For years, emulation of the empirical sciences has inhibited the interpretive study of folklore. Early folklore scholars, in their desire to make folklore a rigorous scientific discipline, readily imposed upon themselves systems of methodological accountability—indexes and archives to serve the “historic-geographic” method, collecting handbooks, and questionnaires for custom and belief mapping. Implicitly, these early folklorists subscribed to the view that folklore research should be “operationalized.” In keeping with this positivistic attitude, a modern folklorist, observing and commenting upon a folk narrative performance, is obliged to ask, as Pelto (1979:47) suggests, “If another observer had been at the particular event, and if he used the same techniques, would he have obtained the same results?”1 Such a nagging concern with accountability leaves little room for creative (and idiosyncratic) interpretation of a folk narrative presentation. On the other hand, it does ensure that the analyses offered with regard to a particular presentation are directly useful in demonstrating the discipline’s major theoretical premises or methodologies. It is, as Alan Dundes (1980a:ix) suggests, “safe scholarship.”
The interpretation of texts or performances or events—as in literary studies, the arts, or history—has typically been regarded as an intuitive activity. Practitioners usually strive to keep their methodology concealed, just as an artist would seek to draw attention away from the techniques used and direct it instead toward the effects of those techniques in the medium chosen. This purposeful covering of one’s tracks is unacceptable in a “scientific” discipline. On the other hand, the interpreter of an item of folklore is hard-pressed to account for his or her interpretation except in personal terms. The specific procedure of interpretation cannot be operationalized; it is too closely tied to the interpreter and his or her own interpretive context.
Gary Alan Fine (1984) has suggested two criteria that would require some accountability in particular among psychoanalytic interpreters of folklore. He suggests that an “adequate” psychoanalytic interpretation must be internally consistent and externally valid. He then applies these two criteria to the work of Alan Dundes, well known for his psychoanalytic interpretations of a range of folklore material. Unfortunately, the application of Fine’s evaluative criteria is hampered by insufficient data—in particular, the factors influencing the interpreter’s focus, the “tracks” the interpreter usually chooses to leave covered.
It is not enough to say that psychoanalytic theory itself (or any other analytical perspective) accounts for the interpreter’s focus and insight. If that were the case, folkloristic interpretation would indeed be operationalized. But there are other aspects of the interpreter’s personality and immediate situation, as well as other internalized analytical perspectives, that influence the interpreter’s focus and the selection of information to be scrutinized in the interpretation. Needed is a procedure for alerting a reader to an otherwise covert focus directing the interpreter’s line of reasoning. With such information available, a reader could evaluate the interpretation as the presentation of a valid response—not a universal response, but one that is valid and consistent within that specific interpretive context.
It is worth noting that the same problem occurs in the initial task of collecting and transcribing a folk narrative text. Elizabeth Fine, in her study of The Folklore Text, describes the difficulties a transcriber encounters in moving from the symbolic system of oral performance to that of print. The primary difficulty, she suggests, is in maintaining “the type of perceptual ‘focus’ employed by a participant engaged in an aesthetic transaction” (1984:107). In other words, the transcriber is challenged by the less obvious task of representing on paper what happens as the listener observes and hears the performance. How does the listener hear? The transcriber is in danger of overloading or underloading the text, and readers may be unable to “read” the information supplied about the performance if they are not trained in the transcription symbols used. A focus could not be effectively conveyed unless the transcriber succeeded in supplying just the right information necessary for the readers to “hear the performance” (perceive an “aesthetic transaction”) as they read the text. The transcriber must “perform” a transcription (practice the art of transcription with acceptable competence) or at least create an instructional documentary.
A performance-centered text, such as that Fine advocates, or the more common content-centered text found in most folk narrative collections might be considered a documentary-instructional text. Both are intended to document a performance. The focus of the content-centered text is the linguistic content; the purpose of the text is to instruct a reader in the verbal content of the story perceived as central to the performance; the mode of presentation of the text is usually in the form of a play script or short story. The focus of the performance-centered text is the performance; the purpose is to instruct a reader in the aesthetic dimensions of the performance as they relate to the content; the method of presentation varies, as Fine suggests, from linguistic transcription augmented by numerous notational symbols, to multiple texts, to “hybrid art forms” (1984:101—102).
Just as the transcriber of a text chooses a focus in presenting the text, the interpreter constructs an interpretation by choosing points of emphasis according to one or more consistent though often deliberately concealed lines of focus. The easiest line of focus to identify would be the interpreter’s analytical methodology. Harder would be the identification of personal information that sparks a given focus, personal associations or situations that encourage the interpreter to interpret the performance or text one way rather than another. This kind of information the interpreter would have to supply. Unfortunately, this is precisely the information the interpreter is reluctant to include or even admit, since it implies that the interpretation offered is not—on its own—intersubjective. The interpreter hopes, ultimately, that the interpretation will be seen as resting on empirical observation, that any researcher encountering this same text and following these same rational lines of argument would obtain the same results. But, of course, the art of interpreting cannot be operationalized in this way. Instead, the interpretive context needs to be identified and tied directly to its points of significant contact in the text.2 Then, the interpreter’s response to the text can indeed be accounted for and made accessible to other readers.
Consider, for example, Alan Dundes’s interpretation of a joke called “The Wide-Mouth Frog” (1980a:62-68). The plot of the joke revolves around a mother (or father) wide-mouth frog who does not know what to feed her baby. In a brash, wide-mouth manner she asks several larger animals what they feed their babies, finally ending with the same question posed to a potential enemy (e.g., an alligator), who replies that she feeds them wide-mouth frogs. The mother frog answers, “Oh,” in a nervous, small-mouth, quiet way. Dundes interprets the joke as a veiled comment on black speech and an indulgence of racist attitudes in a period (the 1970s) when open expression of racism was no longer acceptable.
The interpretation as Dundes develops it is both internally consistent and externally valid, to use Gary Alan Fine’s evaluative criteria. However, to be more precise, we might judge the interpretation externally “plausible.” Dundes admits that “it is a legitimate question whether one can effectively ‘prove’ the validity of one interpretation over another” (1980a:ix). In fact, the very notion of validity is perhaps inappropriate for all such interpretations. It implies that a valid interpretation has revealed, not a unique response to the item or performance but an explanation for the origin and appeal of the stable content or Rohstuff of the text. Like all conscientious scientists, folklorists hope to add their piece to the complete explanation of why things are as they are. Without such a goal, interpretation of folklore would probably seem pointless. Nevertheless, most people will admit that interpretations of cultural data are subjective, no matter how convincing, and cannot be regarded as a demonstrably true explanation for the origin of tradition—even a short-lived tradition such as the joke about the wide-mouth frog.3
We might return to Dundes’s interpretation of the joke about the wide-mouth frog and ask what valid new information one can take away from such an interpretation without slipping into an “origins fallacy” akin to the “intentional fallacy” in literary criticism. Some researchers might find the interpretation convincing enough to seek statistical support for such an explanation; they might, in other words, turn the “theory” into a question for “normal science” (Kuhn 1962) and try to document the prevalence of the joke among people for whom the phenomenon of black speech was indeed an issue. Unfortunately, most American folklore data are not collected using the kind of canvassing system that would be necessary to answer such research questions.
