They were all dressed up for a party, but were never introduced to any of their supposed hosts.
Richard Bauman et al., The 1987 Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife: An Ethnography of Participant Experience (1988)
Folk festivals are occasions in which folk culture and official culture embrace one another: the one to win honor from the attention of cultural institutions allied with education, science, commerce, or government, the other to disseminate the influences of folk culture into the popular imagination and, by way of advocating and sustaining it, into the commercial marketplace or public policy. A folk festival thus reframes folk culture as an element of a legitimate, polite, or elite culture, typically under the auspices of institutions representing these interests--a school, university, or museum, a municipality, a historical site, a public park-and with the sponsorship of various establishments, foundations, corporations, governments, agencies, and the like.
Yet a folk festival is typically not one event, really, but the scene of many events, formal and informal, public and private, prescribed and spontaneous, a social, political, and aesthetic phenomenon of almost incomprehensible complexity whose energy reaches, through its impact on individual souls, not only into local communities, but also into arts agencies, preservation societies, academic departments, state and local governments, commercial institutions, and folk communities themselves to disturb the surface and sometimes redirect the channels in which our cultural history flows. In the great public festivals such as the Smithsonian's Festival of American Folklife or the National Folk Festival, public audiences constituted both by particular local communities and visitors from distant parts can encounter folk artists, craftspeople, cooks, storytellers, and musicians representing a startling variety of the world's ethnic, regional, tribal, occupational, and voluntary cultures normally present to them only as names or at best as musical recordings, photographic images, caricatures, or as the subjects of books--or never known to them at all.
In this laboratory of cultural negotiation--a negotiation that for many may occur only in imagination--artistic power can overcome almost absurd cultural differences; private idealism can be restored; class antagonism can be quelled and the old incessant cravings put to rest; neglected parts of personality may assert themselves, and even erotic force, in one way or another, find expression. At the Festival of American Folklife, as Alan Lomax once exclaimed, America falls "in love with itself"--and even "tired old Washington sometimes is beautiful when the American people gather to sing and fall in love with one another again" (Lomax 1968).
At the same time, as a recent study of the Festival of American Folklife suggests (Bauman et al. 1988), the reframing of folk culture by high cultural institutions can for festival participants be deeply confusing and potentially painful. Ethnographers at the Michigan section of the 1987 Festival of American Folklife discovered, not surprisingly, that festival participants in many instances did not understand what a folk festival was supposed to be or why they had been invited to one, and in contriving their various performances and demonstrations found "a lack of consensus and explicitness among the festival staff to guide them (Bauman et al. 1988:9) Some men and women who had some understanding of the concept of "folk" were insulted to be so regarded, not only because several of the participants had bad professional training or held advanced degrees, but also because they perceived the designation as implicitly degrading. Some were embarrassed- to be viewed as such by audiences whom they mostly perceived, and mostly correctly to belong to the social classes above them. Some rejected membership in the cultural group with whom the festival had identified them, while others struggled with the question of their own role--were they guests, hirelings, or honorees? In ways seldom acknowledged by public folklife presenters, most of the participants came with well-developed and fully articulated political and personal aims: to wield political influence in some area of importance, to expand a clientele, to accomplish a specific project of work, or simply--and perhaps most tellingly--to earn some money. Many found their personal needs, such as an opportunity to clean up for an evening reception after a day in the sun, neglected, and occasionally experienced the habits of other participants, from other cultural groups, as grossly discourteous or intrusive. Nearly everyone felt strongly the honor conferred by an invitation from the Smithsonian--but in one or two cases, only to meet, upon their return to their home communities, the resentment and jealousy of people who had not been so honored. On the whole, it seems, folk festivals have occurred in an intellectual tradition that cannot wholly credit the human competence of the participant nor thoroughly conceive his or her fundamental cultural difference.
Historically speaking, the public folk festivals of the post-World War II period, which include various university concert festivals such as those at Chicago and Berkeley, the Newport, Philadelphia, and Monterey folk festivals, the new National Folk Festival, and, particularly for this discussion, the Smithsonian's annual Festival of American Folklife, can be understood as outgrowths of the 1960's "folk revival." "Folk revival" is the name we assign, somewhat misleadingly, to the sudden explosion in the commercial popularity of folk song and folk music in the years when John Kennedy presided over the nation's cultural and political reawakening. With their repertoire supplied by extant folk song anthologies, field recordings such as those deposited at the Library of Congress, and esoteric record albums, their musical backgrounds often squarely rooted in the original rock and roll of the 1950's, young men and women of college age or slightly older, now familiar names such as Bob Dylan; Joan Baez; the trio Peter, Paul, and Mary; and the Kingston Trio, whose best-selling recording of the Appalachian murder ballad "Tom Dooley" widely popularized the movement, won considerable fame both as interpreters of folk songs and as original songwriters, spreading their music, their social and political attitudes, and their often dashing personal styles throughout the expanding college-age population. A complex mix of class alienation, political disaffection, arty bohemianism and messianic communalism, the folk revival was the reaction of postwar youth, newly conscious of itself as a group, against a cultural landscape regimented, spartanized, and bureaucratized by a war they could not remember and would never fully understand. It was a kind of unofficial cultural recovery program, innocently seeking a return on the promise that aspiring postwar families, in glad conspiracy with the postwar commercial establishment, had made to their children that life in America was something colorful, fulfilling, and fair.
We call the "folk revival" what we do because in the popular imagination, and on the historical surface, it seems temporarily to have lifted the oppressive weight of history and civilization upon old traditional music. But in fact the gravitational force of folksong, folktale, folk crafts, and folk culture generally upon the minds of ordinary people, though it subsides and revives, has, historically speaking, always been there; it has been there for hundreds of years, well before there was even a word, in English, for "folklore." This has been particularly true in America, which was not only the native home of a complex and extensive aboriginal civilization, but also has been the adoptive home, from day one, of innumerable ethic, religious, economic, regional, national, and minority groups from which have evolved, in the American setting, thousands of diverse folk communities, urban and rural, with many residual, syncretic, and emergent folk traditions. Among these is of course one of the world's most fertile and indomitable folk cultures, the African American, permanently locked, it seems, in a social, political, economic, and cultural symbiosis, often, sadly, a hostile one, with a racist official culture. There is, in America, scarcely a realm of human endeavor that has not enlisted the force of folklife, or representations of folklife, in its service.
Let us look briefly, by way of illustration, into the shallow prehistory of the folk revival. The Kingston Trio's "Tom Dooley" was not the first commercially popular folk song--not by a long shot. A folk song quartet, the Weavers, had made Woody Guthrie's "So Long It's Been Good to Know Ya" the best-selling song of the year in 1950 and sent several other folk songs to the hit parade; had show business blacklisting not scuttled their career they might have sustained their success until 1958 and recorded "Tom Dooley" themselves. And yet commercially popular folk music, strictly speaking, did not disappear from phonographs and radio stations between 1950 and 1958, for the rock and roll music that dominated the popular music of the period was, originally, a musically and commercially potent mix of African American jump, doo-wop, and other varieties generally called "rhythm and blues" by disc jockeys and record companies, and "rockabilly," a folk form of southern white dance music shaped out of the black influence upon commercial honky-tonk, bluegrass, and other kinds of "hillbilly" music, all of this a folk response to the sudden postwar urbanization of southern rural people, both black and white.
And why had the Weavers been blacklisted? Because certain political opportunists, notably Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, had found it expedient to exploit a national paranoia, whose origins were in the presidential campaign of 1948, that the worldwide communist conspiracy promised after the war by Joseph Stalin had contaminated certain quarters of American life, including the labor movement, the intellectual community, and the entertainment and the art worlds. Not surprisingly, considering that they were often allied with all of these enterprises at once, the tiny cadre of left-inspired folksingers such as Pete Seeger who had performed at labor union, Communist party, Spanish Civil War relief, and other progressive functions were a conspicuous target for political witch-hunters. Blacklisting drove professional folksingers into the relative obscurity of college campuses, schools, summer camps, local recreational programs, and radio stations, where their influence upon young people would, ironically, almost guarantee a new folk revival, while many amateur enthusiasts, frightened by FBI investigations and wiretaps, packed up their guitars and banjos for good. At the same time, however, folksong was being introduced in the music curricula of elementary schools under the direction of the American Folklore Society, and folk stories and themes increasingly into popular entertainment: Remember Disney's Mike Fink and Davy Crockett?
The suppression of folksong was a peculiar and unexpected development, and, to the folk revivalists themselves, certainly a kind of betrayal, considering the ground swell of feeling for American life and culture, a kind of cultural patriotism, in which folk music and folklife during the Roosevelt era had allied itself with political action. In the economic and social emergency of the Great Depression, which to some was a kind of apocalypse, an apparent collapse of our social and economic system, the Soviet experiment did not seem conspiratorial to many young and thoughtful people; rather it appeared, from this distance at least, to embody the very ideals that to save itself American democracy urgently needed: an intelligently managed economy, a regulated industrialization, heroic measures in engineering and technology, and, above all, social justice; and these demanded that America learn something about itself, especially the ordinary people, above all the dispossessed and forgotten, who would be the designers and builders of a better democracy.
The New Deal brought the most concerted and multilateral documentation of American life and culture we have ever known. The Federal Writers' Project sent reporters into every state to record cultural life as it was actually lived, to collect not only what Ben Botkin, director of the project's folklore section, called "living lore," but also to take the testimony of living European immigrants and former slaves, as well as to depict, journalistically, the entire sense of life in given regions and urban districts. The Farm Security Administration sent writers and photographers into stricken agricultural areas to record the lives of men and women and children, and the circumstances in which they lived, in literary and photographic documents such as James Agee and Walker Evans's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, which remain touchstones of America's image of itself as an agricultural, popular, and folk society. The Resettlement Administration engaged musicologist Charles Seeger to find ways, through the encouragement of indigenous musical resources, to foster the consolidation of communities around the project of economic and social self-help. Muralists glorified the working life in countless public buildings, and a vast pictorial record, in photographs and drawings, of American folk crafts, The Index of American Design, was initiated under government auspices. The Roosevelts themselves opened the White House in a series of nine concerts between 1934 and 1942, on one occasion with the king and queen of England in attendance, to traditional singers and musicians, including the North Carolina Spiritual Singers, organized by the Federal Music Project; a mountain string band called the Coon Creek Girls; an old sailor from Virginia, Dan Hunt, who sang sea chanties; and, because he and his father were the foremost collectors of them, Alan Lomax to sing cowboy songs.
