Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Female Trickster: A Post-modern, Post-Jungian Feminist Perspective on an Old Archetype

The Female Trickster
For inexplicable reasons, lawyers are the purveyors of some of my recent reading material.  One is Justice Antonin Scalia and the other is Dr. Ricki Tannen, a lawyer who refashioned herself as a depth psychologist.  If the skills of rhetoric and argumentation interest you, then you may enjoy Justice Scalia’s Making Your Case .  Whereas, Dr. Tannen’s, “The Female Trickster”, is a comprehensive revisioning of the trickster archetype through the lens of a feminist, postmodern theorist.  She has published scholarly material in the area of feminist legal theory.  She displays a sound understanding of how patriarchal structures can subjugate the feminine but this is neither a political rant or a stridently feminist contribution.  It is a well crafted, timely addition to the study of archetypal psychology.
Books that purport to be post-modern turn me off and to claim the status of Post-Jungian only aggravates this irritationOrdinarily, the appearance of post-modern, or post-Jungian dissuades me from any further approach.  I am glad I didn’t allow “The Female Trickster: The Mask That Reveals~Post-Jungian and Postmodern Psychological Perspectives on Women in Contemporary Culture” halt my pursuit.
Dr. Tannen recently moved to Asheville and I am looking forward to meeting her soon.   She studied law at the University of Florida (my undergraduate alma mater) and has published on various topics in feminist legal theory.  She went on to complete doctoral work at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Depth Psychology.
If you are asking why I am featuring this book, it is because when a new, feminist voice appears on the scene, it deserves to be acknowledged.  Tannen’s is a new voice.  Listen to some phrases from her book.  “Tricksters preside over moments of passage, rupture and transformation”.  This is surely not a new idea.  But the female trickster embodies “psychological authority, physical agency, and bodily autonomy”.  That is a revolutionary idea.  Tannen proposes that the subversive, strategic use of humor along with a refusal to identify herself as a victim, are defining features of the female tickster.  Three female sleuths, V. I. Warshawski, Kinsey Millhone, Kate Shugak, serve as three exemplars of the means by which popular literature transmutes “imagination into reality” in ways that transform the individual and collective consciousness.  The books scholarship is broad and imposing enough to justify owning it.  But scholarship alone would not have moved me to devote a blog entry to this book.
There are books that proclaim with a deep, authentic voice a message that changes my understanding of the world.  Years ago, In a Different Voice (Gilligan), Women’s Growth in Connection (Jordan, et al), Toward a New Psychology of Women(Baker Miller), and Jane Eyre (Brontë) caused the tectonic plates  of relationship to the feminine to shift.   The Female Trickster joined the canon of writings by women that transformed my appreciation of The Second Sex (this was not meant as commentary, but I could not overlook this title).
Is there an archetype associated with the postmodern period?  Is there room for a post-Jungian persepctive?  I am skeptical of any proposition that a new archetype has emerged.  I understand archetype as the substratum of psychic content that cuts across the ages, trascends cultures, and plunges deeper than an historical context can fathom.  But I want to remain open minded to the notion that just as our species evolves ( our psychic structures may be evolving.
If I have a criticism of The Female Trickster, it is that the chapter titled “Where have all the virgins gone?” was too brief a survey of the ancestral origins of the female trickster archetype.  I suspect that the female trickster has declared herself in ages past.  The ineffable realms of feminine intuition and ways of knowing has aroused fear and suspicion in patriarchal culture again and again.  Perhaps because the effort to suppress female trickster energy has been so successful, the chapter was as extensive as it could be.  My objection to the concept of a new archetype were mollified by Tannen’s liberal use of phrases like female trickster energy rather than archetype.
Tannen uses the Female Sleuth (detective) as an example of the female trickster and she enriches that example with other popular characters from Sex and the City and pop music.  Dr. Tannen has something to say.  It is something profoundly important for our time.  The female trickster is inherently complete and her proclivity for social work in the world is a defining characteristic.
I have a personal affinity for the trickster motif and friends, colleagues, loved ones have ascribed trickster qualities to me.  Tannen’s understands the trickster’s clever use of humor that permits simultaneous challenges to the established structures while remaining inbounds.  The Female Trickster is a sort of Summa Psychologica of the female tricksterviewed as one step on the long march toward deeper understanding and integration of the feminine it is worth your attention.  Be prepared for a curried mix of scholarship, personal reflection, and deep psychological insight.
Please tender your opinion on the following matters (whether or not you read this book):
  • Is it possible for new archetypes to emerge?
  • How has the trickster archetype or motif (male or female) manifested in your clinical work and in your personal life?
  • What response do you feel to the notion of a female trickster as a discrete entity, recognizable entity?
  • Do you have any personal encounters with the female trickster?
We are very interested in your thoughts, reflections, and memories of your encounters with the female trickster.
Len Cruz, MD

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