Another alternative, and one I would advocate, is to regard such an interpretation, along with additional information about the interpretive context, as a demonstration of how individuals make everyday folklore a vital part of their understanding of social reality. If we all truly are “the folk,” then the folklorist’s interpretation is, as Stanley Fish (1980:48-49) suggests, the most “informed,” and it is also the most easily accessible as a demonstration, since the professional folklorist is trained to view cultural data as a combination of personal and cultural resources within a specific context. It is a simple step to add sensitivity to the interpretive context to the folklorist’s necessary skills in studying folklore. In the case of Dundes’s interpretation of the joke about the wide-mouth frog, it might be something so simple as acknowledging a long-standing interest in black American folklore on the part of the interpreter, especially his perspective on other jokes that seem to hide a time-framed concern with blacks in American society (i.e., the elephant joke cycle).4 Such information would cue the reader, not to disregard the interpretation, because it is obviously biased by personal interest, but rather to abandon any internal resistance against the validity of the interpretation and instead follow it as the author would wish. The reader is invited to decide whether the author has found an effective way to make the folklore meaningful within the context of his own personal/professional reality; the reader is not asked to judge whether the author has proved that his interpretation is objectively and universally valid.
Like other kinds of philosophical relativism, such an approach may be labeled wishy-washy or even subversive; it seems to undermine the scientific enterprise. Actually, a folklorist armed with information about the interpretive context sets out to do exactly what the interpreter of texts (sans interpretive context) tries to do; that is, he or she tries to prove (demonstrate) a hypothesis— in this case, about how interpretations evolve in the minds of interpreters. Belief in the validity of one’s approach is necessary in either case, or the project is never begun. Documenting and using the interpretive context simply adds another level to the range of data to be considered in formulating an interpretation.
In my own interpretation of the joke about the wide-mouth frog (formulated casually after hearing the joke in 1978 but before reading Dundes’s article), I focused on the frog’s incompetence as a parent. In my opinion the joke was about a noisy, incompetent human mother who did not know what to feed her baby. Furthermore, she seemed unabashed at her ignorance of such fundamental knowledge; she demanded in a brash, demeaning tone that some other mother tell her what to do. The ending I heard not as a threat but as a mild put-down and cautionary tale. It implied that feeding a baby—especially breast-feeding a baby—is a very personal thing every mother must learn for herself.
I think I could with some effort transform this sketchy interpretation into a persuasive essay that would meet Gary Alan Fine’s criteria for an “adequate” interpretation. However, I feel you as reader would gain greater insight from your reading of my essay if you knew what elements in the interpretive context influenced the selection of this particular focus. For example, it would be helpful if you knew that, while I have never worked with black American folklore as a distinct area in my research as Dundes has, I have done some work with family folklore and women’s folklore. It might be helpful to know that I interpreted the wide-mouth frog not as a sign of speech pattern or dialect but as a euphemism for a “big-mouth,” someone who talks too much. It would certainly be helpful if you knew that when I first heard the joke, I was a first-time mother-to-be, and one who felt that at thirty-one years of age and with a Ph.D. and several years of college teaching behind me, I should already know how to take care of a baby, how to be a good parent, but was in fact worried over the prospect. It would be easy to see why this personal concern along with the other analytical preferences would influence me toward the interpretation I have suggested. It would be easy to see why I would select and focus on material that would support this thesis. The selectivity apparent in any interpretation is not malicious; it is necessary. Attention to the interpretive context can tell us why—at least in that given context—specific analytical and personal connections developed between the performance or item and the interpretation.
Discovering the Interpretive Context
This important information about the interpretive context can be presented to the reader by contextualizing the narrative text or performance. Contextualizing, within a literary folkloristic methodology, is a self-conscious attempt by an interpreter of a text or performance to make explicit the relationship between the item or performance, the interpretive context, and the interpreter’s own response (interpretation).5 The end product of such a contextualizing process would be an expanded instructional text, one that documents not only the linguistic content of the narrative or aspects of performance but also relevant components of the interpretive context.
What are these relevant components of the interpretive context? As suggested in the Introduction, these components are not so much in the text as they are representative of the listener’s active response; they are allusions the listener hears or fills in as the story is told. And they are essential to the fundamental act of interpretation. As Seymour Chatman (1978) suggests:
The drawing of narrative inferences by the reader is a low-level kind of interpretation. Perhaps it doesn’t even deserve the name, since “interpretation” is so well established as a synonym for “exegesis” in literary criticism. This narrative filling-in is all too easily forgotten or assumed to be of no interest, a mere reflex action of the reading [listening] mind. But to neglect it is a critical mistake. (31)
Chatman has his own reasons for considering such neglect a critical mistake. My own reason is that this “low-level” process of interpretation is basic, is essential. When expanded to include perceived allusions, it determines what the listener really hears as a story is told. If we can identify the allusions a listener hears, we can know how the interpretive context interacts with the text to influence the listener’s response and interpretation. We can posit a theory of folkloristic influence.
Folk Groups and the Formation of Frames of Reference
From birth on, human beings form alliances with other humans and develop frames of reference within those alliances that determine to a great extent their view of the world and often their behavior in it. Psychologist Jay Haley, in studying the often severely restrictive families of schizophrenics, comments: “What confines the members [of the family] so rigidly within their system is the prohibition on intimate alliances of one member with someone outside the family. As a result, the family members are inhibited from learning to relate to people with different behavior and so are confined to their own system of interaction” (1967:264). Sadly, in the larger world, people often extend a similar pattern of behavior into their interactions with groups other than their own; they practice a confining ethnocentrism that influences heavily the frames of reference that define their personal reality.
Arguments for cultural determinism, biological determinism, environmental determinism—and free will as well—are generally overstated for the sake of philosophical rhetoric. As a result, psychological perspectives that consider the “social conditioning” of the individual often seem pessimistically deterministic, while on the other hand even the most sophisticated implications about personal responsibility drawn from “the new physics,” when applied to questions of individual behavior and cognition, have a ring of mysticism, or at least the ambiguity of the humanities, rather than the expected “certainty” of the hard sciences.6 How do individuals create their personal reality? How do they manage to convey that reality to anyone else, or understand anyone else’s similarly subjective view of reality? Social scientists no less than physicists seek a complete theory that will encompass all aspects of human behavior, but it is still as impossible to explain how one person comes to think and behave as he or she does as it is to explain how human consciousness can make a muscle move.
