which there is an implicit departure. A liminal condition is generally a transitional condition. In rites of passage one begins as a child, has identity stripped away, becomes sub-human, and then becomes an adult. The liminal condition is that transitional period. In Korea I was reminded of another condition — interstitiality. The person in that in-between condition, or contexted in that condition, does not necessarily want to be in a transitional phase and end up as something else. It is continually in-between and it's usually something about its context or chronology, or something that causes that interstitial thing to then become categorized.
When we talk about the transgressive, I think both liminality and interstitiality often occur simultaneously. As we continue our discussion, it might be good to identify some of the finer points among transgressive behaviors and transgressive modes of existence. Then I'll talk a little bit about social norms. In Western culture, we exist in a society in which most social norms are based on culture that itself is based on proscription: most social rules are Thou Shalt Nots. In other cultures that are based predominately on prescriptions — Thou Shalts — you will behave this way, this way, this way, if the thing is not predefined for you. Then the category of behavior that's left over for you is actually radically different. My supervising professor who worked with the Australian aborigines from the Ayers Rock area of Pitjantjatjara discovered that, although they could use negation in everyday language, they tended not to. So, for example, if someone were to walk into this room and we wanted them not to sit in this chair, the easiest way for us to achieve that would be simply to negate that chair and say, "Look, don't sit there," and then they're at liberty to sit anywhere else. When a thing is proscribed, there's a sense of liberty about the alternate choices. A Pitjantjatjara would not negate that chair unless it was absolutely necessary, and instead would somehow urge the person to sit in some other place. From our point of view this behavior might seem to limit choice to the Pitjantjatjara. I say, "Sit there," and they would tell you where to sit. We might see that as a limitation of our choice. That's one of the points I would want to talk about when we open this up to discussion. Terri?
Terri Windling: Gosh, between the two of you, I want to go in two different directions. You've sparked some thoughts in me, Heinz, about growing up as a transgressive act. Now I'm going to pause on that subject, and go back to what Kristen was saying about theatre and carnival. My interest in this topic is specifically about the ways that stories, ritual, folklore, myth—the ways that transgression is used as a sacred act of a social function. I'm particularly interested in Trickster myths and the ways that those myths are being used by writers and artists today to create transgressive characters. You can't ever say that Trickster myths are one thing the this and one thing the that, but there certainly are a number of them in which transgression has a sacred function. By breaking the rules, you understand the rules, you enforce societal's (rules). By leaving the realm of the possible, you understand what that realm is. Alan Garner calls it "the darkness that shapes the light." It is not until we violate to be's that we understand what those to be's are, or the consequences of violating those to be's. So I'm really interested in the characters in the myths like Trickster who deliberately break these rules and in doing so teach us something about the societies we live in.
Today we see those characters in the roles of clowns and comedians. My partner is a performer who runs the Commedia Del Arte theater, the old Italian folkloric form of theater which is very structured in the stock types of masked characters. There are clowning characters who break every single rule. Their traditional purpose was to roll into town and make fun of everything. And this is what my partner's contemporary comedic troupe does today. They're not involved in a historic reenactment of commedia, but they are a living commedia troupe, rolling into town, setting up their stage in transgressive ways. They'd rather set up a stage in a bowling alley than in a theater. They'll use stories like Robin Hood in completely modern and political context by referring to Tony Blair and George Bush and using familiar events. As clowns—by being funny, by disguising themselves behind masks, by being themselves and not themselves as we were talking about in the earlier theatre idea, by being out of the bounds of ordinary, by being behind these masks and using slapstick humor—they can say things and get points across which are very difficult to say in another context. When I watch them perform I think, "There's Trickster. That's Trickster now in society."
Kristen McDermott: And things that are censored too. When commedia got started of course there were things that you simply could not say, or you'd face the Inquisition or get killed. But with masks on you're harmless.
William Doty: Well, I'm just thinking of the Pueblo ceremonial clown in the southwest who does everything backwards and always transgresses. When it comes to the ritual enactment, these are the figures that—backwards in line—are at the head of the dance line and set the pace. If the sacred figures or dancers drop part of the costume, which is sacred, only the clowns can take a safety pin and put it back on. They get things moving again, and they have this amazing sense of Trickster energy. You know, I don't think that Trickster is as important as tricksterizing.
Terri Windling: There was a quote in one of the Trickster books about how some Native People say that a ceremony doesn't start until somebody laughs — that laughter is part of the sacred context.
