BASE - Ballads and Songs - Engagements, Band 2:
James Porter:
Genre, Conflict, Presence - Traditional Ballads in a Modernizing World

 

Contents (PDF)


This study of the place of traditional ballads in a modernizing world embraces three main topics: genre (the supposed cultural category into which ballads fall); conflict (the internal and external tensions that ballads display or evoke); and the more novel idea of "presence" (the notion that performance of traditional ballads and their modern counterparts can only be effective in the context of exchange between singer and live audience). The author argues that the recent history of ballad performance and study has demonstrated the historical potency of the form and its generic relatives (e.g. cante-fable, lament, lullaby), not simply in terms of novelty of theme but through the adaptability of ballads to communal, creative, and conflicted contexts in the modern world - a world in which institutional forces (governments, corporations, media) attempt to impose cultural, economic, and political change ("modernization") from positions of power and influence while resistant to popular criticism and protest. Thus, the street ballads of the seventeenth century have found an echo, in the second half of the twentieth century, in the political barbs of Folk Revival singers such as Ewan MacColl, Dick Gaughan, or Pete Seeger. At the same time, marginalized cultures such as that of the rural Travelling people or urban "folk clubs" have renewed or re-modelled older traditional ballads, often thereby providing a means by which people can celebrate their "own" culture and avoid the commercialization that a highly technological market-place promotes. The key to this cultural renewal lies in the "presence" of performative gesture and exchange between singer and audience, a two-way communicative relationship that cannot be realized through compact discs, computer simulations, or printed ballad texts. It is by means of such charged, ritualized contact, and the concentrated study of such contact, that ballads continue to be a protean as well as penetrating form of popular song.


ISBN 978-3-86821-165-8, 248 S., kt., 19,50 (2009)


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