Nevertheless, one theory that can help explain some aspects of human behavior posits, as did Haley in discussing schizophrenics, the notion of identifiable groups that serve to teach individuals the patterns of interaction peculiar to that group. Whenever the group is stable enough to be viewed as a conservator of shared lore or perceptions, then it is classifiable within the academic concept of “folk groups” and supportive of a special folkloristic brand of sociological theory.7 Even typically genre-oriented literary folklorists have sought increasingly to integrate the notion of “folk groups” into their own research. Jan Brunvand’s (1978) introductory folklore textbook is a genre survey typical of the literary approach, but he includes as well a chapter on “Folk Groups: Bearers of American Folk Tradition.” Brunvand discusses four major kinds of folk groups—occupational, age, regional, and ethnic or nationality—but cautions that, while such categories are prominent in folklore research, there are innumerable folk groups that can be identified from the perspective of any specific individual. This flexible concept of “folk group” draws upon the work of such people as Alan Dundes (1965a) and Richard Bauman (1972b), folklorists who have emphasized the individual’s full or “part-time” participation in a variety of folk groups.
The significant shift involved here in regard to folk groups is from a view of “the folk” as a homogeneous entity (especially the peasant) to a view that emphasizes the individuality of people in any group and the consequent variety of “social bases” functioning in the formation of reality for any one individual. The groundwork for this shift is found in Alan Dundes’s now well established definition of “the folk” as “any group of people whatsoever who share at least one common factor” (1965a:2). A folk group is not a communal undifferentiated unit; rather, the identity shared by any two members of a folk group is not individually pervasive but only sufficient to support a limited corpus of shared folklore. The two individuals are alike—share an identity— only insofar as they share items of folklore significant to their sense of identity.
An individual’s sense of identity grows out of a variety of sources and envelops several specific kinds of sensibilities within it (see Bauman 1972a and Dundes 1983). For example, an individual’s sense of ethics would typically reflect most strongly the influence of his or her religious upbringing. With respect to personal ethics, a person’s religious folk group might be posited as a major (though not exclusive) source of that aspect of his or her identity. Folklore (including nonverbalized folk values) learned either in face-to-face reference groups (a specific church or synagogue congregation) or through more general affiliation (a specific religious denomination) would allow the individual to identify with the religious group while recognizing that this connection represents only a part of his or her personal identity. Similar analytical categories and associated sensibilities could be suggested for other major kinds of folk groups. I have identified eight such categories, but of course the number of possible categories is considerably larger, and the number of actual folk groups is infinite.
On the chart in figure 3-1, I have represented schematically the connections between the individual and eight significant categories of folk group. The taxonomy is based on general divisions in perceptions of identity: (1) family, (2) ethnic or national background, (3) religion, (4) place, (5) age, (6) sex, (7) social network (socioeconomic class), and (8) occupation. Each of these categories offers to the individual cultural resources of a particular kind—expressive resources that both teach and allow the individual to express the sensibilities that collectively help form his or her identity (see Abrahams 1972b). Such a chart implies a rigid cultural determinism. I should say that my personal philosophy embraces such deterministic explanations as only part of the answer. I cannot give you a “whole truth” even from my own perspective, as “personal consciousness” remains for me a tantalizing mystery.
Briefly, the chart consists of a wheel of folk group categories significant in the formation and expression of individual identity. Indicated as well are sensibilities cultivated most effectively by each category of folk group: the family often teaches a sense of personal and local history; the ethnic group offers a sense of heritage and a self-consciously maintained corpus of folklore; religion provides ethical values; locality instills a sense of region and the environment; age groups give a sense of generations and time; sex-based groups (along with the family) create a sense of gender and personal sexuality; social connections are reflected in aesthetic preferences or taste; and occupational group usually determines (in America) one’s sense of social class. Each category has a further division into a primary or face-to-face group (e.g., family members with which one interacts often) and a secondary group (e.g., the ancestors and extended family with whom the individual does not interact but whose folklore he or she shares). Finally, the chart divides each category along the esoteric-exoteric axis. Adapted from William Hugh Jansen (1965), the “esoteric-exoteric factor” simply recognizes that the individual perceives his or her own group (of whatever sort) as separate from other groups. Awareness of actual exoteric lore might come through education, but the prejudice in favor of esoteric lore is natural and necessary for the development of a personal sense of reality.
The usefulness of such a chart is less in clarifying conceptual networks (though that is one aim) than in providing a format for discussing the backgrounds of individual storytellers. Leaving the innermost ring off for now, we can construct a wheel of folk groups for each of the two major storytellers in this study. The first teller is my mother, Loretta Kathryn De Vault Dolby, born in 1911 in Oakley, Illinois. A representation of her folk group background is in figure 3-2.
The second storyteller is Larry B. Scheiber, born in 1937 in Huntington, Indiana. His chart is represented by Figure 3-3.
In either case, the chart does nothing to indicate which folk group is dominant in the individual’s sense of identity or—more important to this study—which folk group or groups might be shared with typical audiences to the stories these individuals tell.
For these more interpretive questions, the chart can serve only as a springboard. The first question is better left in the hands of trained psychologists, whose battery of tests might actually determine which factor is dominant for each individual (see, e.g., Burns 1984). The second question, however, is one that can be addressed more easily than otherwise through a further application of the chart. To identify the primary frames of reference shared by a storyteller and a specific listener, one need only compare the wheel charts of the two individuals and note where there is obvious correspondence. It is this necessary correspondence between at least one folk group on the teller’s chart and one on the listener’s chart that allows for understanding of a narrative text. The real correspondences in cultural resources shared by the teller and listener are of course much more complex than such a chart would indicate. They are to a high degree responsible for the magic sense of intimacy that accompanies the most effective exchanges of personal narrative.
Personal Narratives and the Creation of Intimacy
What motivates the telling of personal narratives? The question is complex, and any attempt at a comprehensive answer is beyond the scope of this study. However, I can offer one rather simple answer: People tell personal narratives to be listened to. Of course, if it were only that, jokes or legends or songs would do as well, perhaps better. No, when people tell personal narratives, they offer their listeners an invitation to intimacy. They expect their listeners to listen because both they and their listeners know that this is one very effective (and acceptable) way to create and enjoy a sense of intimacy.
