Folk culture and modernity

Posted by: | March 2, 2009 | Comments Off on Folk culture and modernity

I really need to make this first remark after this week’s readings and this could be taken as a reflection over the course. We had almost 200 pages to read this week, and I personally think it is far too much… It is too long to read each week, to understand and to analyse, and it is really altering my ability to focus on the same subject! Even though most of the articles Jon selected are passionating, a good thing for this class would be to work on passages less long. But this is only my humble opinion…

Campbell’s article appeared first to me as quite difficult, but as soon as he started speaking of its very subject, ‘Mexican muralism’, everything became clearer. With his study of this original form of art, he exemplifies how modern-states shaped their national foundations through their ability to control cultural productions, especially art, and the symbols they are promoting. Indeed the new Mexican state after the revolution worked at redefining national culture in order to support the legitimity of the newly founded state. Muralism which was an high art has been used to consolidate political legitimacy and stability and to draw a new national identity guaranteeing national unity. Mural practice almost became the official carrier of the state’s message. As it is the case for education, this article proves that cultural production has often been driven by a political purpose and led by the power. Campbell especially points out two aspects of this nationalist construction which is not unique to Latin America. He shows how the state tried to make of this new nationalism something common to the whole nation, overcoming social disparities. That is why they took mural art which was an ‘high art’ and tried to bring it to the masses. Campbell even suggests that provoking the audience was part of this purpose: controversies helped to display mural on a large public scene and to make it circulate. In the same universalist aim, nationalism also use to ally past and present, tradition and modernity and to confuse them. Nationalism often legitimizes a nation-state by drawing on so-called common historical events and traditions, which are myths most of the time. Mexican nationalism using mural art did not escaped to this rule. Vasconcelos called mural practice ‘ the deus ex machina of the Mexican renaissance’ as if the Mexican nation had always existed. Mural art in general was constituted of different allusions to the past (indigenous cultures, colonization, independence…) while creating a completely new imagined nation (The Cosmic race …)However, this article also shows how soon occurred a class dichotomisation around Mexican muralism. It took place between what was considered as an art belonging to a national culture dominated by an economical and cultural elite, supporting modernization, and a more popular/middle class contestation denoucing the lack of popular representation and resisting to modernization threathening tradition.

Thus, an art that was supposed to carry a new unique national culture ended facing ‘popular frontism’, which shows that popular culture did not identified completely with the modern state. This is easily demonstrable with the indigenous litterature we read for example.

Concerning The Magic af the state by Michael Taussig, I would first say how hard was this text to understand for me. I do not know about native speakers, but I barely understood completely one sentence out five. I know that the author is an anthropologist and a cultural theorist. In his book, he speak of the modern state in terms of spirit possession and state fetishism which is quite illustrating of the way nation-states built their legitimization through centuries. He puts in relation traditional magical rites with the working of the modern nation-state. The beginning of the passage is a conversation with the Spirit Queen which explains the nourishment of the state by the spirits of the dead. To me, this could be a metaphoric way of explaining how nationalism uses the past to strenghen national identity. This is a very poetic way of portraying the mystical foundations of authority in our modern states. I will stop there to avoid making too much stupid hypothesis. I prefer to wait for a complete explanation in class!

See you all tomorrow!


Comments are closed.

Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind

Spam prevention powered by Akismet