The International Museum of Folklore
February 13, 2015 § 6 Comments
In his Remembering the Year of the French: Irish Folk History & Social Memory, Guy Beiner talks a lot about folklore in Connacht, the western-most Irish province. This is where the failed 1798 French invasion took place, and Beiner attempts an archaeology of the folklore of the region in relation to the invasion and its relation to the wider 1798 Rebellion in Ireland.
I’ve never really worked in the realm of folklore, but I’ve always been fascinated by it, dating back to my undergrad years, though my profs were all insistent that folklore did not belong in a history class. In grad school, I read Ian McKaye’s book, The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia, which was about the collection of Scots and Irish folklore, especially in Cape Breton by Helen Creighton and others in the early decades of the 20th century, around the same time that folklorists were running all over Ireland, England, Scotland, the United States, and various other countries, collecting the folk stories of the region.
Beiner argues that
It is often claimed that modernization struck a deathblow to ‘traditional’ oral culture. Yet, developments in communication and information technologies also provided new media for the transmission and documentation of folklore.
Beiner goes on to discuss all the ways in which modern technology has aided in the collection and dissemination of traditional cultures and folklores. But he is clearly overlooking the fact that modernization DID work to kill traditional oral culture, a point made brilliantly by Angela Bourke in her The Burning of Bridget Cleary: A True Story. This point is made all the more clearly by Keith Basso in his Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Languages Among the Western Apache. Most of the events described by Basso, in terms of his ethnographic amongst the Western Apache of Arizona, take place in the late 1970s and early 1980s, yet his book was published in 1995. In his epilogue, Basso notes the massive change that had come to the community of Cibecue in the fifteen years between his ethnographic work and the book, and what is clear is that modern technology and modern life was killing the traditional way of life for the Western Apache, and with that, traditional relations to the land and the ancestors, which came through in what could be called folklore.
Ireland was no different (nor was any other folk culture anywhere). Modernization has worked to kill traditional oral culture. And while the stories still exist, and we can sill read them and listen to story-tellers, the culture they describe no longer exists. Folklore, through the very act of collection in the early 20th century, was made static and museumized. It became something to be fetishized and studied, and ceased to be a living thing.