Freud found abundant inspiration in a quote from Schiller: “Hunger and love are what move the world.” From that quote he devised his “theory of instincts.” I am not sure whether I would consider the desire for intimacy an instinct. It certainly is not the same thing as a sexual instinct. Nevertheless, I do think it serves as a motivation in the telling and hearing of personal narratives. This is especially true for people who grow up in our lonely culture. By exchanging personal narratives, people create intimacy where it might not have existed otherwise. Usually we depend upon family ties or shared activities to facilitate intimacy. But our culture is miserly in what it recognizes as appropriate avenues for developing a sense of intimacy. The personal narrative sidesteps this inhibition. Telling and listening to personal narratives is one way people can enjoy intimacy without resorting to the “rights” that are assumed to come with the ties of family or group.
I personally believe that if we each took time to listen to one personal narrative each day, much of the loneliness in the world would disappear. The problem is that the people who most need and want to tell their stories often feel that no one wants to listen. Still, it is one of the most acceptable ways to meet our desire for intimacy. People will tell their stories sometimes, and usually other people will listen. The motivation for both the teller and the listener is a desire for familiarity, a desire to know someone else and be known in return. It requires a certain boldness to tell such stories; it requires human affection to listen. Hunger and love are large words and can be construed in many ways, but these may indeed motivate the telling of personal narratives. At the very least, a person tells a personal narrative because he wants to be listened to.
The details of a personal narrative are both known and unknown. That is, the listener will already be familiar with some of the information stated or alluded to in the narrative, while some of the information (for example, the event itself) will be new. It is the interplay of this shared culture and the unique event that allows intimacy to grow. The narrative itself creates a literary world in which shared culture draws attention to itself and to the intimacy it represents. In the remainder of this chapter, we shall explore why the personal narrative is so effective in meeting this need for intimacy.
Larry Scheiber grew up in the small northern Indiana town of Huntington during the years of World War II, when the Erie Railroad was still a major factor in the community and the Catholic church supported both a friary and a convent on the rolling hills outside of town. I grew up, about ten years later, in the same home town. Larry and I both remember Sutter’s Ice Cream, Wolf and Dessauer’s, the Spot, the Tivoli Theater, the Idle-Hour Quarry, the Hotel LaFontaine, Moon and Moon’s Laundry, Repp’s Grocery, the Hawley house, Township School, the soda fountain of McKean’s drugstore, the Erie depot, and many other places that have since been razed, burned, or otherwise removed from the landscape. Larry and I share the frame of this bygone era and the ongoing history of this Indiana community. The inexhaustible store of allusions just within this one frame is impressive. There is little in an individual’s personal history and sense of reality that does not touch upon such shared cultural resources and thus link us to our fellows. In the personal narrative, such allusions are abundant and essential; their richness keys the performance of this inescapably self-referential genre.
Consider, for example, the following transcription of the “Chicken Blood” story (mentioned in the previous chapter) as told by Larry Scheiber.8
Tiny Wires and the Chicken Blood
Larry: OK, when I got out of the service, Tiny decided that he was going to be my—my—parental instructor as to hunting and fishing and all this stuff—little knowing that I’d lived practically underground for three years. I probably knew more about the outdoors than he ever dreamed. But anyway he was going to show me how to catch catfish. So he said he had a secret bait. I said, “Well, put it on me—what is it?” He said, “Never mind, we’ll just go get it.” I says, “Is it expensive?” He says, “Two dollars a bucket!” Says, “Bucket!—You don’t pay for a bucket. . . .” He says, “Just keep cool.” So we got in his big Oldsmobile, and we whiz over here to Scarborough’s—you know, where they got all the chickies—brack, brack—[Laughter].
Carol (my sister): Oh, yeah—
Larry: Yeah, yeah—Wires comes out about ten minutes later with this damned bucket of BLOOD CLOTS, man. There was feathers in it and chicken shit. [Groans]
Carol: Oh, gag!
Larry: He said, “You hold this.” And I said, “Your ass!” He said, “Hold it, damn it—you know I can’t drive with it.” So I’m holdin’ this thing. And it, oh, Lord, you know how you, your forehead gets cold? [Laughter] And stuff? And you feel dizzy? And I’m holding this quivering mass of blood clots in my lap. [Laughter]
And we go out behind Township School, see. Wires said, “Bring the bucket!” I said, “You take this fuckin’ bucket; I’ll carry the poles.” So I drag the poles down the hill and everything. And here comes Wires boppin’ down there with the bucket. And I said, “What do ya do now?” He said, “Just take a big handful. . . .” [Groans] I said, “Wrong-o, YOU take a big handful!” So he baited my hook. This stuff had all congealed, and it looked sorta like liver. I didn’t know chicken blood would do that, but. . . but it hangs right on your ol’ hook, ya know? You get a great big glob of that crap and ya cast out, and it hits the water, kafush! [makes arching motion with hand]—skawat!—and it just sinks ’cause ya put weight on it. And ya just set there and set there and pretty soon—tug, tug, tug—and ya reel in a catfish. And ya open its mouth and there’s all this—blechh—ya have to dehook ’em, ya know, oh, God! I couldn’t stand it. I finally set up on the bank and drank beer. Wires was having a ball—[In a high voice imitating Wires] “Oh, look at the cat— . . .” I said, “Come on Wires, let’s go. God, I’m not having any fun.” Said, “Let’s go back and get some broads or something and drink beer and tell lies.”
So we went back to his house, and naturally I got to carry the bucket again. And I stuck it under his trailer. And this was, oh, I don’t know, about June. Long about July [pause]—[Laughter] . . . the neighbors started complaining that we’d killed an animal or something. But we were sorta getting used to it a little bit at a time, yaknow. We’d built up a tolerance and we didn’t smell anything. God! Everyone that drove by there’d roll up their windows and gag. [Laughter]
One day I stayed out of town about two days—think I was shacked up with some broad or something. I came back to the trailer and about passed out. Said, “My God, Wires, there is something!” So we got to lookin’ around under the, under the boards under there. We thought a rat crawled up there and died or an old cat. The Wall’s Trailer Court’s full of vermin. But anyway, I see this five-gallon bucket and I thought, “Oh, my God, that’s that bucket with that blood in it.” [Groans] God!—So I crawl under there and I clear the rim. And that thing’s just heavin’ with maggots. [Up-and-down motion with hands] Brrr-room, brrr-room—[Laughter].