Alan and his father, John, with a cumbersome wire-recorder built into the back of their car, had set out into the rural south in 1930, after a bank collapse had cost John Lomax his job, to search out what would become the mother lode of southern song, particularly of black song, in the holdings of the Library of Congress Archive of Folk Song. In the Angola State Prison they met a man called "Leadbelly," Huddie Ledbetter, who with his encyclopedic memory, siren voice, and engine-like twelve-string guitar became, after the Lomaxes had coordinated his release and brought him to New York, a living symbol of the black folk tradition, and as such was often misunderstood by well-intentioned but naive young radicals who had little acquaintance with the facts of black life in the rural South. Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, whom leftist actor Will Geer had coaxed to the city in 1939, seemed to divide America's folk heritage between them, picturesque characters whose genius brought the cloudy idea of "the people," so - mental to what was called "twentieth-century Americanism" during the days of the Popular Front, down to earth.
The folk revival began in the 1930s, then-under "the man who couldn't walk around," as his friend Josh White called him in a blues song Well, not really. The Roosevelt administration had simply reached out into what by the 1920s had already become a brisk trade in the representation, as well as the commercial, political, and social exploitation, of folk culture. Pioneer record-company advance men such as Ralph Peer and Art Satherly, beginning in 1923, had begun to tap the immense resources in nineteenth- century social and display music, folk and commercial, still flourishing in southern folklife: now-familiar figures such as the Carter Family, the Stoneman Family, and Jimmie Rodgers won fame as performers and recording artists playing and singing traditional songs, of which they were both collectors and creators, to regional audiences. A parallel development was occurring on the vaudeville circuit, where singers such as Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith supplied the urban and rural African American marketplaces with a newly introspective blues and jazz music, opening the way for many black rural singers and guitarists such as Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson who left behind them on "race" records documents of prodigious musical and poetic genius. Commercial broadcasting, with its institution the radio barn dance, initiated by Nashville newspaper humorist George Hay's "Grand Ole Opry," brought traditional dance fiddling, minstrelsy, and the Saturday night play party, in performers such as Uncle Jimmy Thompson, Uncle Dave Macon, and Dr. Humphrey Bate and the Possum Hunters, to parlors urban and rural throughout the South and Midwest, recalling, with gentle satire, the old times before the First World War. This was a "folk revival" too.
Not all the activity in folk music was commercial. The intense concentrations of European immigrants in urban ghettos, the squalor and desperation occasioned by it, documented by such works as Jacob Riis's How the Other Half Lives (1890), had stimulated an anxious nativist movement among people who believed--their fears aroused by the lurid and monstrous ethnic stereotypes promulgated by newspaper cartoonists, pulp novelists, and the vaudeville stage--that the Anglo-American root stock and its values were threatened with extinction. This outlook was often conjoined with the related idea that the agent of extinction was the spread of commercial entertainment, including the aforementioned radio barn dances, but especially jazz, which to the nativist imagination was a poisonous brew of primitive racial elements both Negro and Jewish--what Robert Winslow Gordon, founder of the Archive of Folk Song, called "Hebrew Broadway jazz" (Kodish 1986:134). Modernity generally, or more precisely, its threat to the cultural hegemony of the Anglo-American middle class, in fact, was the enemy, and folk culture, understood as a survival from a more elegant and innocent, but above all more refined and respectable, past, might be a bulwark against it.
Class anxiety and ethnocentrism, then, occasioned by swift social and technological change, provided an atmosphere in which, in 1926, the regional office of the Ford Motor Company in Louisville sponsored a fiddlers' convention, bringing together the winners from local contests held at Ford dealerships in the middle South. Industrialist Henry Ford, an outspoken anti-Semite and isolationist, was, like John D. Rockefeller, inspired to memorialize the preindustrial artisan economy that his own enterprise had done much to abolish. While the Rockefellers were collecting folk art and underwriting its exhibit in New York and at Colonial Williamsburg, Ford was constructing his historical museum at Dearborn, Greenfield Village, which, like Colonial Williamsburg, would be a pseudo- environment constituted from the relics of a renovated and rewritten preindustrial past. "Folk art," in this context, was really the folk objet d'art, with the craftsman or craftswoman herself quite eclipsed by it-precisely the condition of its "folk" status.
A new regional folk festival, music teacher Annabel Morris Buchanan's at White Top, Virginia, drew national attention when Eleanor Roosevelt visited in 1933; but another visitor, Charles Seeger, who came in 1936, was troubled by the strange parochial attitudes of a coterie of managers who seemed motivated as much by their contempt for what Buchanan called "crude modern folk productions with cheap tunes based on ancient Broadway hits," and a hatred of urban culture generally, as by a love for "the highest type of native material." They saw no contradiction in excluding from the festival local people who could not pay the forty-cent admission fee. "Elizabethan frankness may be tolerated," Buchanan wrote of her festival; but "vulgarity is barred. The folk festival is not concerned with products of the streets, nor of the penitentiaries, nor of the gutter . . . high standards cannot walk hand in hand with simon-pure democracy" (Buchanan 1937:30). Seeger called the affair "reactionary to the core," detecting in it a veneration for Anglo-Saxon culture, which, with its apparent indifference to actual mountain music and mountain people, was at bottom not musical at all, but social, the idol of a self-styled cultural aristocracy. "Not for the mountain people alone," Buchanan intoned, "not for one region alone not for one class alone: the White Top activities, if they are to endure, must be wrought slowly, carefully, measure by measure, for a race . . . for after all, the White Top festival belongs to the folk And we are the folk' (1937:34).
Seeger was much better pleased by the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, established in 1931 by local lawyer, collector, balladeer, banjo picker, and square dancer, the "Minstrel of the Appalachians," Bascom Lamar Lunsford, whom the Asheville, North Carolina, Chamber of Commerce had enlisted to add a program of folk music and dance to its annual Rhododendron Festival. Asheville's development boom, founded in a feverish speculation in real estate, which in the previous decade had more than tripled the town's population, was on the wane-and waning with it was the hope that Asheville, "The Land of the Sky," might become the holiday, spa, and resort center of the East Coast (Jones 1984). Such was the occasion-but Lunsford's love of mountain people and culture was genuine, and his understanding both of the tradition and of the concert stage profound. Lunsford located and invited to his festival many of the most interesting mountain ballad singers and musicians to have emerged in this century, including banjoists Obray Ramsey, Samantha Bumgarner, and Walter Parham, and balladeers Cas Wallin and Pleaz Mobley, people whose vocal and instrumental styles, the mountain origins of which no one could doubt, had nevertheless enjoyed the pacifying influences of a prized firstand second-generation literacy and the late-nineteenth-century parlor.
Conservative in politics and manners, and a former schoolteacher himself, Lunsford saw in the domestic music and social dance of his region a reservoir of the old-fashioned rural gentility that a generation earlier had flowed from the country schoolhouse, the law office, and Baptist pulpit, so that virtually all of his participants represented in fact the culture of a particular socioeconomic class, a kind of mountain yeomanry, and Lunsford himself a kind of local squire. He would not brook a hell-raiser or a rogue, types not unknown either in folk music or in mountain society, and certainly not a convict or a tramp; normally he did not extend his hospitality to the occasional visitors from the urban folksong movement, whom he saw largely as frauds. Often sheer personal regard, as well as an interest in the upcoming generation, not musicianship alone, determined who would appear on his stage-an indication that in spite of the far-flung audience and reputation it won over the years, the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival was at bottom the effort of a specific historical community, formed by a specific conjunction of regional, economic, and social factors then in dedine, to turn the local real estate collapse into its own cultural opportunity.
Tourism provided the incentive for other festivals as well, such as the American Folk Song Festival, begun in Ashland, Kentucky, in 1930 by former Kentucky court stenographer Jean Thomas, the "Traipsin' Woman," whose experience in New York and Hollywood had taught her the commercial potential in bringing regional stereotypes to life, not only in her own gingham-clad Dogpatch persona, but also in a commercial icon of her own making named J. W. Day, a man whom she presented to the world, on records and in a book, as a blind Kentucky fiddler called "Jilson Setters," the "Singin' Fiddler of Lost Hope Hollow." All hope was not, however, lost: Setters, his sight miraculously restored, ultimately performed in England for George the Fifth.
Boosterism does not of course entirely preclude authenticity. The Kutztown, Pennsylvania, Folk Festival, conceived in 1933 by an Allentown newspaperman named William Troxell, or "Pumpernickel Bill," grew out of Pennsylvania Dutch community picnics and apple-butter boilings (Yoder 1974). Unlike the concerts at Ashland and Asheville, however, Kutztown was participatory, inviting the visitor to handle tools and chat with straw stackers, harvesters, shingle makers, soap boilers, and other traditional craftspeople and agricultural workers. Dialect speeches and ethnic humor nevertheless indicated that, like other festivals of the period, Kutztown was undertaken in the awareness of, if not entirely on behalf of, the gaze of the outsider. By the late 1950s, though, self-satire was replaced by seminars and panels in such matters as witchcraft, "powwowing," and the conduct of funerals, and the term "folklife," which the Smithsonian was to adopt for its own festival, was introduced to describe, more accurately than "folklore," the festival's focus upon the agriculture, domestic economy, and cottage crafts of the pre-automobile era.
