The Trickster Next Door

I just read an interesting post on Gabriella Coleman’s blog: The Hacker as Troller and Trickster, in which she points out that the “trickster” character of myth is increasingly embodied — non-mythically, non-allegorically, but in glorious corporeality — by the hackers around us, and by the trolls and all the other anonymity-encouraged occasional pranksters that make the Internet what it is.

In Lewis Hyde’s “Trickster Makes this World”, Coleman says, he asks if there are tricksters in modern industrial societies, and concludes (surprisingly, for 1998) not. The trickster needs a polytheistic system “or lacking that, he needs at least a relationship to other powers, to people, to instructions, and traditions that can manage the odd double attitude of both insisting that boundaries be respected and recognizing that in the long run their liveliness depends on having those boundaries regularly distributed” (p. 13)

Double attitude? Boundary redistribution? Sound anything like people you’ve been met on the Net?

I was kind of surprised by Hyde’s thesis in general (though I haven’t read his book (yet), so you’re now hearing the thesis third-hand, and I could be mangling it). I think there’s sometimes a temptation to assume that modern society is such a sharp break from our tribal, hunter-gatherer past that there are entire categories of human behavior no longer accessible to us. And that may be partly true… it’s just probably not as true as we think it is. Trickster is an impulse deep in human nature; it hasn’t gone away, and if anything, modern industrial society — which was heavily anonymized even before the Net came along — offers more opportunities for people to try out deviant or odd behaviors temporarily, safe in the knowledge that they are not necessarily asserting a permanent identity.

Well, there are my deep thoughts for the day. Biella’s whole post is very much worth reading.


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