Ballads, blues, and alterity
University of Cambridge
Faculty of Music
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Cole, R. (2015). Ballads, blues, and alterity (doctoral thesis).
Focusing on interactions between Britain and the US in the field of popular song, this thesis explores the constitutive relationship between discourse, performance, and identity via critical and postcolonial theory. I interrogate how and why nostalgic and essentialising visions of alterity were used to resist mass consumption, global capitalism, and the changes wrought by modernity during the twentieth century. I argue that folk music does not exist outside the discourse of revivalism and is therefore best seen as an institutionalised system of knowledge animating the ‘low Other’. Chapter 1, ‘“Dancing Puppets” | Nationalism, Social Darwinism, and the Transatlantic Invention of Folksong’, uncovers moments of mediation between ‘primitive’ cultures and metropolitan elites during the early twentieth century. Employing the idea of gatekeeping, I critique a genealogy of powerful voices including Cecil J. Sharp and John A. Lomax alongside others who persistently challenged their orthodoxies. Chapter 2, ‘“His Rough, Stubborn Muse” | Industrial Balladry, Class, and the Politics of Realism’, investigates Marxist visions of working-class culture, showing how ideas of rural authenticity were translated onto urban contexts. Focusing on the BBC ‘radio ballads’, I argue that industrial folksong was a form of social realism intended as a gendered bulwark against threats posed by Americanisation and postwar affluence. Chapter 3, ‘“Found True and Unspoiled” | Blues, Performance, and the Mythology of Racial Display’, explores African American culture, showing how desires written into a revivalist gaze forced artists to assume what I term ‘black masks’ for the benefit of white male fantasy. Focusing on televised performances, I argue that the semiotics of blues events provide a way of understanding the workings of racial identity itself. I conclude by proposing that what I term the ‘folkloric imagination’ is a simulacrum brought into existence by ideological fantasy––a manifestation of the colonialist Real.
twentieth-century cultural history, blues, folksong
This work was funded by a full grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council
This record's URL: https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/252639
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales, © Ross Cole 2015
Licence URL: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/uk/
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