But let's not forget the Rhododendrons, or Jilson Setters, or Pumpernickel Bill. What appear to be merely the occasions or expedients of these folk festivals are far more significant as signs of the essential and fundamental involvement of folk with official culture, the involvement that, because offficial culture absorbs all authority, prestige, and power into itself, providing social and political standards and proofs, opens culturally unincorporated tracts in which folklife may build according to its own codes. "Official culture" is-or at least the phrase implies it is-the sum total of those august institutions with which we identify our historical moment and level of civilization: the state, its governing bodies, its educational and business establishments, its corporate structure, commercial interests, its systems of transport, communication, production, and exchange, and so on-institutions that are, indeed, "official" because they are configurations of the forces that in any society shape all of its human processes and determine the sources of authority itself in human needs and wants.
The folk festivals at White Top, Asheville, Ashland, and Kutztown are bound up in various ways with these institutions, not only as expedients and occasions, but, more importantly, as forces in relation to which both the old local parochial culture and an embracing cosmopolitan culture un- derstand themselves and the other-a fact that, in turn, shapes what each of these cultures is: what it values and devalues, the ways it addresses itself to itself and to the other, the ways in which that address shapes its own de- velopment. That such affairs should be bound up with tourism, and hence with travel, money, and, say, advertising and communication, is interesting because it suggests the deeper and more extensive forces that bring tourists and folk cultures together. We may suspect, for instance, that hard-surface roads, balloon-tired automobiles, and very likely radio are all implicated in the emergence of the folk festivals of the late 1920s and 1930s, just as interstate highway and jet air travel, and certainly long-distance telephone, form part of the understructure of the Festival of American Folklife and other public festivals of our epoch. Interesting, too, is the variety of ways in which festival organizers integrate folk culture with projects of a personal, political, or educational character, bringing intellectual, social, and economic resources and advantages to the husbanding and sometimes the engineering of folk cultural resources according to ideologies usually quite alien to ordinary people.
But the presentation of folk culture cannot not arise in a vacuum. The tacit system of shared understandings that makes any presentation intelligible-- in this case, a ductile system of stock characters, stereotyped locales, old stage dialects, typical occupations and pastimes, and, above all, a fixed social and moral hierarchy-demands a tradition of representation in which and through which folk festivals have their meaning. The representation of folk culture, moreover, whether literary, popular, or social scientific, constitutes and frames the category of folk culture itself, opening in official culture a fictional space that reduplicates the cultural opportunity in which folklife has its existence. In that framework, folklife may be only a pure stereotype, a fantasy; but like any fictional frame, it can, with application, assiduous inquiry, and deep imagination, be penetrated-in fact, one can, like Alice into her mirror, disappear in it. As many folklorists have discovered, the careful field investigation of a folk community does, after time, gently do away with the conceptual frame that permitted the identification of the field to begin with, and gradually reveals particular people, with names, gifted and versatile people, with many kinds of social and cultural affiliations-not all of them, in the strict academic sense, "folk"-doing all kinds of interesting, real things.
Probably no society in the world is as fully represented to itself as ours. After the Civil War, and grounded in its technological, managerial, and productive requirements, began a sweeping and inexorable expansion, and a concomitant consolidation of forces of every kind that historian Alan Trachtenberg has called "the incorporation of America" (1982). Trade between the Northeast and the Ohio frontier had been briefly consolidated in early decades of the century by a system of canals-a fact important for the birth of our popular music, what was originally a folk form, blackface minstrelsy. In the decades after the war, however, the extension of the railroads into lumbering and coal areas, and into newly opened western lands, violently contracted the continent, opening to consciousness its vastness and variety, and at the same time blighting the old provincial life with obsolescence.
The developing transport network, with its sense of access, became simultaneously the superstructure of the vast telegraphic system of information processing, which lent lightning mobility to written communications between remote parts and urban centers-- communications in turn amplified to godlike resonance by the steam-driven rotary press, whose massive productive capacity was readily served by the scope of rail distribution. The concentration and movement of capital and goods, the expansion of markets and of access to raw materials, the concentration of industry in urban centers and the formation of corporate monopolies, and, above all, the virtually universal ascendancy of print communications, markedly facilitated by the invention of the typewriter, the linotype, and the telephone: all of this, by the First World War, was plain fact-but far from a universally comprehended, not to mention an accepted fact.
At the center of the popular mythology of this epoch was the encounter of country and city, with its emblematic popular types, the hayseed and the city slicker, reiterated in popular and even literary fiction in a zillion different incarnations; the mythic journey of the period was of course from country to city. Think of Sherwood Anderson's George Willard, the young newspaper reporter of Winesburg Ohio, whose ritual departure on the train to Chicago, leaving behind him a handful of sadly isolated and grotesquely provincial people, is his passage into manhood. There is no irony in the fact that Anderson himself had made this journey, and had peopled the fictional community of Winesburg with figures he knew in a Chicago boarding house. Winesburg, Ohio, with its idyllic pastoral name, had become itself little more than a boarding house, for America had become a nation of transients, and the old local community, with its intimate and personal interactions, its close economic interdependency, its social and cultural self-reliance-if ever such a community existed-had been replaced by a conceptual community of separates, their interaction and interdependency mediated by steam engines, electric wires, and printing presses.
The "incorporation" of America suggests of course a new unity and integrity, a transcontinental nation-state tied together by rails and wires, ever hungry for news of itself, as any community must be. But in linking us to one another technologically, such systems, we sometimes need to be reminded, also break us apart, transforming the individual into a tiny island of invisibility and powerlessness who can ratify his or her personal existence only by coupling it to massive collective projects and movements, or by somehow magnifying the personal-as a voice, as an image, as an action-- until it has the visibility of "news," which is our name for the information that establishes and defines our connectedness to others. It is voice, literally and figuratively, the ability to exteriorize consciousness and win the attention of others to it, that secures our reality as social beings, without which we are scarcely human at all: Society is, after all, a field of conscious awareness differentiated by cultural codes that provide for the articulations of individual personality. In the period after the Civil War, America was a babylon of such voices, speaking voluminously in print to themselves and to each other, from, to, and within marginal communities and central ones, generating the panoply of ideas, images, narratives, and characters who became, imaginatively, the American civilization that apart from such representations could not be conceived at all.
Elite monthlies such as Harper's and the Atlantic, mass-circulation weeklies such as Ladies' Home Journal and McClure's, local and regional newspapers and story-papers, the funnies, serial and dime novels, western pulp romances, ethnic and foreign-language tabloids such as the Jewish Daily Forward, joke books and dialect books, lithography, sheet music and product packaging, photography, and eventually, photogravure and halftone reproduction brought the work of innumerable regionalists, local colorists, realists and naturalists, humorists, genre painters, book illustrators, and even song and tale collectors, some of America's first deliberate folklorists, into the popular imagination, furnishing it with a rich inventory of images of the American common life (Banta 1988). All of it was reportage--a message sent along the newly constructed lines of communication, marketing, and transportation from one enclave, locale, or center to another, its kinds distinguished not so much by the nature of the message as by the direction in which it traveled. The great proportion of it, of course, was romantic or sentimental, much of it simply a record of the covert shaping force of ruling ideas and values upon images of little-known and little-understood people. The superiority of the Anglo-Saxon "race," or, collaterally, of the white male, the subordinate role and innate inferiority of women, and so on-these were erected in pictures and stories of life among the Indians, on the plantation, in the ghetto, and out West in narratives whose subtext, in spite of exotic exteriors, was often simply an old story of masculine autonomy and female purity. The very term "stereotype" is borrowed, interestingly, from a printing process, for it is in the realm of print that the necessity of stereotype, as a means of organizing social information, becomes most urgent.
Some of it, though, we remember. Mark Twain's "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" brought oral tradition into print. His Nigger Jim and Injun Joe and Pap owe a good deal to newspaper and minstrel- show stereotypes, but a moral complexity and penetration under the regionalist masks has given these characters continued life. The Atlanta newspaperman Joel Chandler Harris's Uncle Remus stories do considerable violence to schoolroom orthographical conventions in their effort to get across the Gullah dialect, but as a kind of proto-ethnography they do a creditable job and provide us with a fair record of a tale tradition whose roots have since been traced to West Africa. Frederick Douglass's harrowing narrative of his escape from slavery has the sloping, melodramatic contours of abolitionist oratory; but the report itself--of actual social conditions on the Maryland plantations, of actual cruelties exposed to keen psychological analysis, of work songs and field hollers as they actually struck the ear of one who remembered and felt them--rings appallingly true. Forward editor Abraham Cahan's story of Yekl the greenhorn's Americanization lies somewhere between social realism and a Yiddish folktale, but the collapse of traditional values under pressure of assimilation, with its consequences for men, women, and families, and the taxing adjustment to new conditions, are set in a context of convincingly human personalities. Greek American Lafcadio Hearn's lurid descents into the nocturnal underworld of Cincinnati's riverfront Bucktown are probably the best disclosures of the interaction of black and white on the folk level in the 1870's we are likely to get. And, to cite one more example, George Caleb Bingham's The Jolly Boatmen, actually an entire family of related paintings, much reproduced, of trappers on the Missouri River, is a masterpiece of composition and color, but also a document in which folkways, or their signs, have been carefully observed and recorded.
This traffic in the popular representation of folklife after the Civil War produced a number of pioneering collections and studies as well as fictions and fantasies. A classical scholar named William Francis Allen, who visited South Carolina and Arkansas as a government agent after the Civil War, became interested in black language and song, and with two others who had collected Afro-American songs, Charles Pickard Ware and Lucy McKim Garrison, daughter-in-law of William Lloyd Garrison, published the first collection of Afro-American folksong in 1867, Slave Songs of the United States. Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, itself a virtual sourcebook of southern stereotypes, also published a collection of New England folktales called Old Town Fireside Stories in 1871. Another novelist, George Washington Cable, whose subject was the Creole culture of New Orleans and whose work had won the endorsement of the establishment periodical The Century, published two articles in that magazine in which he argued, first, that the banjo, commonly regarded as the signature instrument of the plantation slave, was actually little used in the South, and second that Negro songs had originated in Africa: issues over which folklorists still puzzle today. The Century, incidentally, had published both The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and William Dean Howells's The Rise of Silas Lapham between 1884 and 1885.
