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Turtz, J. (2016). The Trickster and The System: Identity and Agency in Contemporary Society, by Helena Bassil-Morozow, Routledge, New York, 2015, 200pp.. Am. J. Psychoanal., 76(1):92-94.

(2016). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 76(1):92-94

The Trickster and The System: Identity and Agency in Contemporary Society, by Helena Bassil-Morozow, Routledge, New York, 2015, 200pp.

Review by:
John Turtz, Ph.D.

Helena Bassil-Morozow, a cultural philosopher and film scholar, has written a profound and wonderfully enriching book on the shapeshifting, taboo-breaking and archetypal trickster figure and its complex relation to contemporary society. Her writing is even more poignant given her own upbringing in the Soviet Union, where the spontaneous and nonconformist trickster was shunned.

Bassil-Morozow critically examines the relevancy of the trickster to contemporary postmodern culture, the core dialectic between the individual and society, and that most difficult of emotional experiences that arises from this dialectic—shame. I cannot emphasize enough the enormous significance of the trickster archetype to contemporary psychoanalysis. Its exploration can deepen the analyst's capacity to (a) help patients balance their internal trickster with a sense of order and stability, (b) increase the level of creativity and even subversiveness in psychoanalytic theory in order to prevent our metapsychologies from becoming rigid and ossified, and (c) develop greater awareness of the impact of culture upon patients and to avoid unwittingly reinforcing cultural values that have brought patients to us in the first place, an issue Cushman (1995) has written about.

The Introduction provides a detailed description of the multifaceted characteristics of the trickster figure, from the many elements of the trickster's spirit to common motifs in stories about the trickster. From the Native American trickster, Coyote to Pussy Riot, the trickster is an important part of our culture. Tricksters are usually male, but to Bassil-Morozow's credit, she also emphasizes the importance of the female trickster. Tricksters are creative, spontaneous, and unconscious. They are boundary-breakers, violating taboos and thereby destabilizing the existing hierarchical order. They are both subhuman and superhuman, and they reside in the world of liminality.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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