May 1st, 2004


I always enjoy Today's Word. But I especially enjoy it today:
Today's Word Is.....

bricolage \bree-koh-LAHZH; brih-\ --noun : Construction or something constructed by using whatever materials happen to be available.

The Internet is a global bricolage, lashing together unthinkable complexities of miscellaneous computers with temporary lengths of phone line and fiber optic, bits of Ethernet cable and strings of code.
--Bernard Sharratt, "Only Connected," New York Times, December 17, 1995

Cooking with leftovers was bricolage--a dialogue between the cook and the available materials.
--Susan Strasser, Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash

I point out to my students that no one ever really reads Hamlet for the first time now; we've heard it all before in bits and pieces, cultural bricolage.
--Marjorie Garber, "Back to Whose Basics?" New York Times, October 29, 1995

Etymology: from the French, from bricole, "trifle; small job."

First use in English: n/a if you have it, please email it to me.
This is one case, however, in which the entry is in definite need of a supplement:
If one calls bricolage the necessity of borrowing one's concepts from the text of a heritage which is more or less coherent or ruined, it must be said that every discourse is bricoleur. The engineer, whom Lévi-Strauss opposes to the bricoleur, should be the one to construct the totality of his language, syntax, and lexicon. In this sense, the engineer is a myth. A subject who supposedly would be the absolute origin of his own discourse and supposedly would construct it "out of nothing," "out of whole cloth," would be the creator of the verb, the verb itself. The notion of the engineer who supposedly breaks with all forms of bricolage is therefore a theological idea; and since Lévi-Strauss tells us elsewhere that bricolage is mythopoetic, the odds are that the engineer is a myth produced by the bricoleur. As soon as we cease to believe in such an engineer and in a discourse which breaks with the received historical discourse, and as soon as we admit that every finite discourse is bound by a certain bricolage and that the engineer and the scientist are also species of bricoleurs, then the very idea of bricolage is menaced and the difference in which it took on its meaning breaks down.

-- Jacques Derrida, "Structure, Sign, and Play"
I don't think he ever made this point -- the, dare I say it, central point of his philosophy -- more clearly or compactly.

To borrow from a paper I was working on a decade ago that I revisited in my Literary Analysis class last week, we can say -- and you can replace the name here with the name of an other, with all that replacement implies -- the following:

• Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, but out of all the devices that preceded its invention; and

• Eli Whitney invented the concept of mass production using interchangeable parts, but out of the interchangeable parts of language.

Life is but a poor Lego player, a brick-layer who struts and frets his hour upon the stage until supplanted by another. Only the bricks endure.
  • Current Music
    The new Tortoise album on auto-repeat in the family room