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Blues for New Orleans

by John F. Szwed Roger D. Abrahams Nick Spitzer Robert Farris Thompson

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as the citizens of New Orleans regroup and put down roots elsewhere, many wonder what will become of one of the nation's most complex creole cultures. New Orleans emerged like Atlantis from under the sea, as the city in which some of the most important American vernacular arts took shape. Creativity fostered jazz music, made of old parts and put together in utterly new ways; architecture that commingled Norman rooflines, West African floor plans, and native materials of mud and moss; food that simmered African ingredients in French sauces with Native American delicacies. There is no more powerful celebration of this happy gumbo of life in New Orleans than Mardi Gras. In Carnival, music is celebrated along the city's spiderweb grid of streets, as all classes and cultures gather for a festival that is organized and chaotic, individual and collective, accepted and licentious, sacred and profane.The authors, distinguished writers who have long engaged with pluralized forms of American culture, begin and end in New Orleans--the city that was, the city that is, and the city that will be--but traverse geographically to Mardi Gras in the Louisiana Parishes, the Carnival in the West Indies and beyond, to Rio, Buenos Aires, even Philadelphia and Albany. Mardi Gras, they argue, must be understood in terms of the Black Atlantic complex, demonstrating how the music, dance, and festive displays of Carnival in the Greater Caribbean follow the same patterns of performance through conflict, resistance, as well as open celebration. After the deluge and the finger pointing, how will Carnival be changed? Will the groups decamp to other Gulf Coast or Deep South locations? Or will they use the occasion to return to and express a revival of community life in New Orleans? Two things are certain: Katrina is sure to be satirized as villainess, bimbo, or symbol of mythological flood, and political leaders at all levels will undoubtedly be taken to task. The authors argue that the return of Mardi Gras will be a powerful symbol of the region's return to vitality and its ability to express and celebrate itself.

Everyday Life

by Roger D. Abrahams

A folklorist and ethnographer who has written about the Southern Appalachians, African American communities in the United States, and the West Indies, Roger D. Abrahams goes up against the triviality barrier. Here he takes on the systematics of his own culture. He traces forms of mundane experience and the substrate of mutual understandings carried around as part of our own cultural longings and belongings.Everyday Life explores the entire range of social gatherings, from chance encounters and casual conversations to well-rehearsed performances in theaters and stadiums. Abrahams ties the everyday to those more intense experiences of playful celebration and serious power displays and shows how these seemingly disparate entities are cut from the same cloth of human communication.Abrahams explores the core components of everyday-ness, including aspects of sociability and goodwill, from jokes and stories to elaborate networks of organization, both formal and informal, in the workplace. He analyzes how the past enters our present through common experiences and attitudes, through our shared practices and their underlying values.Everyday Life begins with the vernacular terms for "old talk" and offers an overview of the range of practices thought of as customary or traditional. Chapters are concerned directly with the terms for intense experiences, mostly forms of play and celebration but extending to riots and other forms of social and political resistance. Finally Abrahams addresses key terms that have recently come front and center in sociological discussions of culture in a global perspective, such as identity, ethnicity, creolization, and diaspora, thus taking on academic jargon words as they are introduced into vernacular discussions.

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