Multifold Myths of Origin
A Creative Translation of Derrida’s Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences
By: Margaret Fisher
Myth of the King’s Stone
Or the First Bricoleur
(Levi Strauss’ “Problem of Incest” and Bricolage as the Repurposing of Tools No Longer Thought Useful)
There once was an old king who ruled over a large kingdom with his three children: an eldest son, a daughter, and a youngest son. Though a fair and well-loved ruler, the king, in his old age, had begun to question his own strength of command. Despite his doubts, he remained confident that peace was assured so long as the King’s Stone, the supreme law of the land, existed to govern the actions of his people.
The King’s Stone was little more than a giant slab of rock upon which was carved the laws of all the land’s previous rulers. The people of the land, however, had such faith in the stone as an instrument of peace that nothing could persuade them to violate its mandates.
And so it was that one day, the king caught his eldest son and daughter in the act of incest. Heartbroken and disgraced, the king had them both arrested and brought to trial.
Now this particular kingdom possessed two distinct courts of judgment: The Court of Natural Law and The Court of Social Law, and the King’s Stone dictated which crimes would be tried by each court.
Incest, however, had never been committed in the kingdom before. Going to the King’s Stone for guidance, the king found that there was no law to mandate how his children should be tried.
Troubled, the king turned to his most learned advisors. Some believed incest was a violation of natural law, others a transgression against the social law of the kingdom. However, even the wisest of these men was unable to determine which court had supreme jurisdiction over the crime.
Months passed in long hours of scholarly debate, pouring over every detail of the King’s Stone, searching for some clue to guide their judgment. Meanwhile, the prince and princess remained in jail awaiting their trial. They knew, as did all the king’s subjects, that the distinction between courts was critical: a violation of social law could be punished with life imprisonment, but a violation of natural law was punishable by death.
Fearing for the lives of his elder brother and sister, the king’s youngest son devoted himself to long hours of study, tracing the origins of the crime of incest. He poured over ancient manuscripts, remaining so long in the dimly lit halls of the kingdom’s libraries that the sun’s light blinded his eyes.
All the while, the king’s subjects grew uneasy. They began to lose faith in the King’s Stone and the king himself. How could the king protect them if the very foundation of their law could not answer the question of incest? They began to meet in secret, some even plotting to overthrow the king and his family line in favor of a new law.
The king, receiving word of these plots, called all of his subjects together. Surrounded by his guards, he pleaded with his subjects to continue their lives in peace.
“How can we?” they cried, “The law of the land, the King’s Stone, has become useless!”
The king stood quiet for a long time, then turned back to his subjects and said,
“The King’s Stone is not useless. I have discovered a way that it can be used to judge the crime which has undone us all.”
The people then watched in silence as the king ordered his son, daughter, and the King’s Stone brought out before the crowd.
“Now,” said the king to his guards, “push the stone over.”
His guards protested, but the king commanded once more, “Push the stone over!”
The crowd watched in horror as the stone swayed and then crashed down on top of the prince and princess, crushing them to death.
“There.” Said the king, “The King’s Stone is not useless. Look how it has judged the crimes of my children.”
Not wishing to look upon the bodies of his son and daughter, the king returned home. He ordered his men to bring the stone and place it in a corner of the castle, in case someday it again proved a useful and necessary tool.
Myth of the Bricoleur and the Engineer
(The Bricoleur as Literary Scavenger and Functional Engineer)
The night was dark, and in the wake of the battle, the Bricoleurs stepped quietly between the bodies of fallen men and machines, collecting the parts and pieces still intact.
As he stepped, one Bricoleur in particular combed hungrily through the rubble and ruin, searching for a limb or part that might be considered truly complete. This Bricoleur, being young, had never seen a complete thing before, beyond the parts that made up himself and his friends. His particular troupe of Bricoleurs always arrived up after the battle, in the wake of the carnage, existing only to pick up the pieces that could still be used, before moving on to the next site. That was the arrangement.
The Bricoleur had heard tales of the Great Engineer. The one who created complete things from whole cloth. The one who made something from nothing. He hoped, each time he stepped onto a new field of ruin, that he might find a trace of this Great Engineer, a sign of a perfect whole made from nothing.
As he moved through the field today, however, his hopes seemed even more impossible than usual. These bodies and machines were especially destroyed, nothing still intact except the smallest bits of connecting pieces. As he moved along, head down and peering through the ruin, he nearly tumbled over a large rock-like thing in the midst of the field.
It was a man, hunched over in the dirt, crying. He seemed lost, holding the remains of a destroyed machine in his oil-stained hands.
“Who are you?” asked the Bricoleur.
“I am the creator of this machine,” said the man sadly, “I assembled him from parts I had collected for five years. I was able to keep him for a time, but I knew he would have to go, to fight with the others. I came today to see if he survived, to see if he could be fixed.”
“Why would you waste time trying to fixing him?” asked the Bricoleur, “You can take the parts that still work, and make something new from them.”
“I would rather fix him,” said the man, “I am capable of it, if he wasn’t so ruined.”
“But why would you do it?” asked the Bricoleur.
“Because I’m an engineer. That’s what I do.” he said
“You are no Engineer,” said the Bricoleur, “There is only The Great Engineer. Besides, an engineer makes things from whole cloth, from nothing. You are a Bricoleur, same as me. Same as all of us.” He gestured to his friends collecting parts further out in the littered field.
The sad man shook his head.
“No.” He said, “No. I am an engineer. I have always been an engineer. ”
“You can’t be!” cried the Bricoleur, “If you are an engineer, then so am I. And I am a Bricoleur.”
“I don’t care much what you are,” said the man, “I am an engineer. I collect parts, I learn how they work, and I make something from them.”
He stared quietly down at the broken mash of parts beneath his feet,
“But I can’t make them last.”
And with that he stood, gathered the remains of his fallen machine, and walked slowly away. The Bricoleur sat and stared after him, trying to imagine making something from nothing. He remained in that spot, unmoving, for a long time; until the sun began to sink beneath the hills and darkness moved in to flood the cluttered remains.