Call & Response: Folk Aesthetic and Repetition

    The anthology of “Call & Response,” written by various authors, is a massive 1,000 page collection of various essays and stories, placed into the format of just what the title states: a call and a response. Although contributed to by dozens of different authors, the anthology expresses some clear cut ideas on cultural “aesthetics” through the content contained within, as well as the structure of the anthology itself. 

    One of the biggest ideas of culture this anthology reinforces is the idea of this casual, or personal culture. The idea that culture is found in simple places, and isn’t exclusively something high or artful. The simplest way this was shown to me was in the first call of the book: the call for deliverance. This section was entirely made up of various oral works, such as the idea of the shout (31). The format of the shout was that the “leader” would sing a single stanza twice (the walk), before the chorus would sing the shout. This and other examples authors brought up provided a clear and simple image of what people wanted; what “the call really meant.” I think this was why this anthology was arranged this way; immediately show the reader what is meant by the idea of the call, and in a sense “show off” one of the most important aesthetics in the anthology. By placing this much simpler form of culture, one thats much more personal to a group and already familiar to a reader, it gave me a good entrance point to the book. It also provided some necessary cultural background for me. While the readings as a whole helped, the section descriptions of slavery and oppression provided at the start of the call provided some insight for the basis of what was to come in later sections. Particularly, the line “the weak must assert themselves against the strong…” on page 18 put the whole section into frame for me. The idea that the culture from Africa was not dead, the idea that “power” could be reobtained, and that enslaved persons knew this gave everything I read in this section proper meaning.

    The story of “Everyday Use” that we explored in class also reinforced some of these ideas of a “folk” aesthetic; that culture comes from the everyday person. Right off the bat, we know our narrator isn’t some highly educated “high society” type of person. She admits to not having an education, her house is described as being smaller, and the story is riddled with small clues that tell you the kind of background this person comes from (1721). However, she and her family still exemplify a facet of culture in a way; the passing down of ideas. In particular, a quilt is passed down from the narrator’s mother, however, it still shows the concepts of culture. It was also a link we made in class, however, I wanted to point out the concept of repetition also being important to culture as a whole. As discussed earlier and in the section also mentioned earlier, much of African folklore could be seen in the culture of enslaved persons, and this is sort of a repetition as well. I would argue this concept also ties in with the concept of cultural nationalism. As defined by Wilson Center Digital Lab, cultural nationalism is the concept of using culture to cement a place in society. This is in a way breaking up that repetition, but also using it to one’s advantage as well. As discussed in classed, when things repeat in culture, it morphs slightly, or is seen in a different context due to the previous cycles. In Everyday Use, the quilt being passed down will have a different meaning for each of its owners, just as culture will have a different meaning in each time period for the people who are a part of it.

    The format of the book was also something I wanted to discuss. I think it’s a highly effective way to organize the writing. At a surface level, it separates the anthology into “eras” of sorts, which makes it easy to approach and for the reader to relate to their knowledge of existing history. But again, I relate it back to this idea of repetition, and I think the organizers (possibly unintentionally, although I won’t doubt their competence) structured it in a way so that we could see this sort of cycle. The book starts out with a call, and that call has a response. At first, the call is the oral traditions and their     meanings, and the response to that becomes the call for independence. This call and response loop of a problem arising, and the response being the sort of “acting” on that call, that problem. The fact that there is always this new call, and always the need for a response, is a good way of exemplifying the struggles this book details. 

    All in all, I think Call & Response presents a very humble sort of idea of culture, and uses it to support the ideas and concepts of cultural nationalism. The concept of repetition was also very important to the anthology, and helped exemplified the necessity for these responses.


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