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See key pronunciations used in the Round and Square blog.
Click below for the other posts on bricolage in the Theory Corner series:
|[a] MacGyver starter kit|
Mythical thought, that "bricoleur," builds up structures by fitting together events, or rather the remains of events, while science, "in operation" simply by virtue of coming into being, creates its means and results in the form of events, thanks to the structures which it is constantly elaborating and which are its hypotheses and theories. But it is important not to make the mistake of thinking that these are two stages or phases in the evolution of knowledge. Both approaches are equally valid....Mythical thought for its part is imprisoned in the events and experiences which it never tires of ordering and reordering in its search to find them a meaning. But it also acts as a liberator by its protest against the idea that anything can be meaningless with which science at first resigned itself to a compromise. 
|[d] The first three volumes of Mythologiques|
|[e] Structural categories in myth|
Let's look at a quick example that parallels the story of Bricky and the bathtub plug in our first Theory Corner entry. We shall explore the myth of American Pie—an epic "telling" that blends disparate elements of shared history and culture in a narrative that could easily be retold in countless satisfying ways. The only "difference" between the song "American Pie" and what might well have been a myth (in a preliterate culture that depended on many Don McLeans to entertain and shape our thinking) is that the one was fixed and carved into vinyl, while myth is ever-changing and ever retold).
Take a listen to an American myth (now or later). It will take about ten minutes, so be careful with your schedule.
|[e] Myth etched into vinyl|
American Pie begins with stock elements of shared cultural and temporal values, as well as contingent fragments of individual narration (stuff that just happened to happen to the singer).
A long, long time ago...
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile.
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And, maybe, they'd be happy for a while.
It calls to mind a wide variety of cultural forms with powerful, shared qualities—especially the quality of a good beginning.
Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Call me Ishmael.
|[d] Writing culture|
The tale is sung by the poet following the narrative progression ("beginning" to "end" with satisfying chunks of "stuff" in-between) that is expected in virtually all human verbal interaction. Think of Don McLean as a bricoleur, now. He links key elements of shared experience as though they were plucked from the back of his intellectual donkey cart. He reshapes them (axe, saw, penknife, and hunting knife—employed by the mind) into an elaborate, story-form...bathtub plug. As though starting from the question/problem "how might we think about this turbulent decade?"—instead of "how might I plug this tub?"—the poet grasps his tools and begins to sort through his "stuff" as he contrives to craft an answer. McLean's retro-fitted "plug" fits beautifully for many listeners, and we achieve a kind of satisfaction from the "myth" that "answers" many aspects of the core question (what do we make of this turbulent decade?). We do all of this without really "knowing" precisely what it all of the elements "mean." And without having a "core" question. It was just a device for moving us along in our thinking; now we must abandon it.
Myth is like that.
But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver.
Bad news on the doorstep;
I couldn't take one more step.
I can't remember if I cried
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.
|[e] Quests for "the" meaning|
This is the "engineer's" flaw when dealing with myth (or "American Pie"). People who attempt to master the lyrics, to tame them with literalism, end up frustrated, ludicrous, or (usually) both. They make the fundamental error of which Lévi-Strauss warned—substituting the scientific for the mythical, the engineer's approach for the bricoleur's. The consequences of this mismatch range from silliness ("was 'Lennon' or 'Lenin' reading a book on Marx...or Mark's...Marcus, or marks?)... Running to printed versions of the lyrics will only further confuse the "reading engineer." For example, I always "hear" the lyrics in a way not rendered in the text (you may well do this, too). You see, the force of the song/myth is verbal, and chasing written text will only mire a person further in messy issues of authorial intent and intentional authority. The sensible mythographer (and listener) will follow the flow of the narrative, the "shape" of the images, and the musicality of the telling. It is as much about rhyme and cadence as it is about details.
So bye-bye, Miss American Pie.
Drove my Chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
And them good old boys were drinkin' whiskey and rye
Singin', "this'll be the day that I die...
this'll be the day that I die."
|[g] Engineer meets bricoleur|
We all know the kind of mind that seeks to track down every reference in the quest to find the "real" meaning (often arguing in a superior tone with those who "just want to enjoy the song"). Many pleasant repasts have been ruined by such conduct. People spend vast amounts of time arguing "which one is right." For Lévi-Strauss, it is a false question. They are fundamentally different. They are two kinds of thought, each amenable to its own kinds of questions—and quite clunky when dealing with the others. Ask a bricoleur to "fix" a computer's circuitry; ask an engineer to make a bike wheel from a tree stump. The former is incapable of meeting the challenge; the latter is capable, but perhaps disdainful. There is an almost perfect analogy here to the perception that we have today—in literate, "modern" societies—to intellect, thought, education, and knowledge.
Engineer and bricoleur...rarely the twain do meet.
Theory Corner 1c—History and Change
 The Savage Mind, 22. Italics mine.