William Doty: Navajos say that a child isn't to be named until they laugh. And so they have a big ceremony for everybody. Our baby laughs, it's human.
Terri Windling: I was at a Sun Dance ceremony once, and you can't get much more solemn than that, with people dancing and fasting for four days in the heat. At one point one of these Heyoka clowns came up running out around the sacred tree, waving a bottle of Gatorade™ in everybody's faces. Remember, these people haven't drunk water, they've been dancing for four days with no water, no food. The Englishman who was with me said, "That seems rather cruel!" But in fact it brought in the humor of it and lightened the dance for the dancers. That clown's actions brought into all of our consciousnesses the thought that, "Oh-my-God! This is what these people are doing. They really are going without water and food for four days."
William Doty: As a sacrifice to bring the sun.
Please feel free to ask any questions you would like.
Audience Member: My questions are, "What's going on there that a space is created? What is fueling that? Why is it okay? Why do people respond? Why is it okay for the clown to pin the dropped sacred costume? Why does it become okay? What's going on there? I understand that it does happen; I'm quite familiar with it because I do that stuff all the time, but I don't exactly know why it's okay.
William Doty: One of the things said about Coyote is that if he hadn't made all of these mistakes, we would have to make them. What he does is make ways of behavior possible: he's the Do-er who points out the things that don't work.
Terri Windling: Trickster figures in almost all mythologies are the ones who are allowed to cross between the worlds. When you've got someone in a dance whose costume has fallen apart, they're sacred, they're holy. They can't be touched by people in the mortal world because their role is to cross between worlds. In Greek mythology Hermes' role is to bring the spirits of the dead down to the underworld.
Heinz Insu Fenkl: Because social order protects that. It's infallible. At the same time, it knows that it is fallible. The Trickster figure is the one who is committed to pick up the crumbs, so to speak. Trickster does it without really threatening the social order. Although from another point of view, Trickster exposes the fallibility of social order. He serves both functions simultaneously.
Kristen McDermott: In medieval European culture, the church recognized that the extreme strictures of behavior had to be released at certain times. There were actually theories of smiling and laughter written in Traité du Ris (Treatise on Laughter) by Laurent Joubert in the 16th century which put forth that humans were laughing creatures, and that laughter was one of the definitions of being human; it made you carnal. In the medieval cycle-plays Biblical characters were depicted doing funny and irreverent things. These plays were sponsored by the church and believed to be all right. They brought your mind toward that essential dichotomy of Christ being both divine and human, capable of joy and laugher at the same time, and that very serious things were going on. The theater picks this up later on.
William Doty: This is also the period when all the depictions of the Virgin and baby have either St. Mary or St. Anne pointing to the baby's genitals to say: "Behold the flesh. This is really flesh. This is not a phantom." (See Leo Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, 2nd ed. 1997).
Terri Windling: We were talking earlier this morning about the ways that artists transgress in film and other areas. We spoke of the transgression that is done simply to shock, simply to see how far you can push those boundaries, how gross you can make that work of art, how outrageous or shocking you can make that film. To me, that's art without a Trickster in it. That's just pushing those boundaries for the sake of pushing those boundaries. The minute that you add Trickster, you give it a sacred context because you are pushing boundaries as a way of also paradoxically understanding the boundaries.
Audience Member: This question piggy backs on the conversation, but I've always heard that the Tricksters or Heyokas were considered a little mad, a little crazy. Now that opens it up to a whole other realm. So we're giving permission for a certain kind of madness, craziness, differentness. Could you address that?
William Doty: Well, it's a sub-tribe. You have a particular dream. You are called to be marked to the tribal fraternity. I don't think it's the Heyoka; that's the Lakota. And I don't know as much about the clown figure there as I do in the southwest, but you'll see them dancing or practicing. You can see babies this tall, because they've been taken into that fraternity and they will stay in that fraternity. They will have their own kiva. This is their portion in the sort of bi-polar summer-winter part of the year, because certain stories are told only in certain parts of the year. Trickster stories can be told all year long, but many kinds of sacred stories of other kinds of sacredness cannot. For instance, you don't tell about snakes in the summer, because that's when snakes are active. They may be insulted and bite the shit out of you.
Terri Windling: It's interesting that in a lot of different cultures, whenever you have a figure who's a border crosser, whether it's a trickster or a shaman, madness is often part of the deal. You don't get to cross between the worlds without either risking or going full fledged into madness. In Celtic mythology Merlin gains his prophetic powers by being mad in the woods all of those years. There is something about the ability to cross between worlds that seems to exact quite a price.
