- Fire in the Plaça: Catalan Festival Politics After Franco
Fire in the Plaça is a masterpiece, brimming with virtues. The book's multifaceted excellence has been justly recognized with the 2005 Fellows of the American Folklore Society Book Prize, but reviews of it have been slow to appear. This later fact is a collective failure that suggests the need for folklore studies in the English-speaking world to rediscover the importance of the book review genre as both a critical measure of disciplinary health and a crucial means of promoting our work to wider audiences including, not insignificantly, the scholarly publishers on whom we rely. (JFRR represents a healthy experiment directed toward such ends.) Thankfully, as we consider new ways of speaking up on behalf of folklore studies, Dorothy Noyes has given us a sophisticated work of ethnography and history that we might point to as embodying our best disciplinary virtues and as reflective of what a revitalized and sophisticated twenty-first century folkloristics can accomplish. The book deserves not only to be reviewed widely, but also to be promoted informally in our discussions with colleagues in other fields. Among folklorists, I hope that it will provide one point of departure for invigorating discussions about where our field might be heading.
While Noyes, in varying degrees, considers most genres of folkloristic concern, her book is built around the study of the Patum, a distinctive Corpus Christi festival performed in Berga, a provincial town in Catalonia. Noyes offers both a synchronic ethnography of Berga and the Patum (ca.1989–1992) and a social history of the festival as an institution in the region's life during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In both of these frames, she gives the Patum its due as a complex and interesting phenomena in its own right, but she also considers the festival (as the people of Berga do) as a key window through which to glimpse the entirety of local culture and history, particularly the ongoing disagreements at the center of social life. Of special interest in all of this are Catalonia's quest for national self-determination and the complex legacies of Francisco Franco, Spain's long ruling and authoritarian leader. [End Page 190]
Of obvious relevance to those concerned with Europe, the book has many commendable qualities of general relevance. In engaging prose, the book illustrates Noyes' sophisticated command of social theory, past and present, including folklore's place within this domain. Generations of folklore graduate students have wondered why they were asked to come to grips with the luminaries of "classic social theory," particularly figures such as Emile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx. Noyes provides an innovative answer, not by simply adopting or even modifying the theories of these earlier scholars, but by entering into a cross-generational dialogue with them on shared concerns, particularly the (contradictory) nature of society under conditions of European modernity.
This aspect of the book is particularly compelling because Noyes shows how the historic and contemporary perspectives of the people of Berga, as reflected in, among other things, the Patum, not only resonate with those of these early scholars, but that the roots of both European social theory (as a scholarly project) and European (or at least Catalan) "folk" (or "ethno-") social theories share a common contextual history. Rather than articulating a single right (or wrong) answer, both the scholarly and folk traditions of theorizing represent manifestations of an ongoing debate over the fundamental nature of social life and are an outgrowth of Europe's unfolding social history within a broader world context. Sharing common roots, European social theory's two registers thus intertwine over time, reciprocally influencing one another. While this is obvious in the case of Marx vis-à-vis the history of communist and socialist politics in Catalonia, the same dynamics are shown to characterize the ideas of Durkheim (paralleled, for instance, in "social body" discourses on the Patum) and Freud (evidenced, for...