Thursday, April 19, 2007

"He loves me..., He loves me not..."

“He loves me..., He loves me not…” Some thoughts on the authenticity issue.

I have not finished the reading for this week yet but I wanted to pull together a few thoughts on the authenticity issue as I understand (?) it at this point. Regina Bendix writes, of folklore studies at the turn of the century, that:

“The marginality of the field institutionally, however, sharply contrasts with the deep attraction of folklore across society, an attraction not least to be explained by the connections of folklore to diverging searches for authenticity. Ultimately, it may be the poorly verbalized spectrum of authenticity cravings, from the treasured to the spiritual, from the purifying to the existential, that have allowed for the subject’s maverick status.” (153)

As I was thinking about this I was reminded of that game we used to play as kids, you know the game where you pick a daisy and pluck off the petals one by one, chanting while plucking the first petal: “He loves me..” and, while plucking the next: “He loves me not…”, and so on, until all the petals have been plucked. The idea being that whichever of the statements coincides with the last petal plucked must in some secret way coincide with the way the other person feels. The poor flower, as we know when we are quite rational, cannot actually have anything to do with how someone feels about us, but love is not quite rational. It seems to me that there is an element of this lover’s perspective in the folk song collecting that was being done outside of the academy by people like the Lomaxs. There is a certain sincerity, a kind of emotional authenticity, to this way of plucking at culture. It is understandable even if it is destructive of both the flower (the songs) and of the beloved (the people), as both are supposedly joined in and to the lover by this process. Do you suppose that it was a matter of indifference to the singers that their songs were actually inspiring to those who came collecting?

Meanwhile the academics take a different look at the relationship. While acknowledging the emotional attraction (at least of the white race toward the customs and peoples of other races deemed, by them, to be somehow more authentic than their own) they strive to be more rational about the whole affair. I wonder if any studies have been done concerning the attraction of the “primitive” person to the cultures and articles of (or even to the individual) outsiders who come to study them. The academics want to question the beloved himself, to hear from his own mouth some profession of love or at least a confession to the fact that he has in fact plucked a daisy and chanted this chant as we once did, or would like to do, except that we know better now. Instead of asking if we are loved in return we ask to see the daisy field, and to watch the rituals, to record the chanting and photograph the whole process. Does this protect the beloved from our love while leaving him pure in his, or does it perhaps destroy his love while we somehow get to keep ours; by having renounced it in exchange for the privilege of collecting evidence of “belovedness” from others? I’m not sure Bendix will address these questions but I am looking forward to reading her next chapters.


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