William Doty: That question has been a big issue in anthropology for many, many years: Is madness quintessential to creativity? Do you have to be sick in order to be an artist, to be a leader? I think the problem is that we bring our categories into their lives where they really don't have any.
Audience Member: If we're going to push the boundaries so far, then why would we still have the boundaries?
Kristen McDermott: I think that whole point is that, in a culture where there are fewer boundaries, you're less likely to see the kind of person you can define as the Trickster. If everyone is a Trickster, if there aren't any boundaries, I think that is what we see nowadays in which postmodern art seems to be constantly breaking boundaries, going against structure. It's gotten to the point where it's hard to tell anymore. Some people say that's good, it's freeing. Some people say that we're losing an important cultural engine, movement, or productivity that way because it's becoming random.
Terri Windling: To bring it from the theoretical to an example: when Picasso (the classic Trickster) broke the boundary of representational art, he was doing it to express something about the culture he was in. Whereas, when I went to art school with all sorts of people who were doing Picasso-like art (basically people who didn't know how to draw), there wasn't a reason for breaking those particular boundaries. They were not acting as Trickster. That's what interests me about Trickster. When you bring Trickster into the equation of transgression, it gives it a cultural and sacred meaning. When you're just breaking taboos for the sake of being outrageous, something is lost.
William Doty: I think it's important to remember that sacred is not just being positive, light and beauty. There's a dark side to the Trickster as well. I think particularly of the Hopi figure Massau, who is very much a Hermetic figure and its relationship to the death realm. It is sort of cool to meet him during the day because he brings good luck. But it's very dangerous to be out at night. You may see little flashes of light and that's Massau out after things. That's this terribly dark situation: You may be the one that he's coming after.
Terri Windling: When you transgress you can go too far. You can land in very dangerous waters. You cross a boundary and there's no bottom there. It's not a safe thing to do. The role of a cultural Trickster or mythic Trickster is quite a job to take on.
Audience Member: The whole madness thing again...there's a cost.
Heinz Insu Fenkl: A very mundane example that has to do with madness and a particular kind of performance and clowns is the American rodeo. Here's the formal performer who's riding the bull. He falls off because at a certain point, unless the bull dies, he's going to fall off. The whole point of the rodeo is to see how long he can stay on. But when he does fall off, who goes to rescue him?
William Doty: The clown.
Heinz Insu Fenkl: Well, only a crazy guy would want to run in there and risk his life with the bull's hooves. So a clown has to run in. He's a Trickster figure. The clown does it; he cleans up the crumbs, so to speak. But the audience doesn't quite see that as part of the performance. It happens, it's visible, and yet the audience pretends what's really going on is the man versus the bull.
William Doty: It's a great point.
Audience Member: My question is not in the theoretical area; it's very practical. I'm an elementary school teacher working with nine and ten-year olds. One thing I've noticed particularly this year is the great attractiveness of the transgressor. I think a lot of it comes from popular culture and some of it, as Terri said comes from presenting shock for shocking's sake. Children are seeing all kinds of stuff on TV and the media. You're all educators in one form or another, and work with older people than people I work with, but I'm sure you must have seen this. I'd love to hear your takes on this.
Terri Windling: As you say this, the character that springs to mind is Bart Simpson. You've got a little guy who's always transgressing the rules, stepping over the boundaries, but he does it in Trickster fashion. If he doesn't transgress, then he's homeless on the streets. By the end of that episode, the family has been restored, and something has been enlarged in that family by whatever happens to Bart or whatever happens to Homer. I think those kind of characters are really great because they shake things up. We need Trickster. We get stuck in our ways, in our ruts, in our patterns if we don't have Trickster shaking things up.
William Doty: But what about the Brad Pitt character in Fight Club? It's a classic Trickster movie, but what he brings at the end is apocalypse.
Kristen McDermott: Chuck Palahniuk is one of our classic transgressive writers right now. He's the one that everyone points to when they talk about people who are really doing what you shouldn't do in novels. You just shouldn't write like that. And then everyone buys his books.
William Doty: Creative Writing classes...I was buying Palahniuk's latest collection of freak-out stories, and the young man at the cash register said, "Do you like Palahniuk?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Have you read his stuff before?" And I said, "Yeah; I can't remember titles." And he rattled them off. I said, "How come you know this?" and he said, "Well, I'm in the creative writing program. I want to be a novelist, and we all have to know the latest things out there. We're all reading Palahniuk." It was just amazing.
