Spring 2010 Course Descriptions
Forms of Folklore
section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes
Folklore, everyday cultural forms of expression, are communicated, enjoyed, replicated, passed on, modified, deployed and interpreted by all of us. We weave folklore effortlessly into our daily lives, using folklore to shape and understand our world and our place in it. We are all experts. So much so that most of the time our use and reception of folklore goes unnoticed. Folklore operates in the realm of the obvious, taken for granted, self-evident, and thus is not designated as being open to interpretation. Thus, Folklore has been described as “quotidian” – the stuff that makes up everyday life, ordinary. But in the potential to convey meaning, create boundaries, constitute identity, and create sense out of nonsense, Folklore is anything but ordinary. Folklore, that stock of knowledge brought into specific situations, “…substantiates our belief in the connectedness and orderliness of the larger context of the everyday lifeworld.” (S. Stewart, Nonsense, pg. 11)
At the same time, as a construct, when we self consciously address the concept of folklore, it is laden with the historical legacy of 19th century European Romanticism, and much of what is recognized as “legitimate folklore” is derived from such concepts, which ultimately relegate folklore to “old wives’ tales” – falsehoods and superstitions that are grounded in anti-modern premises. Thus the term Folklore has come to encompass both subject and object, “theory” and data, “folk-wisdom” and disciplinary construct. Because Folklore is at once seen as both marginal and central to our daily endeavors, it is the object of “heritage preservation” and the salvage work of archives as well as being derided as old-fashioned, irrational, nonsense.
Any study of Folklore necessarily investigates these paradoxical and oppositional tendencies, and this course is no different. A major portion of the class is, and has historically been, devoted to the processes of collection and archiving – an appeal to a rational, typological, genre-based methodology. However, this is not a class devoted to collection and accumulation of data for its own sake. We are interested in how folklore can be analyzed to reflect on social organization and cultural logics, themselves changing and contingent. We will look at Folklore as deeply contextualized discursive terrain – socially constructed and yet undergirded by a deep belief that not only are these expressive forms “obvious” but that they are shared by others.
Translation in Folklore and Culture
“I am convinced that the German Shakespeare today is better than the English,” wrote the German romantic poet Novalis. European literature, in the eighteenth century, applauded Macpherson’s translations of poems from a nonexistent folk original. The Grimm brothers selected folktale texts and rewrote their content for a readership of middle-class parents. In folklore and literature studies, translation is foundational. But so it is in every other discipline. In classics, philosophy, and comparative literature, the discourse about translation is monotonously evaluative: a translation is either good or bad. This course demonstrates through folklore that there is much more to say. As soon as a tale is written down from oral performance, it demands translation or interpretation. Any movement between two systems of communication (novel to film, e. g. The English Patient; drama to opera, e. g. Verdi’s Otello) is a translation. There’s always something than has to be interpreted, whether it is an African proverb, a folktale from Madagascar, a philosophical treatise, a sacred text, a poem, or a dream. There’s always some audience that needs the interpretation. In West African society, a royal spokesman must act as the chief’s mouth and ear. Isn’t he, and every spokesman, a translator? Some people think the essence of translation is that it conveys misinformation: how can we trust translations of oral folktales from "exotic" languages?
This course examines the fundamental role of translation, in this broad sense, in folklore; also in literature, philosophy, psychology, and anthropology. It brings together students of all these disciplines to ask, “Can everything be translated?” What, really, is the “conversation of mankind”? Can we understand one another? We retrace sequences of translation and interpretation of proverbs from Madagascar, Native American narratives, classical mythology, folktales from the Southwest Indian Ocean, and other attempts to bridge the gaps between cultures. Psychology enters with Freud’s contention that the language of dreams must be translated, in the setting of unequal power that was his consulting room. Philosophy enters with Jacques Derrida’s concept of différance, which combines the production of difference(s) with endlessly deferred meaning. Différance comes in every time an oral folktale is performed or a song is sung. As soon as we understand that language, or any other signifying system, is a system of differences, we notice translation coming into play. The course interrogates relations among different codes of communication and the ethics of mediation. What theoretical implications arise from the continual play of cultural forces?
Folklore Among the Disciplines
Based in interdisciplinarity, this seminar uses the epistemology of folklore to develop a broad theory: that creativity, among the “folk” or among scholars, arises out of the blending, sometimes the clash, of distinct discourses. Folklorists act as though diverse intellectual traditions are fundamentally related and belong together: anthropology, literature, psychology, sociology, art and music criticism, and history. So what is their “discipline”? A systematic study of some area of capitalist life. The countertendency, now called interdisciplinarity, explains the very existence of folklore studies, which continually protests the fetishizing of anthropology, literature, and critical theory in university department structures.