Oh, God, what happened—the maggots’d get in there and eat the blood, ya know, and then more flies’d come and lay maggots on top of them. And the ones on the bottom’d suffocate and die. And then more maggots’d make more flies. It was an endless circle, ya know?! That thing smelled so . . . God! But anyway, I told Wires to get that thing outa there. He says, “Oh, no. . . .” He says, “I’ll give ya a case of Mickey’s Malt if ya get it out of there.” I says, “Tiny, I’d like to ’cause I like it, but, ya know, there’s certain things I can’t be bought on.” And he says, “Two cases of Mickey’s!” I says, “Oh, hell, I’ll do it for one.” I’m hairy, ya know—so I got under there and drug that thing out, and it—oh, God! I just wish you could have seen it!
Larry: He says, “What’ll we do with it?” He wanted to bury it, see, and I said, “God, no, those maggots’ll all hatch, and there’ll be six billion flies, and we’ll be responsible for wiping out the world!” [Laughter] Plagues!—So we decided we couldn’t bury it and if we burnt it, it’d stink, the goddamn stuff. I said, “I’ve got it, man, I got it. Let’s throw it in the river and let the fish eat ‘em. That way we’ll be doing our bit, you know.” He said, “Good idea!” So, naturally I got elected again to hold it on my lap while he drove. [Laughter]
There’s a bridge out there, one bridge past Broadway, just a little stoney job, about three-foot-high railing. I said, “You drive across that and go real slow” I said, “I’ll just heave the whole goddamn mess over the railing, and we’ll take off like a big-ass bird.” So he’s driving real slow and I’m hangin’ out the window— this thing’s heavy, man! My ol’ biceps isn’t all that big, ya know. I’m holdin’ onto that damn bucket. Wires says, “OK, give ‘er hell!” So I get my arm underneath it [motions accompanying actions described]—so I [throwing motion]—uhh!—I threw it as hard as I could. Hell, it must’ve weighed sixty pounds! It made it right to the railing and jumped back. [Motion with hand straight up, and noise—apparent from motions that the contents of the bucket came down all over him] [Laughter and groans] Did you ever just drop a glass of water—see how it shoots up? Hell, I was hangin’ out the window or the whole car woulda been full. I’m not kiddin’ ya, it just buried me in maggots.
Uh, so naturally—I heaved the contents of my tummy—which added to the mess. That goddamn car reeked, and I reeked, and Wires was laughin’ his ass off. [Laughter] He said, “Get out—get out!” Hell, he wanted me to walk home, man! I was hangin’ out the window ‘cause he wouldn’t let me back in. He rolled the window up on me, powered the window—whrrr—. There I am hangin’ out by my waist, ya know. “Let me in, Wires, ya son-of-a-bitch,” I says, “I’m getting crusted!” [Laughter] You know, the wind was dryin’ me off and those things were cakin’ on me. Then he drives up to the car wash. Still won’t roll down the goddamn window. I says [in strained voice], “What are ya gonna do?!” And he puts in the quarter and [Makes noise of water jetting from hose]. He uses the high-pressure water bit. Maggots flyin’ all over the place. The whole bottom of the car was full of maggots. ‘Cept they wouldn’t come off of the car. That was the goodest part. He had to go home and get ‘em off with a putty knife. [Laughter] I laid there in the yard just laughin’.
Carol: Oh, that’s beautiful!
Larry: Oh, God—it was hell! Every time I think of Tiny, I think of that goddamn bucket of maggots.
Scholars who have made use of the notion of “cultural resources” in discussing narrative texts have usually attended to the genre itself as a resource used in performance (Abrahams 1968; 1969a; Burke 1950) or identified “culture-specific ways to key the performance frame” (Goffman 1974; Bauman 1977; Hymes 1975). Nevertheless, it is clear that allusive frames tied to the content of the narrative are also shared resources that influence significantly the effectiveness of the performance. Melville Jacobs in his insightful study of Clackamas Chinook myths and tales commented upon the esoteric allusive frames that often frustrated his attempts to collect oral performances: “Narrators usually delivered relatively bare bones of their stories, while the native audience immediately filled in with many associations and feelings which a non-member of the group could not possibly have” (1959:1). These “associations and feelings” are drawn from the abundant store of knowledge and experiences held in common by the teller and audience. The allusions are brief and suggestive rather than elaborate and explicit because they are presented in what Edward T. Hall describes as a “high-context” situation: “A high-context (HC) communication or message is one in which most of the information is either in the physical context or internalized in the person, while very little is in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message. A low-context (LC) communication is just the opposite; i.e., the mass of the information is vested in the explicit code” (1977:91).
In telling “Tiny Wires and the Chicken Blood,” Larry is able to refer to local resident Kenny (Tiny) Wires, the old Township School, Broadway, Wall’s Trailer Court, and “the car wash” without further explanation because he can assume these local allusions are shared. However, he does elaborate on the reference to Scarborough’s, saying, “you know, where they got all the chickies— brack, brack.” He assumes, rightly, that the high-context frame of the community does not necessarily ensure that an allusion to Scarborough’s will be understood, and of course it is important to the plot of the story that Scarborough’s be identified as a place Wires could buy chicken blood. Folklorists interested in the performance of narratives have stressed the “emergent quality” of a storytelling such as this. That is, performance is a use of cultural resources that emerges within a specific context. Richard Bauman suggests that “we consider as resources all those aspects of the communication system available to the members of a community for the conduct of performance” (1977:38). I would simply expand the sociolinguistic perspective on what constitutes available “aspects of the communicative system” to include such allusive frames as these—what Roland Barthes (1974:18-20) designates as “cultural codes” in his scheme of five major codes under which the “signifiers” of any text can be grouped. Without borrowing further either the jargon or more intricate theoretical concepts of semiotics, I think we can address Larry’s story using this reformulated notion of the literary allusion. In addition to the emic concept of genre or the tacitly shared routines for framing a performance, the body of knowledge shared by members of a group constitutes a vast potential source of high-context references to be used by the teller and in turn recognized by the listener.
Larry draws attention to this referential code by elaborating his allusion to Scarborough’s. He knows that a good storyteller does not casually allude to knowledge not shared by his audience, and in this specific context (with this specific audience) he allows a reflexive comment on the convention of high-context or esoteric allusion to emerge within the storytelling itself. Larry manages this with good humor and little disruption of the story. Part of the reason Larry is able to do this is quite simply that he is a master storyteller, but there are more specific analytical reasons as well. To return to Roger Abrahams’s “rhetorical” approach to folklore, we can agree with him that the genre itself is a primary cultural resource available to the teller (see Abrahams 1968 and 1972b). In this case there is indeed an emic sense of the conventions associated with the personal narrative, including the convention of “high-contexting” information about the storyteller, and the frame he shares with the audience. This convention of esoteric reference is intentionally foregrounded in the personal narrative, in contrast to such fictional forms as the tall tale or joke, on one hand, or such impersonal forms as the legend or anecdote, on the other. The effect of this tacit comparison of genres (literary reflexivity) is to force an awareness of the convention of esoteric allusion in personal narratives and that body of cultural information that must be shared personally by teller and audience in this specific context.