Terri Windling: It does seem that children need to cross boundaries. It's just part of growing up. It doesn't surprise me that there are these wonderful anarchic Trickster figures in publishing, whether it's Bugs Bunny or Bart Simpson, that embody that part of childhood—that "Ahhh!" part of childhood—where you have to push against every rule to see what happens when you push. Sometimes that push will lead you into a good, transformed state. Sometimes it will lead you into a place where you're run over by a railroad car.
William Doty: Are there any examples in Fantasy? Can you think of any right off you could share with us?
Terri Windling: Transgressive characters?
William Doty: Transgressive or particularly Trickster figures.
Terri Windling: Well, we were talking this morning...do you folks know the Philip Pulman books? Lyra Belacqua, the main character in there is totally a transgressive character.
Kristen McDermott: Literally, transgressing across the world.
Terri Windling: Oh, yeah. She is always pushing at the boundaries of society. She comes straight out of the fairytale tradition. You know her; the girl who trod on the loaf. The girl who does everything she's not supposed to do and, in doing so, both completely gets herself in trouble and transforms the society in which she lives—which is classic Trickster when those two things happen at once.
Heinz Insu Fenkl: A good Trickster and an effective one, say like Bart Simpson, I think if you're speaking in the context of children, is a very good model because he does something that's forbidden or considered uncouth or impolite. What happens is that his actions illuminate something about the social rules. At the end of the episode, the society goes back to the kind of homeostasis in a slightly transformed way. Whereas figures on the other end of the spectrum like Marilyn Manson transgress, but there's nothing redemptive about Manson's transgression. He doesn't function as a Trickster, although I think a lot of Manson fans would want to argue with that. It's not so much the music, it's the imagery that he brings to it that is especially transgressive, but I don't think it works. It doesn't even appropriately offend, which is an odd way to respond to it I guess.
Audience Member: When I was little what really haunted me was the character from The Chocolate Wars. Do you remember him? The kid does not want to sell the chocolate, and it does not get better. He was abused, and he was an outcast, and it never gets fixed. I completely thought that he wasn't going to get away with it. I wonder if that's part of it, too. Usually Trickster gets away with it and everything turns out okay, but in real life it often doesn't turn out okay.
Audience Member: It also seems that to be a Trickster you have to risk being an outcast and not be able to completely come back—to live between. You can't completely come back in to this socialized world without ruining it. That might be the price.
Terri Windling: That's a very good point.
Audience Member: It's not my music or my generation, so I'm speaking out of turn. In my experience, Manson's kind of Trickster energy leads to a sense of despair rather than to assertion of hope...at least that's my sense of it.
Terri Windling: Boy, I'd love to have a Marilyn Manson fan here to argue the other side of this.
Kristen McDermott: A big part of what the Trickster does unifies the people who are observing the Trickster. The Trickster is transgressing so we don't have to. We can be safe. That's why the theatre is all about the Trickster. The audience gets to watch the actor who is also a non-person: The actor is a Trickster. While you are watching them, you are all safely within a definition of what it means to be the culture and know who you are.
Audience Member: I'm a therapist who works with young adolescents and young teenagers. I use the terms Trickster and the Transgressor all the time in therapy to try to explain to the parents when they're pulling their hair out asking, "Why is my kid hanging out with these other kids?" It's because Marilyn Manson is a hero—not to me—but there's something in his persona that allows people to step outside comfortably, to say that person has the guts to be different.
Terri Windling: To be a border crosser.
Audience Member: Yeah, he's a transgressor. He can do it, and a little closer, and it makes me feel safe. The transgressors are heroes because they have the guts that some of us might not have—the guts to do. So we look at them and we respect them for being able to do that.
Terri Windling: And also look at the price some people pay.
Audience Member: As you were mentioning the transgressor, the one that came to mind especially with kids is Harry Potter. They all look at him as a hero, but if you read the book correctly, he's transgressing all over the place: "Don't go on that floor!" Okay, let's go see what's on that floor. "Don't go into this part of the library!" All right, I'll go into this part of the library. He's got all the Trickster tools: his invisible cloak, the Marauder's Map that lets him know where all the different parts are. Is that singing to the kids? Yes! Here's a guy who is transgressing, but everyone says that he's also a hero. It also disrupts at least the Christian Coalition who are saying, "No, don't read this! It's all witchcraft, and magic, and nasty stuff! You shouldn't deal with the devil!" The kids enjoy it and, as we know, J.K. Rowling is one of the top sellers whose has had to be moved off the Best Seller List to her own special section where she is number one all the time.