A particular “linguistic turn,” the discovery of creolization, has expedited the countertendency. Linguists discovered that the languages called creole and pidgin develop through the convergence of diverse linguistic traditions, within specific situations of social contact. Moreover, creoles and pidgins, far from being “hybrid” or “broken,” and therefore inferior, are emergent, historically discontinuous, and autonomous. People who devise pidgins and creoles develop a capacity for remodeling and adapting. The discovery provides a model for understanding folklore studies, which were born out of the convergence of intellectual traditions. Having developed a borrowing capacity analogous to what happens in creole languages, folkloristics acquires the power to adapt and remodel political, psychological, and anthropological insights. Consequently, folkloristic discourse speaks to several disciplines at the same time. Folkloristics now embraces the study of multiculturalism, multilingualism, and communicative competence in ordinary life.
Any viable theory of world culture obligates us to assemble facts about the cultural convergence that is revealed where languages and traditions mix. Any viable theory of the intellectual world, as it internationalizes, obligates us to recognize that disciplines are converging. Consequently, folklore can (re)construct itself away from a discipline with boundaries into a pluridisciplinary or transdisciplinary network. The seminar will move through several fields. Psychoanalysis and structuralism demand reconsideration. Deconstruction, cognitive linguistics, and poststructuralism all connect with folklore studies to create a true interdisciplinarity.
Intersections of Judaism and Islam in Music
The course will survey the different levels of interaction in vast geographical areas from the Maghreb to Central Asia, in diverse genres and contexts of musical performance, in relation to gender roles and in diverse periods: synagogue, religious festivals, life cycle events, folk song, art traditions and up to modern popular music. Attention will be paid to basic issues in the study of music in ritual contexts, music as a marker of identities, music as a medium for religious experiences, music memories and conflict, music and colonialism, and music as a constituent of modernity outside Europe. Modern and postmodern constructions of the remote past, e.g. the convinvecia of Jews, Muslims and Christians in medieval Spain, will be also discussed a-propos music as well as the fate of Jewish musical traditions from the Lands of Islam after the massive immigrations, e.g. the phenomenon of musika mizrahit in Israel or the chanson franco-arabe in France. The pervasive notion (especially in the field of “World Music”) that through music contemporary Jews and Muslims can re-enact reconciliation will also be brought to discussion.
Making Folk Song: A New Appraisal of the Judeo-Spanish Heritage
210 Hargrove Library
Performances, recordings and publications of songs in Ladino are one of the most conspicuous public displays of the Judeo-Spanish heritage at the outset of the 21st century. The standing of the Ladino speaking descendants of the Jews from Spain and Portugal as an institutionalized and independent ethno-religious-cultural community suffered constant erosion throughout the 20th century. Multiple migrations, acculturation or enculturation into the cultures of powerful nation-states (American, French, Israeli, etc), and embedment within multi-cultural Jewish social structures are inexorable processes affecting Sephardi culture. Yet Sephardi songs appear to have survived these predicaments. This survival has materialized in the most diverse, non-traditional contexts, out of which the electronic mass media is patently the most prominent one. Ladino songs are usually accompanied by a loaded baggage of meanings and a thick net of narratives about their origin, transmission and survival. These meanings and narratives take the form of oral or written texts found in diverse registers of the Sephardi, Jewish and non-Jewish cultural fields in Israel, Western Europe and the Americas: jacket notes to CDs, Ladino newsletters or journals, songsters, radio programs, Internet websites and blogs, academic articles, sing-along meetings and so on. An archeology of the narratives associated with Ladino songs is a most effective path to understand Sephardi Jewry in the past hundred years or so. This archeology focuses on the careful unraveling of the how and why, when and where, and by whom these narratives came into being.
section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes
This seminar introduces principal figures from the basic disciplines of philosophy, biology, and linguistics who are particularly influential in current trends in semiotic method. It undertakes to lay the foundation of a semiotic method distinct from monolithic traditional structuralism, so,.e.g, it concentrates on anti-Saussurean thought. In presenting semiotic universals, the seminar pursues the formulation and the application of a theoretical construct valid for any and all semiotic modalities ranging from the literary text, to the language act as text, and to the human being as text. No prerequisites.