By making the convention of esoteric reference explicit through the metanarrational device of explaining an allusion (Scarborough’s), Larry draws attention to the fact that he and his audience share certain cultural codes. The personal narrative, unlike the tall tale or legend, forces an awareness of shared cultural codes. Teller and audience are made self-conscious through such contexting as that involved in Larry’s explanation of Scarborough’s. And what they become conscious of is the rarity of such low-context material in personal narratives. People whose primary storytelling genre is the personal narrative often presume upon a pervasive high-context or esoteric frame even when it does not exist or is at least not so high as they suppose. We all know people who jump into a story involving relations, friends, and places unknown to us; often they leave these casual references unelaborated, and, as listeners, we typically do not draw attention to our outsider status in regard to this frame. Why? The personal narrative, through its typical abundance of esoteric allusions, maintains the illusion, if not the reality, of intimacy between teller and listener.
The basis of good storytelling or effective communication generally is shared cultural resources, and the basis of intimacy is an awareness that certain cultural resources have been shared and certain personal facts or ideas have been expressed. I would see four steps in a movement from culture to intimacy, at least as intimacy is realized in regard to a literary activity such as storytelling. The first “step” is simply the assertion that people do share cultural resources. The scholar’s job is to identify these shared resources; most folkloristic and anthropological research is devoted to this task—i.e., the identification and description of genres, tale types, motifs, storytelling situations, patterns of behavior, performance styles, customs, beliefs, stereotypes, world views, conceptualizations of time and space, kinship patterns, even bodily features that are recognizable as shared aspects of the culture studied. The second step beyond this assertion is a recognition of the use of these cultural resources by the storyteller in an effort to persuade or influence the audience. This use may or may not be intentional; we must assume that a performer could not possibly be aware of consciously choosing all of the cultural resources he or she uses. Rather, it is the scholar who analyzes the performance as a creative use of cultural resources. Furthermore, it is the audience (or more accurately, each individual listener in the audience) who must respond to the teller’s use of cultural resources. The third step, then, is the listener’s referential use of his or her own store of cultural resources in understanding and appreciating the teller’s storytelling. We can assume that many of the cultural resources used by the teller are shared by the listener; others will be of the “mistakenly assumed” variety mentioned above. The fourth step is a recognition that certain esoteric or localized or even presumably private resources are in fact shared; intimacy comes as the teller and listener each indulge that delightful sensation of recognizing or perhaps projecting one’s own personal knowledge into someone else’s performance or response.
How people are able to convince themselves that a shared frame of reference is really shared is the question behind much research in the social sciences. Usually, the question is left unarticulated behind the stronger, analytic inquiry into the frames of reference shared generally rather than intimately, and the function of these widely shared resources. On the other hand, when the focus shifts from the general to the personal, to idiosyncracies and deviations, the larger patterns the scholar outlines cannot accommodate these more personal and intimate frames of reference. Part of the reason for the scholar’s dilemma is a philosophical shift. The individual’s awareness or identification of a frame of reference shared with his listener represents to some extent a personal belief. On faith, the individual indulges his sense of intimacy; he believes that the relationship between himself and his audience is sufficiently intimate to allow for the typical proliferation of esoteric allusions in his storytelling. One clear incentive for telling and listening to personal narratives is the desire to experience this socially acceptable form of intimacy.
Personal Presence and the Power of Performance
Intimacy, performance, and response are terms charged with specific meanings when used in the context of sexual rather than verbal interactions. Nevertheless, there is certainly something similarly compelling in the exchange of personal narratives that is unfortunately belied if one views performance as simply a rhetorical manipulation of shared cultural resources. There is an important animation and vitality at play in the telling of a story and in the listening. Much of the power of performance is in its immediacy and demonstration of personal presence. Roger Abrahams (1972b) recognizes a similar concept in identifying the “esthetic emotion” at the center of any performance of expressive folklore. In the telling of a personal narrative, this “power of performance” is augmented by the obvious originality of the story’s content. Performing a personal narrative is a gesture toward intimacy; it combines the animation of performance with the intimacy of esoteric references and personal life history.
According to Edward T. Hall (1977:92), intimacy fosters the most efficient form of communication. Very little time, energy, or words need be spent contexting a listener in an intimate relationship. On the other hand, the power of performance is not diminished in a high-context situation. For reasons quite apart from the appropriateness of performance so important in rhetorical theory, the power of performance enhances any storytelling, but especially one that offers to share some aspect of the teller’s inner life. To return to the metaphorical link between verbal and sexual performance, there is something in the telling of personal narratives that convinces both the teller and the listener that they have shared a significant emotional experience. This feeling is created out of the intimacy of personal narratives and the emotional effects of performance—the power of performance itself.
Power of performance is a term I would suggest to identify mutual recognition by teller and audience of the animated state of performance. This state is best explained through reference to information from experimental psychology. A storyteller such as Larry Scheiber obviously performs with great animation, but the meaning here is much more specific. The animated state of performance is always a physiological and psychological reality. Several years ago, psychologist Stanley Schachter (1964) proposed a frame for understanding human emotional response. According to his theory, two factors must coexist for a person to experience a “true emotion”: (1) the individual must experience a change in physiological state (usually from nonarousal to arousal), and (2) it must seem appropriate to interpret this new state in emotional terms. The power of performance is just such a conventional interpretation of an altered physiological state; people (both performers and audiences) interpret the physiological effects of performance as an emotional event.
In light of the overtly intimate nature of personal narratives, it is not surprising that the power of performance produces a particularly satisfying emotional effect upon both teller and listener. Recent medical research (Lynch 1985a and 1985b) has demonstrated that the very act of speaking (no matter what is said) raises the speaker’s blood pressure, rapidly and appreciably. On the other hand, the act of listening lowers blood pressure through what is called the “orienting reflex,” again an equally marked change in the individual’s physiological state. If we bring together Schachter’s two-component theory with the information on the physiological changes caused by telling and listening to stories, it is easy to see why the power of performance is interpreted (consciously or not) as an intimate emotional exchange by the teller and audience.
The teller is aroused by his own telling, not so much in the manner Robert Georges (1979) has documented—i.e., as a direct result of the teller’s response to his own story content—but rather simply as a physiological response that is interpreted as an intimate sharing. The teller attributes his enjoyment of his performance to the reasonable belief that he has actively enhanced the personal relationship between himself and his audience. The listener experiences a sense of relaxation brought on by the activity of listening; the change in physiological state is immediate and noticeable. The listener attributes the change to the activity of listening to someone’s personal narrative; the listener experiences an emotion that is, in this instance, perceived as both intimate and pleasurable.