Kristin McDermott: The interesting thing about the Harry Potter books is that they do conform to that structure of the Maverick Boy. Although I think it remains to be seen whether Harry Potter is transgressing in his world, or whether he is actually acting for the forces that are trying to define it. We might not know. There is a lot of debate about whether the Harry Potter books are essentially conservative or radical. People really like to argue over that.
Audience Member: Yeah, it's not Harry Potter that they go for, it's Draco Malfoy.
Kristen McDermott: He's the sexy one.
Terri Windling: The bad girls and bad boys get all the interesting parts.
Audience Member: As a therapist who works primarily only with felons my concern is: what are the criteria that are developed that enable whether it is the community or the individual to place themselves on either side of the category? Stanton Saminau has developed what he considers to be thirty-three common criminal thinking-errors that put people in prison. One of them is uniqueness; that places the person clearly outside of the boundaries and allows them to do whatever they choose. When you use it as paradoxical thinking, what kind of stabilizing criteria enable you to know what side of the threshold you're on?
Kristen McDermott: It's an interesting question. My sister is in criminal justice, too. I've been interested hearing her talk about it because there's a contradiction in the fact that many criminals see themselves as "other" than society, as mavericks. But they also see themselves as being intensely conformist in many ways.
Audience Member: They'll help the lady across the street, but then kill the store owner.
Kristen McDermott: Yes, but to belong to a criminal culture there are criminal behaviors to which the person must conform if they're going to have 'cred.' They've got to belong, to do what's expected of them in that way.
William Doty: The tattoos marking the statuses.
Kristen McDermott: Yes. Whenever you try to attempt to define a behavior of a group of people as transgressive, you sometimes circle back around.
Audience Member: Well, prison is just a different type of carnival. It does turn things around, and you have to behave differently.
William Doty: I was thinking about that when ya'll were talking about carnival—somehow the way we were talking about it, I don't think you got that sense of enjoyment, excitement, good transgression.
Terri Windling: There is a dark side to transgression.
William Doty: Of course there's always a dark side; I totally agree. As with so many of the definitions of myth that I've come up with, I'm simply astonished that so few people ignore that fact that they're fun to tell. They're fun to listen to. They're enjoyable. Why we put that down in our culture, I don't quite understand.
Terri Windling: I'm really fascinated by that question. I don't have an easy answer to it, but it's got me thinking. I've got several brothers in prison because I come from that sort of family. These are people who can't fit into society as it's shaped. They are lower-working class who don't have the educational skills in an area where there are jobs. They can't live by society's rules. It's impossible for them. So when they transgress, the only way they can transgress is to break society's rules in a way that society is going to come down (hand smacking) and say, "Nope!" It's a fascinating question for me. I'm going to have to really think about what the Trickster speaks to them, and about finding ways to transgress that can bring them back into culture rather than remove them from it. Can it?
Audience Member: I don't pretend to have the answer, but one of the things that we're charged with is that if you can help these folks develop empathy by explaining what Trickster's tricks do to other people, you can help turn them around. Most of the guys that I work with have narcissistic personality disorders. They don't really care about anybody else.
Terri Windling: But there are Trickster stories where the Trickster plays the role of anarchist; he does not care what he does. Sometimes his tricks bring fire to humankind and sometimes they bring death into the world. He's just out there to satisfy his own needs, his own desires.
William Doty: There's also the classic stories of Trickster tricked which are, I think, always interesting to see what happens.
Terri Windling: Trickster is not always a constructive character. Trickster can be quite dark in a lot of traditional tales. I hate to say a myth means this, but maybe one of its functions could be to help us understand transgressive people whose impulse is always to break rules regardless of the circumstances.
Kristen McDermott: I think that's absolutely right; Trickster gives us a new way of seeing the structures of society by exposing the underpinning structures of it, by lifting the skirt up from underneath the stage so you can see the trap door, or lifting up the lady's skirt so that you can see where babies come from. Trickster is always lifting the veil. I'm sure there are specific stories about this exposing. That's why you get so much bathroom humor and grotesque humor associated with the Trickster.
Terri Windling: There are a number of writers in contemporary fiction who are working with these transgressive Trickster themes in precisely that way. I'm thinking of Gerald Vizenor's fiction and Louise Erdrich's fiction that also works with Trickster energy and how that myth plays out in modern life.
