Just because the late, great Barbara F. Lefcowitz (1935-2015) has gone to the Great Beyond doesn’t mean she doesn’t keep in touch with me. In fact, she’s started something today. I happened upon a list of some of our magazine’s friends on Facebook and felt a pang when I saw her name. I double-clicked on that bait. She’d described herself as “poet and bricoleur.” Now, that was something.
Okay, Barbara. Let’s do this.
Merriam-Webster defines a bricoleur as “one who engages in bricolage.” Very naughty.
The old French usage of engaging “anything to hand” was refined by French philosopher Claude Levi-Strauss in The Savage Mind (University of Chicago Press, 1966) when he suggested that the work of the bricoleur [and, really, mon cher, are we not all bricoleurs?] also takes place on “the plane of speculation. This is what is commonly called ‘bricolage’ in French. In its old sense, the verb ‘bricoler’ applied to ball games and billiards, to hunting, shooting, and riding. It was however always used with reference to some extraneous movement: a ball rebounding, a dog straying, or a horse swerving from its direct course to avoid an obstacle.”
A bricoleur is a master, or mistress, of extraneous movements, then. There’s a sense of the ad hoc, the willy-nilly, the graceful catching of random on the rebound, to the bricoleur.
Not to mention, the word has Starbucks* appeal. [*Uncompensated product-placement alert.]
‘A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,’ Levi-Strauss continues: “And in our own time the ‘bricoleur’ is still someone who works with his hands and uses devious means compared to those of a craftsman. The characteristic feature of mythical thought is that it expresses itself by means of a heterogeneous repertoire which, even if extensive, is nevertheless limited. It has to use this repertoire, however, whatever the task in hand because it has nothing else at its disposal. Mythical thought is therefore a kind of intellectual ‘bricolage.’”
Here at Portland Monthly, we champion the bricolage. Each of our stories is imagined individually. But in their mystical collective, something wonderful happens to our stories. They take over entire issues and give them a life of their own. Stars can become constellations.
As for you, Barbara–“that’s Barbara with three a’s”–one more question. More properly, shouldn’t you lay claim to being a “bricoleuse.” Or is that sexist? Dear readers, please weigh in on this. I sure as heck know our Barbara from Brooklyn would have.
We are honored to have featured Barbara’s fiction, including the very timely “The Pink Suit,” across four decades. She loved to walk the beaches of Maine, collecting sea shells and stories. Anything to hand. She loved her objects on one level but loved them even more for the shadows they cast into infinity. Barbara has just gotten started on her bricolage. Haven’t we all?
To read some of her work, visit: