- Disciplinarity, Reflexivity, and Power in Verbal Art as Performance:A Response
There can be little more gratifying to a scholar than to receive confirmation that his work has been useful to colleagues, sufficiently so to attract extended critique and further development 20 or 25 years after its first appearance in print. Such confirmation certainly helps, I can testify, to offset the unease of being historicized. I am therefore profoundly grateful to the authors of the articles that make up this issue of Journal of American Folklore, to the organizers and participants in the AFS Annual Meeting session from which the articles are drawn, and to Elaine Lawless, editor of JAF, for dedicating this issue to a reassessment of Verbal Art as Performance (1977; hereafter Verbal Art). These articles are among the most productive and illuminating commentaries generated by Verbal Art, advancing our understanding of performance and its possibilities to a new critical plane. I welcome the opportunity to engage more directly in the collegial dialogue that the authors have opened; it is a pleasure and a challenge to respond to the ideas offered in the preceding pages, although limitations of space permit me to address only a few of the many issues the authors have raised.
Jill Terry Rudy, in her suggestive study of the siting and citing of Verbal Art, calls attention to the external history of the work, and this might be an appropriate occasion to fill in some of the details of that history, insofar as it bears on the disciplinary positioning and transdisciplinary reach of the work. Rudy appropriately frames her essay from the disciplinary vantage point of folklore and sees the ideas presented in Verbal Art as diffusing outward from that disciplinary base. Rudy's notion of interdisciplinary diffusion does make sense, to be sure, in regard to the taking up of the ideas in Verbal Art in other disciplines, including literary criticism, speech communication, educational anthropology, musicology (including ethnomusicology), and classical studies. One aspect of this process that is masked by Rudy's treatment, however, is the temporality of the process—diffusion, as all folklorists know well, has a temporal as well as a spatial dimension. The turn to performance has occurred at different times in different disciplines, and it would be illuminating to investigate the chronology and lines of influence that organized these developments.
Although Rudy has emphasized folklore work and interdisciplinary diffusion, it seems to me worth mentioning in this context that although the concerns and perspectives of folklore have consistently represented a central frame of reference for my work, [End Page 92] my scholarly agendas and affiliations have at the same time always extended beyond the disciplinary purview of folklore. I was recruited to the University of Texas on a postdoctoral fellowship in 1967 with the hope on the part of my sponsors that a faculty position would be created for a folklorist within the UT Department of Anthropology. It was, and I was hired on tenure-track the following year. My senior colleagues and principal sponsors in folklore, Américo Paredes and Roger Abrahams, both had their primary appointments in English, although Américo had a joint appointment in Anthropology and Roger was soon to accept a joint appointment in Anthropology as well, in recognition of the anthropological orientation and relevance of their work. Roger and Américo were already strongly engaged with performance when I got to UT, Américo through his interest in the social identities and cultural repertoires that organized expressive practice on the Texas–Mexican border, and Roger through his commitment to extended ethnographic fieldwork and his growing interest in Kenneth Burke's illuminating rhetorical perspective on literature as equipment for living.
From the time of my arrival at UT, I was drawn into active involvement in the building of linguistic anthropology within the Department of Anthropology; this effort brought Joel Sherzer to Texas from the University of Pennsylvania (where we had met as graduate students in Dell Hymes's classes) as well as other linguistic anthropologists from Berkeley and Stanford. All of us in this group of newly minted linguistic anthropologists were strongly oriented toward the emergent program of the ethnography of...