Audience Member: It really struck, Terri, when you were talking about your brothers who grew up and didn't have what was needed as societal rules. In a sense they are paying a Trickster price by underlining by saying, "If this is the form I have to fit, and I haven't been tended, or given certain skills, I'll show you who I am."
Terri Windling: If I can't be in, I'll be out.
Audience Member: Yes, and in the Trickster way of pulling the curtain on society, of saying, "Pay Attention!" I also work with children and adolescents, and especially the ones who say, "The school system doesn't work. There are no jobs out there. Maybe I don't read, but I'm really good with my hands. They end up in trouble. But one way that I hold it that they are being the Trickster saying "Pay attention!" Society says that everybody has to fit, and these kids are paying a huge price. How do we listen to that Trickster and not just put them away?
Heinz Insu Fenkl: One thing that distinguishes a common felon from a transgressive as a Trickster is that Trickster transgresses in a way that's creative. That's why we learn something from that transgression, whereas a felon doesn't really enhance our understanding of anything. I was trying to think of an example of a felon who would qualify as a kind of Trickster.
Terri Windling: A confidence man.
Heinz Insu Fenkl: Yeah, a con man is a great example.
Kristen McDermott: That's why there are so many stories about con men.
Heinz Insu Fenkl: There's a whole genre of story. On the dark side it would be a figure like Ted Bundy who is the most horrific kind of sociopath, but he defends himself. He's very charismatic. He gets marriage proposals while he's on trial. He escapes from prison. And then he's appropriately punished. So his narrative becomes a dark kind of Trickster narrative. What his transgressions reveal about the Justice system are things that we can learn from. What he reveals about the wit of a serial killer are things that society can use.
What happens when you have a figure like that on a larger level is that the mainstream culture will actually attempt to destroy such stories. A good example would be in the Christian Apocrypha, the texts that didn't make it into the Bible where Christ was a divine Trickster. He played with a friend, an age mate, on the roof of the house and pushed him off and killed him. The neighborhood was aghast, accused him of murder. And what did he do? Well, because Christ was the son of God, he just brought the kid back to life. That Trickster story not permitted to be in the Bible. Certain other transgressions, like working on the Sabbath, or turning over the table of the moneychangers in the temple, are permitted because those serve a particular kind of social function.
Terri Windling: It sounds to me like what you are talking about are characters like Bundy who continually cross the line between good-and-bad, bad-and-good. Whereas, what you're calling a common felon (somebody who's just across that line and stays there-has no way of coming back) is just in that other place now. I'm wondering if part of what makes a Trickster is that ability to dance on the line between...
Kristen McDermott: ...to play the game...
Terri Windling: ...yeah...
Kristen McDermott...consciously playing versus just simply reacting. I shouldn't say 'simply'—it's never simple—reacting to a repressive society in a certain way, as you said, which tends to become one way. The Trickster, however, consciously goes back and forth and plays both ends against the middle.
Terri Windling: And what can a Trickster teach someone, whether it's a child or a felon, who has crossed that line about the ability to come back?
Audience Member: Sam Keen was here two years ago. I read his The Passionate Life and liked what he had to say so much. He said that there are many stages beyond adulthood. Beyond the stage of the adult who has earned his way into and able to make his way in the society, there is the adult who is helping the younger adult and the teenager. They are ruling the society, and passing down the traditions that worked for them. Beyond that, there is the outlaw who, having gone up through all this, can see what is wrong with all these traditions. The outlaw has been supporting and has been upholding. The outlaw says, "Wait! There is a need for change." But the outlaw has paid his dues and he knows what is going on so he can change. He can act towards change in a way that the society can accept. I think there's your good Trickster. I think your good Trickster is the mature person who knows exactly what he wants changed and knows what is being changed and can identify with the society that is being changed. I just wanted to say that.
Terri Windling: That's right.
Audience Member: I really loved your emphasis upon society. It's not the narcissistic egoism of the individual getting something more from me, but it's how the society needs a screwdriver to fine tune it.
Audience Member: We are in the middle of fantastic change. Everything is changing so fast that we can't keep up with it. We need more outlaws, because only the outlaws can guide us at this point.