The cultural resources necessary for the performance of personal narratives include esoteric allusions that in turn create a sense of intimacy between the teller and his audience. The power of performance combines with this sense of intimacy to make the exchange of personal narratives an emotionally satisfying experience for both the teller and audience. Even a raucous and mildly masochistic story such as Larry’s “Tiny Wires and the Chicken Blood” endears the teller to the listener and vice versa, simply through the positive psychological effect of the storytelling itself.
Creating Instructional Texts
This intimacy is more marked in the exchange of personal narratives than in other kinds of storytelling. Nevertheless, the allusions that make up a large part of the interpretive context are present in any storytelling and can be identified and treated in an instructional text. The first step in constructing such an instructional text would be to represent the interpreter’s response in segments relative to the documented content of the text. A second step would involve identifying both the communal and private folklore significant in the interpreter’s response to the text or performance. And a final step would involve identifying and demonstrating the interpreter’s analytical perspective. In chapters 4 and 5, these three steps will be demonstrated through the construction of two contextualized interpretive texts. Chapter 4, interpreting Larry Scheiber’s telling of “Koo-Nar, King of the Rats,” employs only steps one and two, the segmentation of the text and the identification of private and communal folklore.
Private and Communal Folklore
The contrast between private and communal folklore indicated in step two is similar to Raymond Firth’s (1973) distinction between private and public symbols. However, as I am using the terms, communal folklore might be widely shared and corroborated through research but not necessarily acknowledged as public or even traditional by the people involved; they may well believe that it is exclusive to their small group. In contrast, private folklore is in fact exclusively shared (and cannot be corroborated outside of the group), and it is privately or even personally generated through group interaction or personal experience. Thus, while communal folklore is often mistakenly assumed to be culture-specific and exclusive, comparative research demonstrates that it is not. Private folklore, on the other hand, is universal only in the largest sense, at a structural level. Its traditionality is limited by the context of personal or private history which spawned it.
Communal folklore includes representative texts of traditional tale types or motifs as well as the identifiable themes and allusions embedded in the texts of personal narratives. Private folklore would include those private traditions effective in creating meaning for a text but usually excluded from surveys of communal folklore, namely, (1) the narrowly culture-specific lore that constitutes part of an “idioculture,”9 (2) the individual’s impressionistic store of traditions that attach to either his own or another individual’s life history—those subjectively significant items I would call personalore, and (3) the listener’s interpretation of the teller’s identity, personal values, and beliefs as reflected in the story. These three kinds of private folklore are not exclusive to personal narratives. However, because personal narratives are dependent upon such private folklore both functionally (to create a sense of intimacy) and by definition (the stories are idiosyncratic rather than traditional), the personal narrative is an ideal genre for exploring the role of private folklore in the interpretation of folklore texts.
Identifying the Interpreter
A corollary to the segregation of communal and private folklore is the identification of the audience and the transformation of audience members into interpreters of the text. A potential interpreter must first of all be competent as an audience member, but how can we assess the competence of an audience? In the early 1970s literary critics found themselves groping toward the audience familiar to folklorists while folklorists were busy expanding the notion of oral performance to include the literary interest in rhetoric. At the same time, cultural anthropologists were discovering “ethnosemantics,” the “actor’s definition” or “insider’s view” of behavior. Most of these new perspectives involved a shift from the earlier authoritarian stance of the critic to an exploration of the individual or collective interpretive authority of the audience or culture group itself. Dundes’s notion of “oral literary criticism” drew upon emerging theoretical developments in all three disciplines and clearly called for scholarly attention to the role and competence of the audience in the interpretation of oral texts.
Chapter 4, interpreting my mother’s telling of “The Canary, or The Yellow Dress,” represents a contextualized interpretive text involving all three steps mentioned above: (1) a segmented presentation, (2) identification of communal lore and personalore, and (3) an abstraction of the interpreter’s analytical perspective. Together, the second and third steps require that the interpreter be specified, that the interpreter be a real individual offering his or her own oral literary criticism of the personal narratives. The concept of oral literary criticism assumes a traditional text—an item whose basic content is known in the community. Can oral literary criticism be useful in the study of personal narratives? One certainly can elicit commentary about personal narratives from the teller or audience, but such commentary might well be offered in an effort to obscure the real effect of the storytelling. The purpose of oral literary criticism (or of the kind of directed negotiation toward a consensus on “What is the point?” suggested in Livia Polanyi’s sociolinguistic study, for example) is clearly to support a collectively shared or accepted interpretation (Polanyi 1979). The aim of the personal narrative, on the other hand, is the creation—even the foregrounding—of personal identity and the sense of intimacy between the teller and the audience, or in fact, each individual listener.
This does not mean that a personal narrative cannot be interpreted in terms meaningful to a community larger than that of teller and listener. However, a literary exegesis in this case should first address the two questions most clearly tied to the unique qualities of the genre and its presentation in context rather than moving immediately to the larger critical question of how this story can be made more universally accessible, more collectively meaningful. Efforts to understand a personal narrative involve asking how the story reveals aspects of the teller’s identity to the listener, and how the listener’s critical response was evoked through the presentation of the story. To effectively address these questions, I would propose a methodology purposefully restricted by certain prerequisites. These are (1) an acknowledged “documentary” frame, (2) clear allowance for the individual response of the listener, (3) commentary by an audience-interpreter whose relevant folk group is the same as the storyteller’s, (4) identification of an audience-interpreter who knows the conventions of literary criticism and could thus translate emic commentary into etic terms for purposes of (as Pertti Pelto suggests) “cross-cultural study of behavioral systems,” and (5) an audience-interpreter willing to accept full responsibility for the act of interpretation.10
The first three of these prerequisites could be met through the oral literary criticism of perceptive listeners as Dundes envisions or by the articulation of “covert culture” through the methods of the “New Ethnography.” Even the fourth could be met by the necessary critical competence of what Stanley Fish calls “the informed reader” (Fish 1980:48-49). However, as Fish graciously admits, “my reader is a construct, an ideal, or idealized reader.” More specifically, Fish reveals that “the reader of whose responses I speak, then, is this informed reader, neither an abstraction nor an actual living reader, but a hybrid—a real reader (me) who does everything within his power to make himself informed.” Fish would guarantee the critical competence of the reader by playing the role himself. Fish is himself the reader of Lycidas or Paradise Lost , and though others have read the texts and though he and these other readers share the frame of an “interpretive community,” it is his own response alone that he can know and present as the response of the reader.
