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Dynamics Of Folklore

Dynamics Of Folklore

Barre Toelken
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 456
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  • Book Info
    Dynamics Of Folklore
    Book Description:

    One of the most comprehensive and widely praised introductions to folklore ever written. Toelken's discussion of the history and meaning of folklore is delivered in straightforward language, easily understood definitions, and a wealth of insightful and entertaining examples. Toelken emphasizes dynamism and variety in the vast array of folk expressions he examines, from "the biology of folklore," to occupational and ethnic lore, food ways, holidays, personal experience narratives, ballads, myths, proverbs, jokes, crafts, and others. Chapters are followed by bibliographical essays, and over 100 photographs illustrate the text. This new edition is accessible to all levels of folklore study and an essential text for classroom instruction.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-325-6
    Subjects: Sociology, Education

Table of Contents

    (pp. 1-18)

    Anyone looking into the subject of folklore for the first time will perhaps be surprised to discover that the scholarly discussion of the subject has been taking place for over two hundred years, mostly among people who have approached it from vantage points related to other interests and disciplines: language, religion, literature, anthropology, history, and even nostalgia and something close to ancestor worship. Indeed, the famous story of the blind men describing the elephant provides a valid analogy for the field of folklore: The historian may see in folklore the common person’s version of a sequence of grand events already...

    (pp. 19-54)

    Folklore comes early and stays late in the lives of all of us. In spite of the combined forces of technology, science, television, religion, urbanization, and creeping literacy, we prefer our closest cultural associations as the basis for learning about life’s normalities and transmitting important observations and expressions. From the childhood rhythms of “Patty Cake” to the joy of humorous graces (“Good bread, good meat, good God, let’s eat”) to the imagined sophistication of drinking games (“Cardinal Puff,” “Fuzz-Buzz”); from courtship protocol to showers to wedding customs (like wearing a wedding ring) to birth cigars; from birthday spanks and presents...

    (pp. 55-116)

    Dynamics may be viewed simply, for our purposes, as the forces behind the active traditional moments that occur between and among people. What motivates customary (i.e., not biological) human interactions? How do they start? When do they cease? How are they received and responded to? Human life is obviously affected by dynamics of many kinds. Of interest to the folklorist and anthropologist are those culturally meaningful dynamics that are known most fully and participated in most actively by members of such groupings as ethnic, regional, occupational, clan, gender, and family clusters.

    Every examination of folklore, every approach to the study...

    (pp. 117-156)

    It is difficult, if not impossible, to describe the dynamics of folklore without referring to traditional events or performances, vernacular expressions articulated among members of a high context group. Just as the dynamics discussed in Chapter 2 are only hypothetical if nothing happens, so a traditional performance or event tells us little if it does not occur in a traditional framework. For this reason, John Miles Foley calls performance “the enabling event” in which the referents supplied by tradition are brought to life by the skilled articulations of speakers, singers, builders, weavers, and other vernacular artists. This chapter focuses on...

    (pp. 157-182)

    In Chapter 3, “The Folk Performance,” we concentrated on that identifiable, often carefully developed, pose that relates a performer to an audience when a traditional expression takes place. Now we move to focus on the event itself: When did it start? How and why did it come about? What were its principal parts? And when did it end? Essentially, a traditional event is a discrete set of actions and expressions that are motivated and directed more by group taste and demand than by the private idiosyncrasies of an individual. Life is full of events; some of them are folk performances....

  6. Chapter 5 AESTHETICS AND REPERTOIRE Choices from the Community Menu
    (pp. 183-240)

    Just as doctors do not talk about the body without knowing all the principal parts, just as a linguist cannot talk about language without a vocabulary of terms that describe words, sounds, and meaning, so the folklorist does not discuss folklore without a sound knowledge of its genres. And just as some doctors specialize in ears, or digestive tract, or feet, or in single processes like childbirth, and as linguists specialize in verbs, sounds, or whole languages, so do folklorists specialize in tales, songs, or in the traditions of a whole group of people. Without a generic terminology, we would...

    (pp. 241-262)

    One of Chaucer’s most interesting characters is the Wife of Bath; somewhat overdressed and proclaiming loud her interest in and abilities at sex, she is described as riding along on a religious pilgrimage with one eye open for a potential husband. When Chaucer says, “She had passed many a foreign stream” and “She knew a lot about wandering by the way,” we feel fairly secure in assuming that he is speaking metaphorically—that these are not only denotative records of her geographic travel but that they are simultaneously connotative of her sexual wandering. When Chaucer mentions her knowledge of remedies...

    (pp. 263-314)

    “Worldview” refers to the manner in which a culture sees and expresses its relation to the world around it. While earlier students of culture were certain that similar conditions would impress any human eye and soul in similar ways even in widely separated circumstances, there is now evidence to the contrary; that is, objective reality (as we like to call it) actually varies widely according to the viewer’s means of perceiving it. Often those means are affected by cultural and linguistic factors that have been so deeply engrained in the mind that they have actually become a method of thinking...

    (pp. 315-346)

    Since we are surrounded by folklore from cradle to grave, nearly everyone must be a folklorist; some are professionals at it. To put it another way, although some people choose to study folklore and obtain the training necessary in that profession, all of us, to one extent or another, must learn, collect, and use folklore as a natural consequence of being members of close groups. The mill worker needs to learn and use the hand signals that allow communication in a noisy shop; the college student needs to know how long to wait for a late professor; we all learn...

    (pp. 347-388)

    Even though introductory students and other newly interested persons may not become directly involved in folklore research, they should find the details of fieldwork directly related to their understanding of how the dynamic expressions of folklore become available, intellectually palpable, to audiences outside traditional habitats. Were it not for folklore field research, there would be little of substance for folklorists or their students to discuss. While at first sight such a statement seems a careless admission that there is a field of study only because we have dredged one up, it is actually an assertion that as a discipline folklore—...

    (pp. 389-432)

    “Applied folklore” is seen by some academics as too pedestrain. Especially for those who believe academic scholarship and research ought to be untainted by practical considerations, the concept has had the same ring that “applied art” or “applied literature” might have. It seems to smack of job rather than profession, of problem solving rather than theoretical speculation, of the immediate live world rather than the library. It stresses doing more than thinking and talking, and the academy has always been uneasy about such subordination of its central role.

    I like to encourage students to pose of everything they study the...