Kristen McDermott: That's a great point that so many of the famous Trickster characters in literature were once part of the ruling structure in some way or another. Autolycus in The Winter's Tale was a courtier, and Volpone was a grandee, but they make a conscious choice to reject the culture that they were comfortable in and go over. Some of them make it back and some of them don't. I think that we're also fascinated by the outlaw who had other choices to make, as opposed to the person who didn't have any choices as responding to the culture. That also might be another way into the differences between the Trickster and the person who is pathologically "Other."
Audience Member: I think that was a great point that she made about promoting change. Last year my roommate and I started this Carnivalution in the area of West Philadelphia where everything is being gentrified yet where there is still a lot of violence within the inner city. I think that kids don't know the boundaries between conforming to society and then becoming a felon because there aren't very many choices. "How do we know what to do?"
The beauty of the Carnivalution is that the theatre becomes a sacred space in which really you're able to create your own ritual and test those boundaries. At the same time, you're commenting on societies. When everyone leaves, they're changed inevitably. There's got to be some sort of change within yourself. My roommate fancies, and at any given time can draw from, three different clown personas. One of the things he brings in, which a lot of people turn their nose up at, is sideshow. I'm not the biggest fan of sideshow. Personally, it kind of repulses me, but it is...
Terri Windling: ...transgressive...
Audience Member: ...very transgressive. He can swallow that sword, and he can stick needles through his body. It's very interesting, but it does promote healing. It also creates an outlet for people to become interested in something rather than getting involved in gang activity. We definitely try to bring in the children, or the kids of the community. It's an open, theatrical space where art can be created.
I'm really interested in the healing aspect of the heyoka or the clowns. My boyfriend also is a sundancer who often talks about the heyoka. He says that that the heyoka figure is an outcast. And the healing journey that the heyoka has to go on to actually transform within his inner self. I would like to open up the discussion on how — what the healing and ritualistic purposes of the heyoka are.
Audience Member: She said something that struck me sideways anyway about the place to be a Trickster. We need more like carnival places where it's okay in this space to be the Trickster because the Trickster is like the emergency valve on the side of the hot-water heater that lets the overflow out. Otherwise you explode. Society causes the explosion when people who become criminals don't have a valve to release that pressure. Places like Carnivalution are going to give young people and old people places to release that energy. "I can transgress without throwing myself out of society...I can have my moment of insanity, and then I can go back and be my normal self. I don't have to go it alone, and hurt somebody, and end up in prison."
Terri Windling: I totally agree with what you just said. Another thing that I heard you saying is that we also have figures like your boyfriend who are devoting their life to being in that place—to being that sacred clown figure. The sacred clown figure is not a dead figure out of mythology. There are people who are invoking and living this archetype today. Those of us who can't live in that space twenty-four hours a day can have it enacted for us through a man who is both a clown and a sundancer. I think that your boyfriend is like my boyfriend, who is a sacred mask performer. He also embodies that sacred clown and brings that figure into the villages. He can take on that energy for people who can't step out of their daily lives. I think that it's a really important role to have in society, not just in story.
William Doty: I think there're a lot of people working with adolescents who do that sort of thing all the time. A lot of that goes on all in Scouting movements — finding places to play that are eutrophic. Comedians play that role all the time...
Terri Windling: ...thumbing their nose at society — violating the norms.
Audience Member: I teach. This is like my day off so I don't want to stand up. Well, I was just going to comment that everything you guys just said is all the more reason that we all have to make sure that the kids have arts in their schools. (applause)
William Doty: Yes.
Audience Member: Those programs are getting cut all the time.
Kristen McDermott: And drama gets cut before art more often because there are only so many resources for it.
Audience Member: I remember when I was a kid we had two productions a year in our middle school. It was a fantastic drama program. Everybody participated to some capacity. It was wonderful. The kids do need an outlet.
Before we run out of time, I was wondering if Mr. Fenkl could kind of tie this all together Could you had a comment on how the proscriptive and prescriptive thing that you mentioned way back in the beginning might tie into the transgressive tendency . We've kind of come full circle, because I see this all as interrelated. Could you add a comment?
Heinz Insu Fenkl: Well, that's a tough task that you've set before me. I have an eight-and-a-half year old daughter. Over the years what I've seen time and again is that when you proscribe something, that it's also a role of language and discognition. When you negate something you have to evoke it first. If I don't want you to think of that purple elephant...well, I've made you think of the purple elephant. If you say, "Don't touch that hot stove!" then the person has to imagine touching the hot stove. The person naturally entertains the possibility of the benefits to social rules. They think, "Well (a) why shouldn't I?" or (b) "Maybe they want to prevent me from having some kind of joy." Proscriptive rules create an absolute necessity for transgression.