The invention of America, or what Whitman called the "democratic nationality," did not of course commence with the invention of the steam-driven rotary press. Washington Irving had drawn upon Hudson Valley folktales for his "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"; both of these have become, in a sense, allegories of the displacement of traditional culture by popular democracy. Revolutionary poets, educated in Cicero, Horace, and classical rhetoric, inspired by Milton but trained to Dryden and Pope, attempted prophetic blasts of heroic verse such as radical republican Joel Barlow's Columbiad of 1807, on the future of the new utopia. Longfellow attempted it too, in historical narratives such as "Evangeline" and "Paul Revere's Ride," but especially in "The Song of Hiawatha," which he modeled on a national epic pieced together by folklore scholars, the Finnish Kalevala, using Ojibwa tales from Henry Rowe Schoolcraft's Algic Researches. Travelers and diarists, too, like Fanny Trollope, A.B. Longstreet, Caroline Kirkland, and Charles Dickens left discerning and sophisticated accounts of life on the old frontier.
But in the early nineteenth century the real office of defining the national character fell to tradesmen, artisans, frontiersmen, and adventurers, not to mandarin poets and novelists. The much-maligned, little-studied, and little understood tradition of blackface minstrelsy, the single most popular and pervasive entertainment of the nineteenth century, was largely the property of this class. Layered with ironies comic and tragic, inscribed by suffering, an almost pathologically complex masking and unmasking ritual of dreamlike donning and doffing of constructed identities, minstrelsy ought to be taken as a paradigm of the elaborate process of cultural negotiation at the folk level from which new manifestations of the American identity are continually being formed. T.D. Rice, banjoist Joel Walker Sweeney, and the other "Ethiopian delineators" who brought black songs, dances, fiddle and banjo tunes, street cries, costumes, language, and gestures into the circuses and theaters of the 1820's and 1830's, many of them professional entertainers, were nevertheless largely footloose young men, many of Irish descent, moving along the edges and close to the floor of society in a condition of unending social and economic ambiguity. Minstrelsy provided them with a socially and culturally negotiable role as deliberate messengers and agents of the fertile cultural syncretism that had been transpiring along frontier river and canal routes and on the plantation for several generations.
Dan Emmett, the founder in 1842 of the Virginia Minstrels, the first blackface minstrel ensemble, gave us "Turkey in the Straw," "Old Dan Tucker," and "I Wish I Was in Dixie's Land" (not a martial song originially but a plaintive "walk-around" or cakewalk derived from the African American ring-shout). He was a blacksmith's son from the Ohio frontier, a fiddler with a headful of traditional dance tunes and hymns, a rudimentary literacy that permitted him to compose original words to them, and an education in frontier banjo playing from an enigmatic circus character named Ferguson, who if he was not racially African American was certainly one culturally. What the minstrels called "Ethiopian" was really neither African nor European but a folk-cultural creolization of Irish, Scots Irish, German, French, and African styles in language, music, gesture, bearing, in personality itself, an emergent indigenous type in whom Whitman recognized the "indescribable freshness and candor" and the "picturesque looseness of carriage" of the new American.
Whitman himself was a carpenter's son and a carpenter, who later tried his hand at newspapering. His "barbaric yawp," flooded with the babble of newspapers and of hundreds of popular books of poetry, fiction, and science, was a response to the dizzying sense of the expansion of access to the continent that constant exposure to images seemed to make possible. He saw them everywhere: "in paintings or mouldings or carvings in mineral or wood," he wrote, "or in the illustrations of books or newspapers, or in any comic or tragic prints, or in the patterns of woven stuffs or any thing to beautify rooms or furniture or costumes, or put upon cornices or monuments or on the prows or sterns of ships, or to put anywhere before the human eye." When the vast miscellany of American life came together in one place, as it did--significantly for our discussion--at New York's Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1853, Whitman was enchanted, and adopted as an important stylistic influence a popular poetic description of the fair (Zweig 1984:209). Whitman's supernaturally mobile imagination moved, with the enthusiasm of first-generation literacy, in a nation of representations, which, poetically transformed, became present to him, touched with a love and desire that took virtually everything and everyone for its object; and his voice, though we have not really heard it until now, he broadcast from what he knew was the "rooftop of the world," newly synthesized by organs of mass communication, whose culture he never learned to despise.
Its "incorporation," then, altered fundamentally the nature of community and identity in America. New affiliations, more virtual than actual, formed in new configurations of printed communications, and new identifications gathered around new lodestones of prestige and power. Freemasonry, associations, clubs, societies, organizations, parties, auxiliaries, and guilds accomplished social differentiation where commerce, mass production, and communication were introducing an unprecedented level of homogeneity on an unprecedented scale. "Ethnic" groups, as Werner Sollors (1986) observes, formed from communities often not connected in Europe but consolidated here by their contrastive relation to the Anglo-American elite; the "regional" and the "local" emerged as categories in a civilization no longer a loose federation of such communities but a dense urban commercial and technological nexus that seemed to marginalize them, categories embracing essentially every folk community that by definition remained economically and culturally unincorporated. Among these regions, locales, and ethnic groups was, for example, a population of leisured and literary middle-class women, which in regional writers such as Willa Cather, Kate Chopin, and Sarah Orne Jewett expressed itself not only as a consciousness of sexual oppression but also as a sensitivity to the details of social, domestic, and psychosexual culture-female culture-which male writers either satirized or tried to escape, or of which they were mostly ignorant. Print and its cheap reduplication in the post-Civil War decades helped to amplify the hitherto inaudible voice of the community of women, who as popular writers gradually rose to a position of cultural preeminence in the religious, social, and domestic life of the classes otherwise dominated by commercial men. The late nineteenth century was the age of the "New Woman," as political satirist Finley Peter Dunne dubbed her in 1898, asserting her sexual and economic independence and learning to translate it into social and political power and influence (Banta 1988).
The response to the newly commercialized and metropolitanized society, then, tended to divide along gender lines, and the uses of folldife that emerged around the turn of the century were to reflect that division. To many men and women comfortably accustomed in the material luxuries that industrial capitalism could produce, life had become, as Jackson Lears (1981) writes, something unreal, amorphous, and, in Nietzsche's word, "weightless," personal identity something shallow and vacillating, human drives dull and diffuse. In some sense these changes represented, in Ann Douglas's phrase ( 1977), a "feminization" of culture, particularly in the parlor and the parish house, the enclaves into which culture, understood as a special area of activity insulated from the marketplace, seemed to have retired; hence a masculine and "muscular" reaction, symbolized by hunter, soldier, explorer, and physical culturist Teddy Roosevelt, which laid emphasis upon male independence, strength, autonomy, and virility, stressing the self-sufficient outdoor life of the scout, the cowboy, the wilderness guide. It was Teddy Roosevelt's endorsement of John Lomax's Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads that hastened its popularity and inspired similar collections in a similar spirit such as Carl Sandburg's American Songbag and Robert Winslow Gordon's "Songs That Men Sing," a column he contributed to Adventure Magazine. This movement lingered in our culture until well after the Second World War in innumerable summer camps, scout troops, YMCAs, outing clubs, and the like, many of which became repositories of revived folk crafts and folksongs and were among the contributory streams to the postwar folk revival. The ballad "Tom Dooley," for instance, had first been collected from mountain singer Frank Proffitt by a recreation director for the YMCA, folksinger and summer camp counselor Frank Warner; and the Kingston Trio learned the words to the song from a collection of folk- songs published by the collegiate International Outing Club.
A parallel tradition developed among reform-minded women who found among the many varieties of socialism emanating from England an opportunity for personal fulfillment outside the home, a more spartan and rigorous existence than that of the kitchen, garden, or parlor, and a definite object toward which to direct their intellectual and spiritual energies. So- cialism-represented by such writers as the Welsh industrialist-reformer Robert Owen, art and architecture historian John Ruskin, and the poet, de- signer, and printer William Morris--was and is a complex synthesis of utopian thought and romantic feeling occasioned by the profound bifurca- tion of the social order into antagonistic classes by industrialization. In general it sought to relieve the physical deprivation and psychic alienation of industrial labor and to raise the aesthetic standards of art and manufac- ture through various configurations of model communities and enlight- ened leadership. Morris, for example, took the medieval crafts-guild as his model, and with Ruskin and others shared the object of redefining, moral- ly, the process of work itself as an agent of communal interdependency on the one hand and of artistic self-expression on the other.
Medievalism was a masquerade and a fantasy, an idealized realm of pas- sion and color in a world whose passion and color seemed to have drained away. But socialism advanced the timely and potent hypothesis that social forms, power relations, and the culture that reproduced them formed around modes of production: a hypothesis whose immediate implication was that shifts in modes of production might bring about shifts in the organization of communities, and, still more fundamentally, that society, understood as a structure erected upon the basis of economic relations, might be reconstructed from the ground up-not merely as a political order secured by contract, but as a whole way of life: a culture. Hence medievalism and socialism were at bottom one idea, the substance and the structure of one deeply paradoxical idea that culture is, can, and must be deliberately produced, and that once produced tends to reproduce itself: produced, that is, by a powerful class whose power it is the purpose of culture to maintain. If bourgeois life had come to seem artificial, it sought its salvation in an artifice even more complete, laying claim to an omnipotence once thought to belong only to history, to nature, or to God.
