If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk: Music, Community, Culture

ROBERT CANTWELL
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 312
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt1xcgb5
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  • Book Info
    If Beale Street Could Talk
    Book Description:

    Seeking to demonstrate the intimate connections among our public, political, and personal lives, these essays by Robert Cantwell explore the vernacular culture of everyday life as a way of understanding the cultural ecology of the contemporary world. A keen and innovative observer of American culture, Cantwell casts a broad and penetrating intelligence over the cultural functioning of popular texts, artifacts, and performers, examining how cultural practices become performances and how performances become artifacts endowed with new meaning through the transformative acts of imagination. He traces, for instance, how a blues song becomes a blues recording and enters a collection of blues recordings, joining other energies, both creative and exploited, both natural and human, that represent the residues of modern life and culture._x000B__x000B_Cantwell's points of departure range from the visual and the literary--a photograph of Woody Guthrie, or a poem by John Keats--to major cultural exhibitions, such as the World's Columbian Exposition or the Smithsonian's Festival of American Folklife. In all these domains, he unravels the implications for community and cultural life of a continual migration, transformation, and reformulation of cultural content.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09074-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: FOLKLIFE AS REAL LIFE
    (pp. xi-xxviii)

    These essays address three distinct but closely conjoined domains of human life—music, festivity, and culture—in which persons, families, and communities take pleasure, find fulfillment, and secure identity and social inclusion. They reflect a period in the very recent past in which one might think fruitfully about these subjects and understand them in relation to the changing memberships, affiliations, and attachments wrought by a new and powerful commercial civilization that until quite recently we called “postmodernity” but that we recognize now as a new form of global capitalism then in the early stages of formation. What the essays will...

  5. PART I. DARKLING I LISTEN
    • 1 IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK: A REFLECTION ON MUSICAL MEANING
      (pp. 3-25)

      The imaginative lives of my class and generation—an early baby boomer, middle class, college educated—have been perpetually riven by the conflicting claims of, on the one hand, high cultural opportunities and prerogatives connected with education and the professions, and on the other the powerful but often ungovernable and obscure promise of what has been called at various times folk, ethnic, traditional, “vernacular,” or roots music: blues, rockabilly and rock-and-roll, old-time music and bluegrass, and by various revivals of these musics in commercial and intellectual culture. For me the rift began quite early—perhaps with Diana Washington’s “Long John...

    • 2 DARKLING I LISTEN: MAKING SENSE OF THE FOLKWAYS ANTHOLOGY
      (pp. 26-41)

      Harry Smith’sAnthology of American Folk Musicis pervaded by darkness: the darkness of recorded sound itself, which mechanically or digitally (and the difference is not immaterial) forges (as in “forgery”) the vibrations of instruments and human voices at the same time as it imprisons them in grooves or codes, like Ariel in a cloven pine; the historical darkness of music whose origins, provenance, and meaning are obscure or lost; the social and political darkness from within which despised people speak in strange and forbidding, or ingratiating, irritable, or ecstatic voices; the intellectual darkness of caste and race under whose...

    • 3 THE MAGIC 8 BALL: FROM ANALOG TO DIGITAL
      (pp. 42-52)

      On my desk I keep a Magic 8 Ball, which I bought recently at a shopping mall; I had one as a kid. The Magic 8 Ball, you may remember, is really only a little bottle filled with an inky fluid in which an obscure shape, or shapes, inscribed with twenty some odd “messages”—“Ask again later,” “Don’t count on it,” “Better not tell you now,” “Cannot predict now,” “Signs point to yes,” and so on—drift up out of the darkness to a little round window upon which the 8 Ball rests. That shape is some sort of polyhedron,...

    • 4 THE INVISIBLE SCIENCE: THE SPIRIT OF CALCULATION
      (pp. 53-68)

      “See we not plainly,” Hooker wrote in 1593, “that obedience of creatures unto the Law of Nature is the stay of the whole world?” Edmund thought so; Nature was his goddess—“to thy law my services are bound.”

      The new order, more natural than divine, thatKing Learintroduces into literature was of course already well abroad in the world. In the generation before Shakespeare’s birth, Calvin and Copernicus had written; in Shakespeare’s lifetime Drake had sailed up the West coast of North America, while England, already trading in the Baltic and the Mediterranean, had established a foothold at Jamestown....

  6. PART II. FEASTS OF UNNAMING
    • 5 FEASTS OF UNNAMING: FOLK FESTIVALS AND THE REPRESENTATION OF FOLKLIFE
      (pp. 71-110)

      Folk festivals bring folk culture and official culture into a mutual embrace: 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...