Prescriptive rules are more like nudges. In general, cultures that have prescriptive rules don't have the Judeo-Christian world views and cultural notions of sin. They especially don't have the notion of original sin found in Catholicism. That is why we need all these proscriptions.
In other cultures where there's a fundamental understanding that people are generally okay, social rules are there to keep them gently in line. For example, in China there was a whole period when the legalists took over. They instituted very, very harsh penalties for small transgressions. What they discovered was that they got very well-behaved and neat people who were then easily conquerable. When the legalist position was abandoned, China sort of saved itself.
But with transgression and the Trickster figures, if you want to bring in the notion of healing, what happens is that the Trickster illustrates the nature of boundaries. The Trickster exposes something about the possible vulnerability of the culture, and does it with some sort of consequence, even to the Trickster figure or to the society. There has to be something at stake. If there's a transgression that has no potential consequence, it doesn't really count. That kind of transgression is very easily co-opted by the mainstream culture. For example, video games are a kind of transgression that don't really have much of a consequence. We talk about the violence and aggression, but actually the mainstream culture doesn't mind that because video games train people who are going to go into the military to use those same motor skills and analytic skills to bomb remote targets with the computer technology. There's an example of something that could be masquerading as transgression, but actually isn't transgressive. It's a question that I'll have to think about. Somebody should write a book on this.
Kristen McDermott: I want to go back to what you were saying about your daughter, because I've got a four year old, too. Right now for him the proscriptive is the prescriptive. Anything that I tell him not to do, automatically he'll do. Most parents have been through this phase where you have to start saying, "Whatever you do, don't put those rocks in that bucket. No, don't do that."
Audience Member: It's safe that way. You don't tell them what to do.
Kristen McDermott: Well, of course. I know what you're supposed to do.
William Doty: Allan Chinen had some marvelous stuff about grownup Tricksters, the Tricksters in later life. (See Allan Chinen, Beyond the Hero, 1992; “Adult Liberation and the Mature Trickster,” in Simpkinson and Simpkinson, eds., Sacred Stories, 49-54.) First of all there's the adolescent Trickster, and that's the one we've been talking about who wants to break every rule possible. Eventually you reach a developmental stage where you become a mentor toward others. Eric Erickson says, "Goddamn, if you suddenly don't have the Trickster element in these people who love to tell jokes and play jokes on them, then we grow in our maturity to the fulfillment of the role, then we play at it in the wrong way in youth."
Kristen McDermott: Burning Man is inspired by a lot of that energy, I think.
William Doty: Yeah, yeah, there's a lot of that stuff at Burning Man. Our time is squat so, at the risk of ringing my own bell, I just want to make a little suggestion. I didn't want to do this sort of heavy academic number and lay it all out, but if you're interested in this liminal theory, you'll find my big tall tome in the Mythic Journeys bookstore called Mythography: A Study of Myths and Rituals. Unfortunately they shipped the hardback, which I think is about fifty bucks. I have a smaller version now called Myth: A Handbook that costs as much as hardback, but the University of Alabama is bringing it out in January for about twenty bucks. That's my most popular, accessible, popular-culture oriented book on the introduction to mythology. On pages 360 and following in the big, standard encyclopedia Mythography you'll find where I lay out Victor Turnel's liminal theory and do a good bit more. His point is that whatever happens before you leave the structure behind, when you pass the limin, which is the threshold, you're still in the pre-liminal. You have this in the church music in the pre-play (pre-ludium), the prelude. Then you cross the threshold and you're in the creative anti-structure. That is to say, all the roles that have been the applying in the structural things are gone. "So and so may be a garbage keeper, but here he's the minister"...
Terri Windling: ...and that is a rite of passage...
William Doty: ...that is a rite of passage. But then you go on out and have the post-liminal when you reintegrate out into the world again. Turner's point on these pages is the metaphoric strength of this middle period where you're not constrained by the outside rules—you have new rules and new names—he says that's where metaphor comes from. That's where poetry comes from. That's where creativity comes from.
The insight and the successful rite of passage occur when you take those energies back into the world and do something for the community.
Terri Windling: Another good book to read on that very point is Lewis Hyde's Trickster Makes This World, Mischief, Myth and Art, a fabulous book about the need for Trickster energy and transgression in the act of creativity.
William Doty: Let me thank the panelists and thank the audience. It's been a great discussion. Thank you. (Applause)
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