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  • The Territorial Impulse
  • Stephanie Kane (bio)

Folk performances—and folkloristic discourse about them—abound with place and space markers. The latter may refer to a refuge, a stage, a community, an epicenter; to a genealogical landscape, a bureaucratic maze, or an ideological split.1 These markers help orient and ground our activities, but to what extent are they also a means of claiming the places and spaces we reference? I believe that it is useful to analyze the ways in which territorial impulses, such as mapping, structure our fieldwork, writing, and social action so that we may begin to contemplate their effects. Following the writings of David Harvey, "Cartography [or mapping] is about locating, identifying and bounding phenomena and thereby situating events, processes and things within a coherent spatial frame" (2001:220). These operations impose a spatial order on phenomena and play a key role in the formation of personal and political subjectivities. In this sense, mapping includes mental and cognitive maps, as well as externally visualized representations based on grids. My hypothesis is that culturally specific spatial codes underlie the intertwining discursive currents of folklore and ethnography in particular ways; that the folk—those elusive, embodied objects of our disciplinary desire—are textually realized (in part) by us through patterned invocations of place and space. Take, for example, de Certeau's mythic surveillance peak on the 110th floor of the World Trade Center in New York City. He brings our attention to the textured land of urban folk as surveyed with a pilot's-eye view:

The ordinary practitioners of the city live "down below," below the thresholds at which visibility begins. They walk—an elementary form of this experience of the city; they are walkers, Wandersmänner, whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban "text" they write without being able to read it. These practitioners make use of spaces that cannot be seen; their knowledge of them is as blind as that of lovers in each other's arms. The paths that correspond in this intertwining, unrecognized poems in which each body is an element signed by many others, elude legibility. It is as though the practices organizing a bustling city were characterized by their blindness. The networks of these moving intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator, shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alterations of spaces: in relation to representations, it remains daily and indefinitely other.

(1984:92) [End Page 274]

I would like to use this panoptic portal as an entry into the uniquely imagined, empirically verifiable, and walkable set of landscapes in which Martha Norkunas, Barbara Chandler and Carl Lindahl, Kwesi Yankah, Philip Nusbaum, and Rachel Fleming engage with various folks and institutions. This commentary builds on my observation that the impulse to tie image and narrative to some cognitive and/or geographical map is a methodological necessity for an engaged research logistics (see Kane 2004). Here, I consider this collection as a composite semantic domain within which the territorial impulse can be explored. It is testimony to the richness and depth of these essays that one can approach them experimentally in this manner. What follows is a series of space-code readings that focus on 1) the range of ways that folklorists imagine the spaces and places of the folk, their audiences, and funders; 2) how spatial concepts function as implicit ordering principles in folklore discourse; and 3) how territoriality—the naming and claiming of places and spaces—is emplotted in the narratives that result from fieldwork exchange.

Linking Silenced Ancestral Narratives to Public Sites

On Martha Norkunas's "Narratives of Resistance and the Consequences of Resistance"

By drawing three narratives from the heirs of those once silenced by sexism and racism into the world of the Journal of Folklore Research readers, Norkunas turns life histories of apparently ordinary people into history-writ-large. Each narrative is founded on a displacement and/or a disappearance involving some refusal, alienation, or forgetting communicated across a landscape. She creates intimacy in her essay by beginning with, and in a sense repairing, her own "broken home" story, which is also her mother's 1960s "single mom" story. The...


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pp. 274-286
Launched on MUSE
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