Folklore as philosophy

16 06 2010

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La ciencia de la investigación folklórica estudia los hechos culturales que se dan en comunidades lo menos contaminadas posible con la cultura contemporánea, con el progreso, tal como ocurre en las ciudades. Hay que meterse por caminos laterales, llegar a pueblos, patear horas y horas. Son lugares donde apenas hay escuelas primarias, o ni siquiera eso, donde se guarda un hondo sentido tradicional con los ancestros. Las danzas mapuches, por ejemplo, son rogativas a los dioses, costumbres que vienen de los antepasados, relacionadas con la explicación de fenómenos. Cada paso de la danza representa algo de su mundo interior y exterior. El folklore es filosofía, es tomar una actitud seria frente a diferentes hechos de la vida.

The science of folkloric investigation studies the cultural facts present in communities that are the least contaminated by contemporary culture, or with progress, as is the case in cities. You have to go off the beaten path, find villages, walk for hours and hours. They are places that barely have an elementary school, or not even that, where they maintain the deep traditional sense of their ancestors. Mapuche dances, for example, are prayers to the gods, customs that come down to them from their predecessors, related with the explanation of natural phenomena. Every step of the dance represents something of their interior and exterior worlds. Folklore is philosophy: it is to take a serious attitude before different events in life.

-Felix Coluccio, the great Argentine folklorist, found here

Coluccio later in the interview speaks of the decline of folkloric communities. It is hard to figure out how much longer folklore will survive in the Western world. Personally, I have wanted to buy a recorder and begin recording all of the stories of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Growing up, my mother would tell us stories, but the natural inclination of children is to ignore these stories, since the main characteristic of youth is to have itchy ears.

Having proceeded slowly into adulthood, I no longer have much enthusiasm for official theology, official history, politics, philosophy, or anything else deemed high culture in the intellectual sense. I have my favorites, to be sure. But what is missing from these is a solid and rich ground of being: a common mythology that we can all sink our teeth into and plant our feet on. Folklore is not just philosophy, but first philosophy. It isn’t just the subject of social science, but of metaphysics. In an intellectual sense, I am fast concluding that it is the only way out.



5 responses

17 06 2010
Arturo Vasquez

I honestly don’t know what to think about these objections. I would have to start by bluntly saying that I care little if what I write has anything to do with “Christianity” or not. “What does this have to do with Jesus?” Seriously, such thinking is so nonsensical to me that I really don’t think it merits a reply. I spend enough time deconstructing what people think “Christianity” is here to have to repeat myself like a broken record.

Some have said that the project undertaken here is critical and not constructive. Well, to tell the truth, I would rather have people believe in something I don’t necessarily think is true as long as they believe it in good faith than for people to believe the right things for the wrong reasons. If one seems so intent on convincing everyone else of the “truth”, he should at least know what truth is, and why it is important, and not just have pre-packaged answers to something he thinks he understands, but in reality has little idea what he is talking about.

And myth is a metaphysical thing, not just colorful storytelling. The only alternative for us is to have no memory.

16 06 2010

Perhaps Thomas would benefit from that essay as well. As a voracious reader and a person who sometimes writes, fairy tales (better read: Mährchen, and it is a shame that there is no equivalent word in the English vernacular) often seem to be the only things I take seriously anymore. There are differences between Arturo’s interests and my own interests, subtle differences between imaginative creations of the individual mind and the collective (at least, Jung would phrase it in this fashion), but the lessons of fairyland and metaphysical imaginings are the same everywhere and always.

I should also add as a footnote that about all the the most notable Anglophile writers of the 20th century (Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson, G.K. Chesterton, Charles Williams, Dorothy Sayers, Charles Kingsley, Elizabeth Yates, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Madeleine Le’Engle) had connections to him, contemporaneously or posthumously, and benefited greatly from the “baptism of the imagination,” as one most-famous Christian convert put it, that inevitably occurs when reading George MacDonald’s writings—writings that re-established some significance to the absolute importance of myth in the human search for transcendent meaning. I say all this not as mere fanboy praise for a good and honest man, but as proof that the specific sort of “metaphysical imaginings” being discussed (through fairy tales, Mährchen, folklore, etc.) has, in the past, been responsible for a great many brilliant conversions of the heart, mind, and soul—a unity that is best achieved through one thing: the faerie.

(Oh, and if you’re interested in Chesterton’s take on this topic, it is here: Admittedly, his take is little more than a footnote to MacDonald, and in unfortunatley-typical Chestertonian fashion a bit is destroyed in his straightforward manner he sometimes confuses for wit, but it still has value)

16 06 2010

This may be of some interest to you: an essay called “The Fantastic Imagination” by George MacDonald.

And, of course, I highly suggest you to give George MacDonald a chance. I grew up reading him, and as I’ve grown marginally older, I can’t help but to return to Princess Makemnoit, the greedy dwarves, the scientific witches, the blesssed fairy folk, and the kind, cold North Wind.

16 06 2010

Just looking to receive the follow-up from Arturo in my email.

16 06 2010

That’s nice, and it certainly is a valid way to live, but does it have anything to do with Christianity, “officially” or not? Is it worth dying for? I mean, who gives a crap?

And isn’t that what moderns have been telling me for ages: “All that matters is that you have a meaningful story for the paradigm for your life. As long as it gives you strength and meaning…to that extent it’s true.”

I don’t see the difference between where you’re moving and that. Personally, it strikes me as colorful and interesting, but not worth living or dying for or dying to myself for.

You’re just tired, I think. And we all are.

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