    • 6 WHITE CITY ELEGY: MODERN AND POSTMODERN AT THE WORLD’S FAIR
      (pp. 111-141)

      There was much engineering, but little “architecture,” at the White City of 1893—not, at least, unless structures made to dissolve, to be dismantled, sold, and carried away in pieces can be counted as architecture. “Buildings in their proper sense they do not pretend to be,” wrote the official historian of the World’s Columbian Exposition, Hubert Howe Bancroft. Instead “we have what may be termed so many architectural screens . . .”¹

      Any architect must make concession to, and to reconcile, the transitory nature of earthly materials; but few frankly capitulate to it for the sake of greater imaginative license....

    • 7 THE ANNUAL DANCE: FESTIVITY AND CULTURE IN “THE DEAD”
      (pp. 142-190)

      “Here we are,” says Gabriel Conroy, standing at the head of the festive table, to the upturned faces of the guests at the Misses Morkan’s annual dance, “gathered together for a brief moment from the bustle and rush of our everyday routine.”¹ The transient moment, the interruption of ordinary routines and suspension of ordinary cares, the gathering together—these are the elements of festivity; and with them come the exaltations of abundance, the intoxications of plentitude, the stimulus of sociality, and, with music, story, song and dance, and other instruments of celebration and commemoration, the stirrings of desire, the remembrance...

  7. PART III. THE PARALLAX EFFECT
    • 8 FANFARE FOR THE LITTLE GUY: THE SCOTS AND THE PICTS
      (pp. 193-211)

      The army must have been running out not only of men but of uniforms by March 1945, when it drafted Woody Guthrie for the third time, his two stints in the Merchant Marines not apparently having satisfied its thirst for his patriotism, because it couldn’t find a uniform small enough to fit him. Many of us who have admired Woody Guthrie have seen the photograph of the new inductees at Fort Dix in May 1945, where a wiry long-necked fellow with a bushy head of black hair, at thirty-two visibly older than most of the rest of the men, looks...

    • 9 A HARVEST OF ILLTH: BLUES, BLACKFACE, FOSSIL FUEL
      (pp. 212-222)

      The abject hollows around Portsmouth, Ohio, are so charged with coal that the Welsh miners who emigrated in the mid-nineteenth century only had to plunge their spades into the hillsides behind their barns to profit in it. The region flourished industrially as a supplier of coal to a network of local iron furnaces until late in the century, when the discovery of iron ore in the Mesabi Range of northern Minnesota brought steel and iron making from the Ohio Valley to the southern shores of Lake Michigan. Today in New Straitsville, Ohio, a dour collection of wheezy dwellings on seven...

    • 10 THE PARALLAX EFFECT: REPRESENTATION AND INCORPORATION
      (pp. 223-230)

      I regularly recur to the memory of a conversation with my colleague, Kathy Mundell, in a fieldwork project over twenty years ago—we agreed that as the project came to a close our notions of “folklore” had changed significantly, and that in an ideal world we’d write novels about our experiences rather than ethnographic reports. Our “informants” had emerged for us as fully dimensional personal and social beings fully embedded in the lifeworld we shared with them, people for whom “folk” practice was at best a limited and self-conscious personal initiative, informed often by a sense of “tradition” or of...

    • 11 FOLKLORE’S PATHETIC FALLACY: THE CULTURE POWER
      (pp. 231-245)

      Ruskin asks: What is “the difference between the ordinary, proper, and true appearances of things to us; and the extraordinary, or false appearances, when we are under the influence of an emotion, or contemplative fancy; false appearances, I say, as being entirely unconnected with any real power or character in the object, and only imputed to it by us.

      For instance, in Alton Locke,—

      “They rowed her in across the rolling foam—

      The cruel, crawling foam.”

      “The foam is not cruel, neither does it crawl,” Ruskin writes. “The state of mind which attributes to it these characters of a living...

    • 12 HABITUS, ETHNOMIMESIS: A NOTE ON THE LOGIC OF PRACTICE
      (pp. 246-264)

      A natural radiance transforms the base matter of human flesh into the sublimer element of our sociality, an occult but vital process through which people as such, independently of every form of social identity other than that of social membership itself, in various purposeful and accidental ways originate, communicate, circulate, and sustain such aspects of personhood that are thesine qua nonof every other form of social participation. Ethnomimesis¹ is indicated, but not disclosed, in family, clan, and “community,” in the pub or café life, and the myriad varieties of the town pump; but it lives a vaporous, phantasmal...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 265-278)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 279-282)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 283-284)