In Jane Addams's Hull House, and throughout the settlement movement, these ideas, or ideas very similar to them, shaped and were shaped by the practical business of social service, but in an important new context: ethnicity. Ethnicity, again, was in America often a redefinition of otherwise highly diverse racial, cultural, social, and even linguistic groups according to nationality, mediating the relations between the European immigrant and the ruling Anglo-American order by means of a contrastive identity, which served them mutually, and a relational identity that distinguished national groups among themselves and differentiated them to Anglo- America. At Hull House, ethnicity was reconstructed symbolically in cultural remembrances, reenactments, and retrievals, including instruction in native language, literature, and the fine arts, and, most significantly for us, "folk festivals"-one of the earliest uses of the term-in which immigrant groups performed native music and dance for themselves and for one another.
In such symbolic reenactments ethnic identity at Hull House certainly lightened the heart and brightened the morale of dislocated and disoriented people urgently effacing their habits and customs in favor of the lan- guage and imagery of the fashion magazines, the newspapers, and the street. But a whole way of life could not of course be summoned up in a Hull House library or gymnasium. Ethnicity had become something spec- ular and ceremonial, a representation among other representations that in the end fostered successful assimilation into the industrial work force by attaching itself to the occupational communities forming within factories and shops. Nevertheless it was a form of social identity that time has shown to be negotiable currency in our cultural economy, and a psycho- logical mainstay against the vicissitudes of wage labor. It is likely, too, that ethnicity at Hull House, particularly as spectacle, lent something of its own color to the lives of earnest feminist reformers: For among the new Balkan and Mediterranean immigrants of the settlement period, many from areas of Europe little touched by industrialism, capitalism, or democracy, were nonliterate peasants pure and simple, the primitive "folk" originally imag- ined by German romantics such as Johann Herder and the Grimms who saw such people as the wellspring of national culture.
Ethnicity at Hull House, then, which in effect laminated national identity to folk culture symbolically reenacted, was an expression of that romantic idea. This was particularly true as the feminist reform movement extended from the liberal Northeast into Appalachia to create missionary and settlement schools, folk schools in the Scandinavian model, handicraft guilds and craft cooperatives in the tradition of William Morris: "psychic, educational, and cultural aid stations," writes David E. Whisnant in his admirable All That Is Native and Fine, "for the bruised and dislocated victims of advancing industrial capitalism" (1983:6). Among those social workers was Olive Dame Campbell, founder of the John C. Campbell folk school, on whose heels came the english folksong collector Cecil Sharp. But, as we noted in t he case of the White Top Mountain folk festival, and as Whisnant explains at length, the quasi-religious idealism of enlightened crusaders such as Olive Dame Campbell could be almost indetectably poisoned by cultural manipulators for whom a vision of historical-cultural purity was part of an implicit, perhaps even unconscious program of cultural totalitarianism. It is difficult not to admire, or to escape, the influence of men and women who believe strongly in what we believe and have a courage in their conviction that perhaps surpasses our; but cultural evangelism, like its religious counterpart, is sometimes blind and deaf to what others actually believe, want, and need.
The first folk festival to address conscientiously, with clearly articulated social and political aims, the culture diversity of American civilization, and to adopt that diversity as a structural principal, was Sarah Gertrude Knott's National Folk Festival, introduced at St. Louis in 1934 (Green 1975). Knott, like Annabel Morris Buchanan, was concerned about the leveling effects of commercial records and radio, and, like most folklore scholars, regarded folk culture as an endangered species; but, far from an exclusive commitment to a particular vision or strain of culture, with all the social and political allegiances such commitments imply, her outlook was generously, even exhaustively democratic, not shrinking from the historical moment but sensitively integrating its liberal ideals, from decade to decade, in the folk festival enterprise. Whether the preservation of traditional cultures, or the promotion of international understanding and tolerance, or, after the Second World War, the improvement of new leisure time occasioned by automation, and finally, in the postwar folk revival, anticipating what would become a complex theoretical discussion in the social science, a renewed interest in distinguishing between what she called "survivals" and "revivals" in folk tradition, Knott was able to ground her work in the ideological moment.
For Sarah Gertrude Knott, representation in a festival was as important culturally as it was politically in legislative bodies. Representation, she understood, was the primary medium of negotiation between official and unofficial culture; in a festival, moreover, representation took on, potentially at least, the imperative character of actual human relations, with their charge of moral, ethical, and emotional energy. "The festival reflected the broadened attitude of our people," she wrote during the Second World War, "and symbolized the democracy we claim and were fighting to protect...We were more convinced than ever that interchange of folk expressions in festivals breaks down barriers, helps to eradicate racial and nationalistic prejudices, and lays a foundation for better understanding and stronger national unity" (Knott 1946: 85)
Knott was a native Kentuckian and as a student of the University of North Carolina had been a member of the Carolina Playmakers under director Fred Koch. The Playmakers were part of a regional theater movement, inspired by the Abbey Theater in Dublin, that sought to erode the dominance of Broadway by appealing to native or "folk" materials, which the young playwrights imported into their vignettes, skits, plays, and pageants usually in picturesque stereotyped forms (Danker 1989). In 1929 she took a position as director of the Dramatic League in St. Louis, working with both blacks and European immigrant groups. Bascom Lamar Lunsford's Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, which she attended in 1933, inspired her to produce a festival in St. Louis--but her aim from the outset was diversity rather than uniformity. "Our national culture is being woven from the warp and woof of the variegated and colorful strains of many nations," she wrote. "No one would want to dull the richness of that pattern. How bleak indeed would be the cultural outlook for the future if we overlooked the distinctive, individual cultures in a universalized, standardized, regimented culture" (Knott 1946:93).
Early National Folk Festivals included Native Americans, British, Spanish, Irish, Scottish, French, German, and black singers, musicians, and dancers, as well as the songs and music of occupational groups such as lumberjacks, miners, cowboys, canalmen, and sailors. Eventually her festival widened to embrace the folk traditions of Hungarians, Yugoslavs, Lithuanians, Poles, Greeks, Norwegians, Italians, Jews, Bulgarians, Chinese, Finns, Romanians, Filipinos, Portugese, Russians, Czechoslovakians, and Spaniards, in recognition of the fact that "these newer groups are keenly aware of the value of folk activity in binding themselves together, in maintaining esprit de corps and national identity and spirit" (Knott 1961: 189). A diversity of audiences was essential, too, so that she moved her festival from city to city--from St. Louis to Chattanooga to Dallas to Chicago to Washington to Philadelphia in the prewar years.
Knott's festival was the first to join the folk festival enterprise to folklore scholarship through teaching workshops, demonstrations, seminars, and lectures by noted collectors, folklorists, musicologists, and artists--indeed the entire folk arts community at one time or another seems to have rallied around her, including of course Bascom Lamar Lunsford, with whom she retained a lifelong association, and the "Traipsin' Woman," Jean Thomas, who brought "Jilson Setters" to perform. George Pullen Jackson, well known for his studies of southern shape-note singing, involved himself, as did Zora Neale Hurston, the black anthropologist and novelist who had studied under Franz Boas. J. Frank Dobie, the collector of Texas folklore; George Korson, a pioneer collector of coal-mining songs; Benjamin Botkin, the aforementioned federal folklorist and popular folklore anthologist; George Lyman Kittridge, Harvard editor of the Child ballads; John Lair, founder of the Renfro, Kentucky, Barn Dance; Arkansas folklore collector Vance Randolph; and Stith Thompson, compiler of the monumental Motif-Index of Folk Literature--all folklorists, academic or popular--became Knott's advisors. Even regionalist painter Grant Wood added his voice--an impressive, if diverse, group.
To appreciate the "colorful strains of many nations," of course, one's viewpoint must be beyond and above, rather than tangled in, the pattern in the cultural weave. This persistent blind spot in the panoptical ideology of cultural diversity remains its most vexing element. Knott's background was in theater, and her festivals, which like parallel festivals of the period, were essentially theatrical concerts with a visible emphasis upon picturesque promotional graphics heavily dependent upon ethnic and regional stereotypes, colorful pageantry and costume, and the sheer numbers of groups represented. In several days' time the National Festival program could saturate an audience's capacity for appreciation, requiring it to supply imaginatively the cultural contexts that had not been supplied in other ways and frustrating the passion for more thorough understanding and more intimate association that such performances usually inspire. In the National Folk Festival, the cornucopic outpouring of cultural voices met the relatively narrow limits of concert presentation. In the radio age, the fantastic diversity of a civilization now virtually stunned by the aural intensity and immediacy of its communications with itself seemed to urge a mastery of the diversity that theatrical presentation symbolically accomplished. But mastery, actual or symbolic, was utterly inimical to the festival's social and moral aims.
The National Folk Festival, which continues today under new auspices, the National Council for the Traditional Arts, led by Tennessee-bred producer and folklore specialist Joe Wilson, elevated the festival enterprise out of its milieu of cultural and political reaction on the one hand and sheer commercialism on the other and laid the groundwork of a festival ideology that could inform the relation of the folk festival both to its public and to public policy. Its problems arose out of Knott's ambition, idealism, and daring, and the still often elusive solutions to them engage all of the vital social, political, and aesthetic issues surrounding folklife and cultural life generally.
Both the Festival of American Folklife and the current National Folk Festival, and the increasing number of state and local festivals modeled upon them, follow Knott's example in seeking the guidance and participation of academic disciplines such as folklore and anthropology, which bear upon folklife and festivity and help in defining them. And in addressing the National Folk Festival's overriding problem, the theatrical insulation between participants and audience, both the Festival of American Folklife and the new National Folk Festival have been years in developing such counter-strategies as the construction of small community settings, modestly scaled performance and demonstration venues, discussion workshops, multiple staging, and , most significantly, the development of an "inner audience," which, through the natural influences that work in small assemblies, particularly the infectious and knowing enthusiasm of the cultural familiars within it, can encourage a visitor's more thorough participation and richer understanding.
