Re: Serious Joke,Seriously "Help!"

Wade Tarzia (tarzia@UCONNVM.UCONN.EDU)
Thu, 24 Oct 1996 12:17:08 -0400

[ oops! I sent this to linganth list before noting that the reply address
was old. I lost that new address, but noted John cross-posted here, and
since I hate to waste any reply, here it is. Apologies to those who may
get copies from both lists: ]

John McCreery noted:

>The most effective presenters are, it seems to me, those who have a
>therapist's knack of teasing out what the client wants to do anyway, then
>adding value by framing the decision in a tale which is at once familiar
>and also slightly twisted to freshen it up a bit. Clients balk at spending
>large sums of money on stories too similar to those they've heard before.
>They are also afraid to spend large sums on stories that seem too
>different. The presenter's knack is finding a story just different enough
>to seem original but not so different as to seem too risky. Having seen the
>same sort of process at work in interactions between Daoist healers and
>their clients in Taiwan, I suspect that it's universal, or at least common,
>in all sorts of what we might call "consulting" relationships.
>Is there anyone here who knows of studies, data, or anecdotes that bear on
>these observations and might help to deepen the analysis?

--- Is it possible that folklore studies could offer cross-cultural
insights into the general occurrences of performance within traditions?
Traditions regulate what individuals say or rather what they can say
acceptably to a public. The control need not be terribly rigid, but
nevertheless, innovation within acceptable traditional "rules" is a risky
affair. Innovation does occur, but it may not be recognizable as such to
people such as ourselves (those without folklore training, I mean) because
when we see innovation, it may be quite an anti-reference to what has come
before. (Think of the way spoofs reverse a traditional genre, or think of
going to an exhibition of modern art, or an academic reading of fiction or
poetry -- we rater expect the author/artist/performer to do somewthing that
really ctaches our eye/ear). In contrast, innovation in highly traditional
societies seems to take place much more slowly, slowly enough to insinuate
itself in a fairly conservative paradigm of acceptance into and
preservation within tradition (be it visual or verbal arts, or kinematic
arts). But I wouldn't want to overstate the case for conservation --
innovation can happen. See Henry Glassie's recent article "Tradition" in
The Journal of American Folklore.

So what does this have to do with consulting relationships in business or
Daoist healing? To what extent can we define those cultures/groups as
being traditional (ie, using a fund of texts and practises shared in the
group)? To what extent can we see "consulting performances" as
performances within a tradition? To what extent does the performer have
leeway in that tradition? How much/how little innovation can be tolerated
before the client will reject the performance as "out of bounds"?

Putting the questions like this builds a bridge between consulting
practices and folklore texts and performances. I suggest this as a broad
approach while confessing that would entail a hell of a lot of work to make
comparisons! But, hell, it might be fruitful. Interesting ideas you have,
any way, John! -- wade tarzia