In just over two weeks, I’m giving my first ever keynote address at an academic conference. In the event that I’m less responsive online than usual, I thought I’d share the topic and abstract with y’all, so you can enjoy ruminating over it in my absence.
The Body in Folklore: History, Theory, and Experience through the Lens of Embodiment
The human body is the vehicle for and agent of all folklore expression, regardless of whether it’s verbal, customary, or material. However, English-language folklore scholarship has historically ignored the body’s primacy, instead treating the body as an interesting motif that occasionally pops up in folk narrative, or proposing the possibility that ballads arose from the communal swaying of a peasant horde. Recent scholarship has done somewhat better, with the publication of Bodylore in 1993 and numerous conference and special journal issue themes signaling more awareness of cultural formations of the body. In this talk, I examine the ways in which bodies have been historically and theoretically represented in key folklore genres such as folk narrative, dance, and body art. Based on my research in these areas and in my experiences navigating the alt-ac waters as an adjunct and sex educator, I describe the interconnections between mind-body dualism, sex negativity, neoliberalism, and sympathetic magic that impact both the academic study of folklore and the formation of folklore at the vernacular level. From the ideal body in fairy tales to the corrupted and dangerous bodies of urban legends; from decorated and dancing bodies to professional academic bodies; and from the construction of students’ bodies as rational neoliberal consumer bodies to inappropriately sexy bodies hence requiring policing, we as scholars of expressive culture must be attuned to the historical and contemporary formations of bodies.