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Fife Honor Lecture

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Drawing inspiration from Austin and Alta Fife, who had a hand in assembling that marvelous volume, Lore of Faith and Folly, I pursue in this lecture the contrasting threads of faith and folly in the guise of two folkloric moves, the ludic and the commemorative. The ludic takes us into a realm of playful irreverence, and my examples here come from the domain of nicknaming with its disfigurations of name and character. The commemorative takes us into the realm of reverence, and my examples here come from the domain of heroic song, specifically, the corrido, a popular ballad form in Mexico and among Mexican-Americans. Our quest indicates that folklore – that zone of human behavior where people come together to engage in performances whose blueprint is contained in local knowledge and whose production is marked by heightened attention to style – offers possibilities of either lowering or elevating its objects of reference. In spite of these contrasting intentions, both the ludic and the commemorative perform the same kinds of operations on their materials, operations that reassemble communicative resources to create new and arresting effects. In the process, through this lowering or raising up of referents, these two faces of folklore take us to the core of what it means to be human.


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