Bricolage: A Woman's Use Of Canonical Ideology

4498 words - 18 pages

Bricolage: A Woman's Use of Canonical Ideology

le bricolage: travail dont la technique est improvisée, adaptée aux materiaux, aux circonstances.[1]

In chapter one of The Savage Mind, Claude Leví-Strauss explains bricolage as a way of understanding the structure of mythical thought in "savage" societies. The term bricoleur can be used practically, to represent a kind of craftsman though Leví-Strauss brings the word to an analytical level, and it is with this level that we are concerned. The bricoleur's "universe of instruments is closed and the rules of his game are always to do with `whatever is at hand'"[2] so, as a craftsman, he is conservative and ecological. He works from within a ...view middle of the document...

"[6] Paz's "tradition against itself" extends Eliot's with the notion that "what constitutes the modern tradition is the constant renewal of literary forms, as contemporary textual practices."[7] However divergent, both of these theories rely on a similar concept which shapes an American literary tradition according to Leví-Strauss' bricolage: "in order to belong to tradition... [one must] break the Textual Law."[8] The deconstruction of the governing monument and its subsequent reconstruction from the remains are the means through which an American tradition and ideology can progress.

Bricolage repeats throughout the canonical texts. In Walden, Thoreau builds his home in the woods, a home that represents his denial of and isolation from society. However, he constructs his home out of the tools that such a society has given him: "for I had borrowed other tools"[9] and "[bought] the shanty of James Collins,"[10] constructing the home "with the help of some acquaintances."[11] As male American writers tend to fall into a trend similar to that of Thoreau, a trend which postulates an individualist removal of the self from society, thereby deconstructing the society and reconstructing the self in place of it, they inevitably use the tools their society and tradition as the canon has dictated, have given them. That this paradigm repeats throughout the canon is paradoxical since bricolage seeks to deconstruct, using the tools inherent to that which it deconstructs. Theoretically, each canonical writer, when reconstructing his own tradition, also makes use of the tools he has found when deconstructing the past monument. For the literary craftsman, these tools are those of the bricoleur and tools which present a space for a dominant paradigm and an "other" who seeks to deconstruct it. However, when the canonical writers do this, it is still traditional; as Eliot asserts, the "existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves" and it is merely "modified by the introduction of the new work"[12] since even the new work carries the same core set of values. The American writer, as the bricoleur, "[takes] to pieces and [reconstructs] sets of events (on a psychical, socio-historical or technical plane) and [uses] them as so many indestructible pieces for structural patterns."[13] This process is an easy one for the white, American man who constructed it as a canonical notion because he is himself encompassed and supported by the tradition that imposes it. The male écriture supplies him with a "poetic inheritance" so that he is "surrounded by a continuum of living and dead poets with whom he can establish literary rapport" by way of their mutual "inheritance."[14] Though Thoreau may use the ideology implied in the actions of the bricoleur, the tools he uses are, as Leví-Strauss posits, indestructible. He is still an active participant in the male canon of writers such as Emerson, Melville or Hawthorne who write of the same escape from society and into...

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