Twisted Bayou Bookcase

Twisted Bayou Bookcase

      Claude Levi-Strauss writes that the elements of a tale are assembled into what is known in French as a bricolage. There is no single English noun that conveys its meaning, but the closest single verb for the term is to tinker. When creating a bricolage, one is said to repair, fabricate, and arrange elements that are readily available into something of use. The term also implies that the techniques and skills used were those of an amateur. The result can be good or bad depending on how the project was carried out and depending on how the elements came together. So the term is not necessarily pejorative, which can be illustrated by some of the older meanings of the term. As a verb, bricoler, it was used to mean to eat a hot food quickly by rolling the food in the mouth; to wander about using a circuitous path; and to ride a horse through heavy brush.

     Bricolage is a foreign concept not only in English, but also in Cajun French. I once had a fifteen minute conversation in French with a native Standard French speaker on what was meant by the term. We occasionally lapsed into English as I tried to understand. On a bricolé pour comprendre le mot, bricolage. – We tinkered to understand the word, bricolage. And so we are doing now, you and I, tinkering away, using the concepts at hand to convey how Twisted Bayou was constructed and told.

     It is a hackneyed phrase that Cajun Louisiana is a cultural gumbo; but there is much truth in that statement. It is a culture which at its root integrates rather than rejects external elements into a multi-cultural bricolage. And so to reflect that integration, strength, and diversity, the tale has embraced this tradition. It’s originality is not in the individual elements, but rather in their selection and assemblage into this bricolage.

     Many true elements are found in this tale, but when the I needed an element that was not true, I created what was needed. Some of the events have been researched in the primary and secondary historical records; but when the information was not readily at hand, I created what was needed out of whole cloth. Most actual historical events occur on the day that they actually occurred. A few others are moved around to lend credence to how the story unfolds. Other events are based on entirely upon the remembrances of myself and others. These memories are not accurate records of real events, only living constructs subject to distortion of personal perspective and the erosions of time. Taken together, this assemblage of truth and fiction is a bricolage.

     As in the the Epigrams that begins the tale, I sought not to tell the literal truth, but to tell always the essential truth. Many events are patterned not on the historical record, but on myths buried deep in the consciousness of America implanted by European, Native American, and African sources. I have sought not so much to create a new tale; but bricoler existing structures within these myths and fill those structures with elements at hand. Within an essay, I cite those sources, be they books, movies, music, folktales, or the odds and ends that are found in Cajun Louisiana.

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