The Master Trickster

While on holiday last week I re-read the toast of the Signifying Monkey (here), an African-American reworking of African mythology depicting the survival strategies of the trickster (the titular monkey) attempting, in the face of oppression and discrimination to defuse the powers of exploitation and undermine (racial) misrepresentation. He does so not through violence or aggression but cunning and wit. It is a powerful poem with a strong resonance in the African-American political struggle. Signifying, in the non-folkloric sense, is the creation of new “language”, a “way of saying one thing but meaning another”, and is a trope that can be found in music, particularly in blues and jazz, in the improvisations of Coltrane, Monk and others, and in soul music, in testifying and calling out (see the music of James Brown especially.) Here, though, it reminded me of Muhammad Ali. Ali was the great urban trickster of sixties and seventies America and,
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