In recent years the National Folk Festival, which had been sited at Virginia's Wolf Trap Farm Park near Washington from 1972 to 1982, has returned to Knott's practice of moving from city to city, mounting its exhibition in the postindustrial, multiethnic cities of Lowell, Massachusetts, and Johnstown, Pennsylvania, actually and symbolically joining, within the boundaries of an urban national park, the folk festival to kindred projects in historical preservation and local economic revitalization. Here the audience for various ethnic displays is formed from local ethnic communities, while local organizations such as the Lowell National Historic Park and the Laotian-American Organization of Lowell, or the Johnstown Area Heritage Association, assist in the planning and production of the even. In 1990, the National Council for the Traditional Arts, while moving its festival to Johnstown, continued in an advisory capacity to Lowell's local apparatus in hopes of converting the folk festival there to an annual community event (Wilson 1989).
The deeper social, economic, and political character of the folklife festival, however, begins to suggest itself when we place it in the context of the broader history of cultural exhibition, particularly through the Festival of American Folklife and its parent institution, the Smithsonian. For analogues in the history of international fairs and festivals we might look back, with the assistance of Robert Rydell's excellent history, All the World's a Fair (1984), at the great industrial and cultural exhibitions of the nineteenth century such as the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia in 1856 and Chicago's World Columbian Exhibition of 1893, both of which drew significantly upon the ideas of Smithsonian natural scientists and anthropologists as well as the material resources of the institution. These were not of course "folk festivals," but celebrations of technological and scientific progress, industrial might, the exploitation of the world's natural resources, the expansion of capital markets, and, above all, of Anglo-Saxon racial superiority--in short, festivals of colonialism whose anthropological theme, which reflected the period's rough conjunction of scientific and popular thought and ran comprehensively through the organization of the exhibitions, was the progress of humankind from its dark and savage beginnings to its zenith in European industrial civilization.
That the first of the great international exhibitions, Victoria's Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851, and its sister event in New York two years later, took place under what was in effect a giant greenhouse is significant: Though its purpose was to exhibit England's primacy in steam engines, power looms, and other machinery, as well as the textile, iron, and other products manufactured by them, the glass canopy overhead, formerly an exclusive feature of the nobility's gardens, intimated that the exhibition's deeper purpose was, in some elemental sense, cultivation and nurture. That culture had become, by the 1870's, thoroughly machine drive, was a dismaying and colossal reality. At the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876, an aging Walt Whitman, bound to a wheelchair by a stroke, lingered half and hour before the huge, insinuating, Corliss Engline that silently presided over a brood of mechanical innovations including sewing machines, refrigerators, telephones, and the Westinghouse air brake, promisory notes of epochs to come. "Type of the modern," Whitman wrote that year, "emblem of motion and power--pulse of the continent..."
Spencer Baird, assistant secretary of the Smithsonian under Joseph henry, had sent John Wesley Powell and others on a pioneering expedition into the West to retrieve Indian pottery, weapons, tools, and the like for exhibit in the Smithsonian's section of the Government Building. Here Indian artifacts were mingled with a full-sized tepee and a sixty-five foot Haida canoe alongside photographs and wax and paper-maché figures of Indians that in their crass verisimilitude turned the romantic conception of the noble Red Man enjoyed by the novel-reading public into fear and revulsion. Living Indians had arrived from the West too, though not by invitation, and had made an encampment on the fairgrounds under the suprervision of a Texas Scout and Indian fighter named George Anderson. African Americans were represented in a private concession operated by an Atlanta businessman, which presented "plantation darkies" singing and strumming the banjo and rattling the bones in a kind of outdoor minstrel show.
Ethnographic exhibition under the auspices of the Smithsonian, then, is nothing new. In a manner anticipating Secretary Dillon Ripley a century later, in fact, Joseph Henry sought to extend the institution's influence increasingly into public education and edification; in the twelve years after 1880, the Smithsonian erected industrial exhibits in Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Louisville, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, and Marietta, Ohio, as well as Berlin, London, Paris, and Madrid.
The structural parallels between the Festival of American Folklife, then, spreading itself out over the grassy Mall between the alabaster Capitol dome and the Washington Monument, and the Columbian Exhibition at Chicago in 1893, are all the more arresting. Overlooking Lake Michigan at the 1893 exhibition was a plaster-of-Paris White City of lakes and fountains, domes and columns, which shone with a vastness and glory reminiscent of the visionary cities of antiquity painted by Claude Lorraine or Thomas Cole. These utopian images, touched over the centuries by a sublime religiosity, and at least since Bunyan's City Beautiful an archetype of popular culture, left little doubt as to the nature of the hope and faith the official culture of the Age had placed in the scientific and technological Progress the White City was meant to consecrate.
Within the walls of the White City, several structures were either dedicated to or included exhibits of anthropological or ethnological import. The Anthropology Building itself was the work of Frederick Ward Putnam, of Harvard's Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, who had been placed in charge of the exhibition's anthropological exhibits. This was a thoroughgoing anthropological college, with a reference library, a laboratory, reference collections in religion and folklore, and exhibits of artifacts from around the world-Japanese and Indian toys and Mohammedan, Hindu, and Jewish ceremonial objects. In the Government Building, the Smithsonian's Bureau of American Ethnology, under anthropologist Thomas Wilson, assembled figurative groups-familiar to us now from our experience of natural history museums-of life-sized Indian families, framed on the nuclear model of the American middle class (see Haraway 1985), dressed in traditional costume and engaged in various labors in simulated natural environments. The government of Spain offered life-sized models of peasant women in costume in the Women's Building, where another Smithsonian scientist, Otis Mason, mounted an exhibit of the three "modern forms of savagery," American Indian, Negroid, and Malayo-Polynesian, in twelve groups of artifacts representing particular art forms.
The contributions of foreign governments were in several instances quite spectacular. Norway built a replica of a twelfth-century church, Spain a reproduction of the Valencian stock exchange, and Germany a kind of fifteenth-century city hall. The Sultan of Johore sent artifacts representing all of the ten or twelve distinct ethnic groups of his tiny state in British Indochina: models of the native dwellings of aboriginal Saki and Jacoons; a Malay audience hall, mosque, and palace, complete with kitchen and baths the weapons and utensils of Malay and Chinese, a blacksmith's forge and tools, and costumes representing every social class from aboriginal hunter-gatherers to the robes worn by the Sultan's company of Chinese actors.
Interestingly, primitive arts and crafts in these exhibits were taken as indicators not of the accommodation a particular community has made to the conditions of life, but of the early stages in the history of civilization, a history that was simultaneously projected upon the racial categories of humankind that physical anthropology had posited. Crafts, then-technological development-during a period in which Thomas Huxley was popularizing the ideas of Darwin in America, were taken as a measure of human biological evolution. A visitor to the Anthropology Building, indeed, could participate in the advance of anthropological knowledge by volunteering for an examination by a physical anthropologist, who would determine his racial type!
Such vortexes of official culture as the White City naturally engender colonies of unofficial culture around them. The Philadelphia exhibition had generated a flimsy but festive "Centennial City" of beer gardens, ice cream parlors, peanut stands, pie stalls, fruit and sausage vendors, strolling players, brass bands, dioramas, and freak shows, which extended in ludic counterpoint the official program of science and machinery. At Chicago, flowing westward from the White City along a wide avenue of turf nearly a mile long, which today separates the campus of the University of Chicago from the black ghetto across 63d Street, was a mall called the Midway Plaisance.
Historian Hubert Howe Bancroft has given us a vivid recollection of it. "Entering the avenue a little to the west of the Women's Building," a visitor
would pass between the walls of medieval villages, between mosques and pagodas, past the dwellings of colonial days, past the cabins of South Sea Islanders, of Javanese, Egyptians, Bedouins, Indians, among them huts of bark and straw that tell of yet ruder environment. They would be met on their way by German and Hungarian bands, by the discord of . . . camel drivers and donkey-boys, dancing girls from Cairo and Algiers, from Samoa and Brazil, with men and women of all nationalities, some lounging in oriental indifference, some shrieking in unison or striving to out-shriek each other, in hope of transferring his superfluous change from the pocket of the unwary pilgrim. Then, as taste and length of purse determined, for fees were demanded from those who would penetrate the hidden mysteries of the plaisance, they might enter the Congress of Beauty with its plump and piquant damsels, might pass an hour in one of the theaters or villages, or partake of harmless beverages served by native waiters. Finally they would stake themselves to the Ferris Wheel, on which they were conveyed with smooth, gliding motion to a height of 260 feet, affording a transient and kaleidoscopic view of the park and all it contains. (Quoted in Rydell 1984:60)This officially unofficial folklife festival was an effort by Putnam and his associates to take advantage of what they knew was the attractive force of such commercial strips by introducing into it their own living ethnological exhibits. Some years earlier in Paris, at the International Congress of Prehistoric Anthropology and Archaeology, held in conjunction with the Paris Exhibition of 1889, a popular "colonial city" had presented upwards of two hundred Asians and Africans in simulated native villages. Within the White City, on the Shores of the South Lagoon, Native American representatives had built a Penobscot village; several Iroquois bark houses and a "long house," in which the visitor could meet Tuscarora and Seneca men and women from New York; a Navajo hogan that housed a native blacksmith and weaver; and an entire Pacific Coast village peopled by members of the Kwakiutl tribe. Totem poles stood before these structures, and canoes drifted by on the lagoon, while Franz Boas, one of the founders of modern anthropology, lurked about examining artifacts and conducting interviews with the participants.
But stretching beyond the White City along either side of the Midway Plaisance were the houses and shops of an astounding variety of exotic peoples. Here, as a contemporary observer described it, was a Turkish village, with a bazaar, mosque, and theater; and an Arab encampment, where a wedding, mock combats, and a traditional drama were in progress. A Damascus house, with its domestic customs, lay hard by a Cairo street, where two Sudanese families provided music, dancing, and soothsaying. An Algerian and Tunisian village included a café and a "torture dance" in which the dancer "ate live scorpions and broken glass, grasped red-hot irons, and drew needles through his flesh, while apparently under the influence of some drug" (Culin 1894-95: 54).
