Journal of American Folklore 117.464 (2004) 230-231
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The essays in this recent collection by Luis Díaz are the insightful product of an interdisciplinary and cosmopolitan mind negotiating and crossing back and forth over the cultural and intellectual bridges between significantly different constituencies. Díaz is a well-known Spanish scholar and anthropologically anchored collector of folklore. His own activities collecting "the popular" in the field of northern Spain (Castille and Leon primarily) place him among the most proficient folklorist-anthropologists of the Iberian Peninsula. As these essays indicate, he is a scholar who is perceptively placed between disciplines, that is, between folklore and anthropology and between Anglo-American and Spanish traditions long operating in these disciplines. His essays obtain, thereby, interactive insight from the tensions between these varied currents of thought and practical inquiry.
The essays here collected have variable foci, but all of them seek to reflect upon and understand the collecting of what is regarded as "traditional" and as "popular" as contrasted with what is elite and of high culture. They contrast also with the merely or vulgarly ephemeral. Díaz has been himself a preeminent collector and cataloguer of local and provincial lore: songs and romances, festival rituals and myths, civil war lore, and so forth. These essays, hence, are intensively reflective on the conditions of possibility of his own practice. They are, to be sure, written in the context of new paradigms, much discussed already in Anglo-American history and anthropology, paradigms asking the investigator to recognize the degree to which tradition is always invented and the struggle between the reasonable canons of the Enlightenment and the enthusiasms and sense of alternative, even surpassing, realities of the Romantic movement. These paradigms and paradigm shifts, and their impact on the folklorist-anthropologist, are major themes in these essays.
The collection is embraced by an introductory "General Essay" and a "Final Reflection" on these problems as they are posed to any unreflective collection process. In chapter 1 Díaz traces the vicissitudes of the culture concept as it pertains to folklore collection, in particular the romanticist tendencies in nineteenth- and twentieth-century "foclorismo" to contrast the virtues and authenticity of the "folk" to the jaded, overcalculated, and self-interested expressions of high culture and the elite. At the same time, folklorists themselves were members of an elite intent on using folk culture for nationalistic purposes, to separate rather than agglutinate the peoples of Europe. The essay, in large part attentive to the arguments of American anthropologists, operates under the awareness of the way that the folkloristic tradition in Spain, though ostensibly populist in sentiment, was driven by elitist interests.
Chapter 2 shifts to an argument over the uses of oral literature, in particular the oral literature of Asturias, namely, the romanticist and enthusiast argument of Juan Menendez Pidal, and the more sober and scholarly argument of his younger brother, the celebrated humanist and philologist, Ramon Menendez Pidal. An important inspiration in the interest in folklore and popular culture of the period was the "regeneracionalismo" of the "Generation of 98" and the degree to which the authenticity of folk culture would counteract the frivolities of a Spanish culture in defeat and decline, restoring ambition and momentum to a tradition that had lost its moorings. Central here is the contested notion of "authenticity of culture" and how vox populi is to be heard and reproduced.
In the final essay, concerning native and foreign visions of Spanish folk culture, Diaz examines the importance to peninsular anthropological folklore of foreign anthropologists, particularly British and American, who have been producing ethnographies of Spain since the 1950s. Here he deals with the impact of the foreign commitment to concentrated long-term fieldwork on the more...