Re: Serious Joke,Seriously "Help!"

John McCreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Fri, 25 Oct 1996 08:48:01 +0900

Wade Tarzia asks,

>--- Is it possible that folklore studies could offer cross-cultural
>insights into the general occurrences of performance within traditions?

May we take "performance" to mean something like "consciously crafted in
response to expectations of audience reaction"? If so the distribution of
performances and performance genres would, it seems to me, be a very
interesting question indeed.I remember reading many years ago, in the old
Dell Hymes _Language and Culture_ reader, the proposal that linguistic
anthropologists should attempt to identity and inventory the range of
distinct speaking occasions recognized by the people they study. Has there
been any systematic follow-up?

>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


>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"?

In the chapter that I cite at the end of my note, I observe that while
innovation constrained by tradition occurs bothin (Daoist and Trobriand)
magic and in advertising, that there is a significant difference in how
innovation is perceived. Magic belongs to a world in which the accurate
replication of prototypes is valued; innovation must then be explained away
as inconsequential, as a falling away due to the decay of tradition, as a
new revelation--the varieties of explanation are themselves worth thinking
about. Advertising belongs a world in which, as Grant McCracken remarks in
_Culture and Consumerism_, "meaning flows." Innovation is celebrated and
the audience reaction will be negative if it isn't offered something new.
Does anyone know of work that contrasts "excuses for variation" with
"celebrations of difference" in terms of imagery, prosody or other
linguistic features?
>Putting the questions like this builds a bridge between consulting
>practices and folklore texts and performances.

My intent precisely! A nice opportunity isn't it, for applied anthropology
on the one hand and expanding our knowledge of contemporary performance
types on the other.

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.

Possibly fun as well.

Interesting ideas you have,
>any way, John! -- wade tarzia

Flattery won't get you everywhere. But, hell, it sures feels nice.

John McCreery
3-206 Mitsusawa HT, 25-2 Miyagaya, Nishi-ku
Yokohama 220, JAPAN

"And the Lord said unto Cyrus, 'Shall the clay say to him who moldest it,
what makest thou? Let the potsherd of the earth speak to the potsherd of
the earth." --An anthropologist's credo