A South Sea village consisted of houses brought from Samoa, Fiji, and the Wallis Islands, while in a Javanese Village over a hundred natives from a colonial plantation engaged in batik dyeing, target shooting with bows and blowguns, and kite flying. A wedding occurred here too, with attendant festivity, as well as an actual funeral for several of the participants who had succumbed probably to the violent physical and cultural dislocation, a fact that did not prevent our commentator from observing that among the Javanese "good nature and merriment constantly prevailed, and life seemed a perpetual holiday" (Culin 1894-95:59).
Best remembered of the Plaisance villages, however, because pioneering work in African music was performed there by ethnomusicologis Henry Edward Krehbiel, was a village of thirty thatch-and-plaster huts, entirely enclosed by a high stockade--the Dahomey Village, inhabited by sixty-nine men, women, and children from the French settlement of Benin on the west coast of Africa, who on an open square in the center performed native music and dances, ornamental painting and goldsmithing, and religious ceremonials--including the sacrifice of a bull. The Dahomey Village, alongside settlements of Dakota Sioux, Navajo, Winnebago, Apache, and Pueblo, arranged through Indian agents, occupied the far end of the Midway, while nearest the White City stood the German houses and two Irish villages--an arrangement that one observer called "a sliding scale of humanity," descending from the Teutonic and the Celtic, through the Middle Eastern and Asian, to the African and Native American (Rydell 1984: 65)
Lest we laugh too derisively at the overt racism of some late nineteenth century anthropological representations, let us recall that while ideologies come and go, the cultural traditions that gave rise to them, and the social experiences that continually drive them home, persist. The White City and the Midway Plaisance are merely momentary expressions of ideas, political and pastoral, that have been with us for centuries in thousands of varied embodiments, among which is the nation's capital itself; and, while most of us would like to think we have jettisoned the racist evolutionary assumptions of our grandparents, the social landscape around or before us, where difficulty, disadvantage, and outright oppression continually shape and reshape privilege and power along racial and cultural lines, sends our best convictions into an airy, abstract realm, which the passionate intensity of racial confrontation can blow away in an instant. They were not all racists, after all; an interesting young character called Sol Bloom, who installed the Midway Plaisance exhibits, found a "spiritual intensity" in Bedouin acrobats that exceeded the "emotional power of a Renaissance tapestry," and an Arabian sword-swallower whose level of culture to him was higher than that of Swiss peasants making cheese and chocolate. Bloom's head was clear--and it seemes fitting that in later life he should have been one of the drafters of the United nations Charter (Rydell 1984: 62)
It is more than intriguing to place today's Festival of American Folklife in the context of these symbolic and ideological structures of the past. The nineteenth century federal White City of Capitol and Monument now linger in remote and silent watchfulness on the margins of the National Mall while the festival draws onto the sunlit grass growing at the middle of things, into the social scientific as well as the touristic gaze, its won officalized Midway Plaisance. In the rotunda of the old Arts and Industries Building, hard by the Smithsonian Castle and the symbolic heart of the National Museum, an evening reception for festival participants, staff, officers, federal and foreign service dignitaries, and invited guests takes place amidst exhibits from the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876. Science, industry, and technology in their modern forms are all there too--half hidden in the months of phone calls, the stacks of computer disks, the paperwork, xeroxing, and faxing, the air and highway travel, the electrical and communication systems, and all the rest that it takes to produce a folklife festival. Even the Smithsonian's nineteenth-century anthropological paradigms survive in the institution's current initiatives in African-American, Native American, and Pacific cultures.
Roger Abrahams has given us a powerful metaphor for understanding what, culturally, these structural and historical reconfigurations mean, particularly in the original nineteenth century context of manufacture and trade. Trade, Abrahams observes, implies the crossing of frontiers and demands the creation of special zones outside the contexts of family and community in which people otherwise insulated from one another may come together for exchange. Typically the marketplace occurs "at the crossing points between two worlds," such as in the seventeenth century suburban London "liberties" or unincorporated tracts outside the city gates, or on the borders between two precincts, or at international crossroads: a desert Palmyra or modern jetport with its unincorporated city beyond the last suburban tract.
The marketplace, Abrahams explains, is essentially cultural; though it may have evolved, anthropologically from the festivals of tribal or communal societies, market society festivals, such as our national holidays, summer vacations, and long weekends, reflect the production calendars of complex market economies. At festival times, which are temporally as well as spatially unincorporated, situated between seasons, at moments when productive work is temporarily suspended, economic exchange retreats before the cultural exchange that is its social foundation, moving expressive activity dramatically into the center. The social hierarchy is inverted; an outpouring of symbols, effigies, and images bewilders perception; imitation, mimicry, and parody lift cultural identities out of their fixed positions in the social structure and bestow upon them the mobility and the appeal of commodities; sheer plentitude relaxes customary prohibitions, and a kind of erotic energy suffuses the festival space with the spirit of play and the promise of riches.
Thought the Festival of American Folklife arises from a concentration of economic and political power, though for some participants its festive character is compromised by their hired status, though for others it represents an economic as well as a cultural and political opportunity, with its historical and institutional links to nineteenth-century anthropological exhibitions, and its place on the Mall outside the gates of the Capitol and on the summer holiday calendar, it is an essentially festive event. But what is the nature of this festivity, and what is its meaning for us, particularly in its symbolic movement into the center and onto what has been called the national front lawn, where in 1964, in one of his first actions as secretary, Dillon Ripley installed a carousel and turned the statue of Joseph Henry around to face the Mall? Why, indeed, as we approach the millennium, is the public folk festival, burdened as it is with discredited social and anthropological ideas, grounded in a thoroughly suspect concept, still invested with the dusky glow of old romance, aggravated by ideological conflict and class antagonism, a feature of the cultural landscape at all?
A folk festival, as I hope the foregoing discussion suggests, resituates, reconstrues, and recontextualizes, by means of public reënactment, displaced and decontextualized folk cultural performances. These are the variables--decontextualization, reënactment, and recontextualization--that determine the several kinds of folk festivals we have considered; and these variables, as we have seen, are themselves shaped by various motivating ideologies and interests; social, historical, technological, and other larger forces; and by the several modes of presentation available for folk-cultural display.
Let us consider then, each of these factors in turn. The regional festivals of the 1920's annexed themselves to and assimilated certain local forms of presentation such as the singing convention, the camp meeting, or fiddlers' contest, or, as in Lunford's case, the annual Rhododendron Festival, mounted for tourists. At Kutztown, a seasonal celebration, the apple-butter boiling, provided the occasion and its structure. The present-day National Folk Festival has been linked to particular historical sites and national recreation areas and is exhibitory in character; other folk festivals have been more strictly theatrical, beginning with settlement house presentations and including of course Sarah Gertrude Knott's festival and most of the university-sponsored concert festivals of the postwar folk revival. The Festival of American Folklife provides perhaps the only real instance of a folk cultural exhibition whose models are the great exhibitions and world's fairs of mature industrial capitalism.
Each of these modes of presentation suggests particular processes of recontextualization and the audiences associated with them. All folk festivals are themselves contexts, of course, in which particular folk cultural performances are redefined and interpreted in relation to the other performances on the program, the total body of performances promulgating, though rarely articulating, a tacit theory of a particular folk culture or of folk culture generally. The regional folk festivals of the 1920's and 1930's strived for cultural purification or reinforcement, usually driven by certain ideological commitments arising from particular institutions such as a crafts cooperative, a settlement or folk school, or, as at Asheville, a business establishment. Where tourism or some other form of economic traffic--trade in local crafts, for example--is the object, recontextualizing, as in jean Thomas's "Traipsin' Woman," may involve a deliberate gratification of the traumatizing, technological and social change--not only European immigration, which in Appalachia was a distant reality at best-- but the entire modern world, the deep cultural ambivalence modernity inspired, and especially its apparent collapse in the Great Depression, which certainly inspired the idea of return to customary ways in newly modernized communities. Knott's later festivals have as their historical context the vast social, economic, and human catastrophe of global war: It is almost as if in her teeming festivals she was endeavoring symbolically to put the world back together again.
Finally we must consider social class itself and the cultural stereotypes that arise from and reinforce it as a psychosocial form of the process the folk festival recapitulates. In culturally heterogeneous societies the folk cultural performance, or its image, perceived across a social boundary and radically decontextualized in its passage, becomes the nucleus of a complex figure whose recontextualization, out of and on behalf of the perceiver's own cultural endowment, fixes and revalidates the distance that occasioned it (Cantwell 1991). That is the stereotype; and the process of its formation is precisely the process that the folk festival, by introducing itself at the moment of the transformation, seeks either to realize more perfectly or to radically disrupt.
The concept of folk culture finds itself embodied, and hence seeks a kind of fulfillment in cultures decontextualized by literal displacement--by immigration from abroad, say, or by country-to-city migration-communities in which cultural knowledge has been in a sense mentalized by its withdrawal from the practical field. Displacement need not be so literal, of course: The recent National Folk Festivals presented in Lowell, Massachusetts, and Johnstown, Pennsylvania, are addressed to groups whose ethnicity, long a coefficient of working-class social life, has been in a sense laid bare by the deterioration of the industrial base that originally grounded it. In these cases festival recontextualization mimics and in many cases seeks to influence the cultural process that any displaced community must undertake in new circumstances.
