April 26, 2010
Stephen Benson, ed. Contemporary Fiction and the Fairy Tale. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2008. Pp. 209, index.
Contemporary Fiction and the Fairy Tale is a timely contribution to the growing body of scholarship on contemporary fairy tales. The seven essays in the book focus on contemporary fiction authors who utilize the tropes, structures, and intertexts of fairy tales in their writing. Time itself is also one of the topics of discussion, from the artistic “lateness” in Robert Coover’s writing to the non-linear narratives found in A. S. Byatt’s tales. The theoretical and cultural contexts of this book range from postmodernism to postcolonialism, second-wave feminism to post-feminism—all of which are situated in time and space, occurring after or continuing beyond their originary impulses. The aims of this book, described by Benson in his introduction, are to explore the works of the “fairy-tale generation” of writers (including Robert Coover, Margaret Atwood, A. S. Byatt, Angela Carter, Salman Rushdie, and others), to probe the contemporaneity of fairy tales despite their archaic origins, and ultimately to “account for the considerable time spent by contemporary fiction in the company of the fairy tale” (15). Time is thus a major structuring element of this book, and each chapter contributes to a nuanced understanding of the creative intermingling of fairy tales, fiction, and values. (more…)
April 19, 2010
Public, Private; Contemporary, Traditional: Intersecting Dichotomies and Contested Agency in Mainline Protestant Worship Music
The current ‘contemporary’/’traditional’ worship music controversy, although cloaked in the guise of novelty, illustrates how the historical interplay between embracing and abandoning black-and-white oppositions is unfolding within post-millennial Western Christianity. Over the past forty years, mainline Protestant churches have used worship music to negotiate a culturally-relevant space for themselves within the contemporary reconfiguration of American religious practice. As such, many North American and Western European Christians have come to conceptualize their current religious practices through the ‘traditional’/'contemporary’ dichotomy. Praise-band-led ‘contemporary’ worship contrasts with organ-and-choir-based ‘traditional’ worship in visible and audible ways: musical style, text, instrumentation, dress, and physical space. This ‘contemporary’/’traditional’ binary’s pervasive themes resonate with previous dichotomous models applied to religious study, such as Weber’s routinized/charismatic, Benedict’s Apollonian/Dionysian, Sachs’ logogenic/pathogenic, and sociologist Mark Chaves’ intellectual/emotional. Yet, while current mainline Protestant organizational and expressive behavior resonates with these historical dichotomies, it also moves beyond explanation by any of these theories alone (as well as moving beyond the fundamentally group-defining “us” versus “them” opposition). This paper suggests the public/private opposition as an analytical tool to cut in a slightly different direction against the grain of the oft-dichotomized sphere of mainline Protestant religious musical practice. While no single dichotomy can explain current mainline Protestant practice – subjectively, emergently employing overlapping dichotomies to create and negotiate meaning – the public/private binary probes fundamental points of differentiation. (more…)
April 12, 2010
Elizabeth Tucker. Haunted Halls: Ghostlore of American College Campuses. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2007. $50.00 cloth, $20.00 paper.
Popular volumes dedicated to ghosts and the supernatural typically consist of little more than anthologies of ghastly tales, divorced from the contexts in which they are told and presented uncritically as sources of frightening entertainment. This pattern echoes a broader trend of popular engagement with folkloric material, a textual obsession characteristic of earlier days of folklore studies that contrasts starkly with contemporary scholarly attitudes toward folklore, which focus on such concepts as context, performance, and other theoretical issues that deemphasize the bounded text.
In Haunted Halls, Elizabeth Tucker presents a collection of ghost stories gathered from American college students through interviews and emails. Unlike many popular anthologies, Tucker makes an appreciable effort to position each tale within a broad context (US college campuses), to elaborate on the history surrounding many of the stories, and to provide some commentary on the social and cultural implications of the tales. (more…)
April 5, 2010
Negotiations in Performance: The Storytelling Performances of Two Adolescent Afghan Narrators
The Ohio State University
This paper examines the storytelling performance of two adolescent male Afghan narrators. In the summer of 1976, the two narrators, Jalaludin and Mohammed Asef, sat down with Margaret Mills and her tape recorder in Kabul, Afghanistan. Their performance encompassed items across the spectrum of oral, Persian fictive genres, from conventional stories similar to those found across the Islamic world to obscene märchen. During the performance, the narrators repeatedly parsed notions of identity, ethnic, linguistic, and otherwise, within in a joke cycle. This paper illustrates how their ambiguous handling of issues of identity in the performance is reflective of the boys’ ambiguous relationship to the categories named in real life. (more…)