Literary critic David Bleich is much less apologetic about this inevitable subjectivity of the reader (Bleich 1975; 1978). He dispenses with the abstract hybrid and identifies the reader as himself or as another specific and real individual (by name) if that person has articulated a response. By recognizing other people’s stated interpretations as valid responses, he affirms unequivocally the second prerequisite outlined above. But, unlike Fish, he cannot guarantee the fourth except when someone with established critical competence is the reader. When Bleich is himself the reader, then because of his critical training, his interpretation of a work of literature has an ideal “negotiative presence” among literary critics. To make the commentary of an “untrained” respondent (e.g., an undergraduate student) useful to his own academic audience, Bleich must add his own explanatory comments to these solicited responses—and indeed the resulting expanded criticism is quite impressive. Nevertheless, both Bleich and Fish are able to communicate with the larger scholarly community because they use etic units, conventions of the discipline that facilitate the “cross-cultural study of behavioral systems.” But behind the conventions and accepted patterns of analysis is the unique web of responses and perceptions that is each man’s interpretive signature. Robert M. Adams concludes much the same thing: “Given the way things are, it is only the pattern that one personally makes out of the patterns that yields any effectual command of a subject. Criticism, like history, is thus a private art one of whose conventions is that the critic shall seem to use evidence in accordance with a public code” (Adams 1971:213-14). The reader-response critic, conscious of his subjectivity, struggles not so much with the fact of his subjectivity but rather with the inescapable demand that he translate his personal response into the conventions of his own most influential interpretive community.11
To return, then, to the question of the audience’s critical competence, it would seem that my best recourse is to follow the lead of Bleich and Fish and accept my own response as listener in a natural context as the critical commentary I can most reliably articulate in terms meaningful to my colleagues. Other listeners could articulate their responses, and those responses, as Dundes suggests, would be quite valuable, especially if the listeners were clearly immersed in the culture of the teller. Nevertheless, an articulation of my response is at least potentially more valuable. Not only am I an insider in many of the folk groups important in my informants’ identities, but I also am the informed listener of requirement number four, and I am willing to accept full responsibility for translating my hearing of the story into understanding, of deconstructing my personal response. The basic assumption underlying this methodology is that anyone’s response to a personal narrative told in its natural context is to regard the story as a reflection of the teller’s personal philosophy and stable identity. What is important is not so much whether the listener succeeds in accurately assessing the teller’s values and personality but instead whether we can see how the listener came to hold the interpretation he or she offers, how the listener’s response evolved.
Freud found the analysis of his own dreams a useful device for a number of reasons. A folklorist interested in personal narratives can take a cue from Freud and demonstrate a sensitivity to the privacy of informants and a commitment to a rigorous method of analysis by reconstructing his or her own strategies of response to the intimacy of content and context in personal narratives. Such a methodology focuses on a literary text created by an individual rather than spotlighting the individual directly; that is, it represents a literary rather than a purely psychological approach. And the folklorist-interpreter assumes responsibility for the interpretation offered by tacitly agreeing beforehand that any potentially embarrassing psychological “evidence” in the interpretation can be used to indict the interpreter alone, not the storyteller. Through these two procedural safeguards, researchers can claim a reliable methodology without compromising an ethical concern for their informants’ psychological privacy when those informants agree to tell their personal narratives to shape-shifter friends who with little warning become folklorists. The basic directive in this methodology is toward an analysis of the generic conventions, themes, folkloric allusions, and personal frames of reference that are significant in the trained folklore scholar’s own response as natural audience to the personal narratives of informants.
The Focusing Power of Analytical Schemes
The interpreter’s analytical scheme, then, is a significant agent for focusing the response to or interpretation of a personal narrative. And if the interpreter is also the folklorist, then this analytical scheme will reflect the influence of folklore and literature’s research paradigm. It will in fact reflect the individual’s cumulative experience in devising an analytical focus, the myriad of analytical schemes considered, tried, pondered, rejected, or adapted through the years of scholarly training and practice. Individual interpreters will use their analytical schemes in idiosyncratic ways; this is why such schemes can be considered a part of the variable interpretive context.
In this study, I try to provide some information about this cumulative analytical influence by labeling my analytical practice in summary code glosses throughout chapter 5. Nevertheless, in keeping with the naturalistic paradigm adopted at the beginning of this study, I am content to allow this information to emerge as part of the instructional text. My use of the terminology ( discourse, type, style, theme, rhetoric, culture, etc.) is, in fact, not very precise. Rather than impose some false sense of rigor, I must admit that in actual usage this imprecision is typical. However, the concepts, for all their imprecision and idiosyncratic application, are powerful and real influences upon my interpretation of these or any other literary text.
The third step in creating an interpretive instructional text requires the inclusion of this anlytical scheme. It is beyond the scope of this study to analyze my analytical scheme and reconstruct its evolution. Gene Wise (1980:363-69) would have us do this unto others but not, thank goodness, unto ourselves. I can, however, offer the following signposts if anyone else cares to undertake the task. Three works undeniably implicated in my research are Roland Barthes’s S/Z: An Essay (1974), Seymour Chatman’s Story and Discourse (1978), and Alan Dundes’s Interpreting Folklore (1980a). In addition, a chart which emerged as I created the analytical gloss is as follows:
This analytical “strategy” is only implicit in chapter 4 but explicit in chapter 5. The tripartite scheme draws upon Dundes’s essay (in Interpreting Folklore) titled “Texture, Text, and Context.” In my adaptation, texture becomes style (linguistic content detail embodying cultural or private allusions), text becomes type (the translatable content or plot), and context becomes discourse (the context perceived by the interpreter within the interpretive context). As a category, style includes both communal folklore (culture) and private folklore (usually personalore), examples that are selected by the interpreter as significant reflections of stylistic choice in the narrative. Type includes themes and structure as would story outlines in a type index of personal narratives if such a compendium existed, as well as the common literary analytical concepts of plot and symbol. And discourse is used to designate examples of rhetoric or aspects of situation that either move the story along or frame it. The interpreter attends to discourse as a kind of metanarrative that influences interpretation but is not part of the content of the story. These three levels of analysis will be included as a running gloss to the instructional text in chapter 5.
The objective in presenting these expanded texts is to make the practice of interpreting folklore a more acceptable one in the discipline. Not all interpretations need document the interpretive context so fully. Having made the point at such length, I hope that the more general claim will be acknowledged—that the interpreter’s task is to be true to his or her personal insight into the folklore and that the reader’s responsibility lies in respecting that choice of focus.