Hence the concept of community has in most respects displaced the concept of folk culture as the mainspring of folk festival planning and production, since sociologically speaking at least community at once constitutes and recontextualizes the folk cultural performance. The aim of folk festival, then, should be to identify, summon up, and perhaps in the end to reintegrate itself with community. In the community-oriented or community-based folk festival, the fixed categories and unilinear narratives of the old ethnology and folklore are gone; gone, too, are the strict identifications of the kinds of human communities with their specific historical manifestations in, say, certain nations or races. Such equations are of course axiomatic in the cultural mathematics of evolutionary narrative, folklore types, keys to mythology, and other idols of nineteenth-century social science. Let us look, then, by way of conclusion, at the role of community in the Festival of American Folklife and the National Folk Festival. Communities are always formations, like whirlpools, rather than forms, like squares and circles. Some may arise under the pressure of insulation or enclaving-- regional and ethnic groups, for example, bounded by the economy and the polity of a particular region in Mississippi or Kentucky, the Smithsonian's "featured states" in 1973 and 1974; by the binding force of a language such as Cajun French, for many years with Cajun music a conspicuous presence on the Mall; or by historical factors that drive particular groups into particular urban areas and industries. Some folk cultures arise out of their forced exclusion from official culture: African Americans, enslaved, economically and socially isolated, ghettoized; Native Americans, driven from native lands onto reservations-both compelled to forge syncretic cultures out of complicated and diverse legacies. Others are voluntary: labor unions, sister and brotherhoods such as the community of the hearing impaired, or enthusiast groups such as citizen band and ham radio broadcasters or Hawaiian hula dancers. Recently the Festival of American Folklife may have transgressed the bounds of public folklore practice by admitting a professional organization, the Association of American Trial Lawyers, to the festival as a folk community.
Some folk cultures, violently uprooted from one way of life without having yet accommodated, culturally, to the new circumstances, are in a state of becoming. These are protocultures-refugees, such as the Vietnamese and Laotians, mountain people such as the Hmong and Kmhmu, dislocated by war. In them we can observe a folk culture in transition, as, for example, Hmong embroiders, settled in church-sponsored communities in small-town neighborhoods, adapt to the American crafts economy by creating designs in our patriotic colors, or narratives of the war that drove them from their homes. Finally there are kinds of folk community that arise within certain webs of relation, embracing many different kinds of occupations, ethnic groups, economies and ecologies, and the rest: the Chesapeake Bay fishery, for example, or the California winery. Some associations seem purely natural, such as families, or children, or the elderly, all of them represented at different times at the Festival of American Folklife and others purely economic-occupational communities such as cowboys, loggers, railroad workers, taxi drivers, or telephone workers, all of which have been represented over the twenty-five years of the festival.
A folk festival is "festive" because of the abundant multiplicity and simultaneity of performances: musicians playing, singers singing and dancers dancing, craftspeople crafting, sculptors sculpting, workers working, talkers talking, and children playing. In this theater the whole range of human ingenuity--crafts subsistent, domestic, preindustrial, and industrial-- finds a specific form for presentation, ranging from potters' wheels and kneeling looms to temporary oil derricks and steel-girdered buildings. Open tents shelter Bengali effigy makers or Italian American stone carvers preparing finals for the Washington Cathedral Chinese dragon dancers, Serbian string bands, Spanish bagpipers, Kentucky tobacco twisters, Lumbee Indian May Day players, a Finnish Laskiainen winter festival, Macedonian polkas, New Mexican adobe builders, Korean masked players, Philadelphia breakdancers, bluegrass bands, blues singers, tamburitza and mariachi and corridos and Cajun and zydeco and samba and reggae and a hundred other musics, as well as Lebanese, Mexican, and Ukrainian and Chinese and Ghanaian cooks--no list can even so much as suggest the number and variety of participants in twenty-five years of the Festival of American Folkife. They practice their art before small, often intimate audiences in whom the public and democratic spirit of the Mall often takes on a warmly communal character.
And there, in the festival's own "communities," fleeting as they are, but often unforgettable, whether it is an audience under canvas, or the community of participants that in its two weeks together works out its own set of codes and forms its own alliances, or in the community of volunteers that gathers around the festival and returns to it year after year, or of the staff with its ideas, its projects, its responsibilities and its inevitable offfice politics, or in the many combinations and permutations of all of these, that the purposes of the Festival of American Folklife are best achieved, when they are achieved-where the cultural recovery or recontextualization of the folk performance is, if temporary, more than didactic, theoretical, or imaginary.
It remains to be seen, however, whether the grand experiment on the National Mall, with its variegated public audience of tourists, suburbanites, students, civil servants, bureaucrats, legislators, executives, and professionals, as well as its tiny implanted "inner audiences" of Washington refugee, ethnic, and minority residents, will not eventually be displaced by localized events such as the National Folk Festival, the Cowboy Poetry Gathering at Nevada, the Conjunto Festival at San Antonio, Texas, and many other grass-roots events inspired by public folklore work. At Lowell, musicians, singers, dancers, and craftspeople of British, Irish, Swedish, Italian, Armenian, Polish, Greek, African, Caribbean, Portuguese, Brazilian, Puerto Rican, African American, Native American, Laotian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, French Canadian, Lithuanian, and Filipino heritage, all of them residents of Lowell or of other small cities in New England, performed both to the festival's audience of folk culture enthusiasts and their own families, neighbors, and friends. Such a festival strives for, and in a sense constructs, its own indigenity, building its cultural bowers in the ruins of the industrial age.
With each new contraction of history a new world comes closer to birth. Pilgrims from the obsolete but still prevailing age, its structures still standing and its business still transpiring all around them, colonize the unincorporated zones, bringing their old cultures with them, or fashioning new ones, their existence scarcely detectable until their new order has by ineluctable degrees displaced the old. The Dutch trading companies of the seventeenth century, for example, with their corporate organization, contractual ties, and written charters, a phenomenon of the merchant towns without legitimate place in the official discourse of the period, became, early in the seventeenth century, a metaphor for human society, and protoforms of constitutional governments that would be secured by revolution against traditional power. Standing armies founded on protective armor and the rolling cannon, and the provision of them, prefigured the factory system, the bureaucracy, and mass society, whose consummation was the radio age, and whose apocalypse the atom bomb.
Our own folk festivals are footholds on a cultural future that we in the postmodern age, still defining ourselves in relation to the lost modernity, can but dimly discern. When he was an employee of Pan American Airways, in the early days of the jet age, Festival of American Folldife founder Ralph Rinzler was discovering what he calls, using an airline metaphor, "hubs" of alienated cultures flourishing around their imported expressive forms in taverns, clubs, theaters, and other spots, and at weddings, dinners, and other celebrations in New York, London, Paris, Istanbul, and other cities to which the airline took him.
Rinzler caught the scent, perhaps, of a new cultural synthesis of which his own early exposure to Library of Congress field recordings, and to the pioneer reformer-revivalist Pete Seeger, had been full of forebodings. A localizing of culture was following paradoxically from a new expansion of the global order. The new order, it seems, is not yet another "shrinking" or implosion of the planet, facilitating travel and communication, bringing distant places and people closer, a "global village" or world culture. On the contrary, it is an evaporation and precipitation, a kind of inundating cultural rain, an "information explosion" so vast that culturally it denatures information and levels the semiotic field. Culturally speaking, it is tantamount to no information whatever. It overcomes the power of human imagination to orient itself on its own terms and in its own scale and demands that we rediscover the basis of culture in immediate human interaction, conducted under the auspices of our God-given sensory and intellectual equipment, even while as cultures-and only as cultures-we are able to participate in the political and economic consolidation of a global civilization.
Though many may yearn for it, many struggling to create or to recreate it, the homogenous cultural community is precisely what most of us do not experience, and we would feel culturally suffocated if we did. In the information age, community no sooner forms than it deteriorates--and its deterioration is perpetual. In the evanescent, momentary reality between these impermanences culture springs forth out of acts of making essentially imaginative. The idea of the homogeneous cultural community, which in spite of recent theoretical refinements is still tinged with the old socialist romance, must ultimately give way to a concept of culture grounded not in specific social formations but in the agencies of psychic differentiation in which those formations are themselves grounded. That, I think, is what is indicated by the empty proliferation of the many names-endless lists of regional, national, ethnic, occupational, and other groups, musical varieties, material kinds, crafts types, and so on-without which neither the Festival of American Folklife nor the National Folk Festival can refer to itself or its history. These names speak of course to the perspicacity of fieldworkers, the wonderful diversity of people and their arts, the dizzying abundance of folk festival displays, and the bewildering process of planning and producing what is finally a mysterious and spontaneous social and cultural phenomenon well beyond the reach of mortal understanding. But they are, after all, only names, and, impressive as they are, do not say what the Festival of American Folklife or the National Folk Festival actually is or does.
A folk festival is not in the business of naming things, really, but of unnaming them--of reaching mto tne nlue SIIULLUI~ Ul llV"~ ~v...~^ isons and self-serving judgments by which we at once admit and dismiss one another in our thoughts to pluck out the vague effigies, made from the scraps of our own culture's representations, that hold such structures together. Bring them to the festival we will and must-they are simply images of unknowns, like the "x" in the equation, through which we assimilate the image of another and work out its value in our own known quantities.
But at the festival this cultural algebra becomes wholly inadequate to account for the chemistry of personal encounter. The sheer reality of the person, the rich exactitude of her presence, the keen imperatives of his art, empty our hopeless conceptions and bestow a gift of permanent love. If the festival has done its work-and it cannot always, of course-we can never think of him or her, or of culture itself, in the same way again. At the very least we will have felt the nagging unease that comes of being, at this time and place, who and what we are, and for one naked moment perhaps watch as outsiders as the gift of complete humanness falls into hands other than our own. For there is no Corliss Engine nor any merry Javanese to place us at the summit of history, seated on the throne of the human race.
The folklife festival is a practical investigation of the genesis of social experience in a world where the boundaries between cultures are no longer geographical or political but personal, in which the person is in himself or herself culturally not one but many, capable of moving within and among many communities, in which "culture" itself has emerged as the force that secures the connection between reality and the individual soul. In this world folklife is not the culture of the rude peasant or the rustic mountaineer but a very model of the ways in which we are at this moment learning to reinvent our humanity.
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