After a stimulating discussion following the first installment of this recurring feature, we’re happy to present the second, courtesy of the Association for Mormon Letters’ publication Irreantum, and exclusively accessible online at Times and Season. In keeping with its overall theme, the current issue of Irreantum features an interview with the eminent Mormon folklorist Bert Wilson. The interview is available for Times and Seasons readers to view here. In the interview, Wilson reflects on the character of Mormon folklore, its cultural function, his academic careers at BYU and USU, and related topics.
As with the previous installment, I’ve formulated a few questions to prompt discussion—but as before please feel free to comment in any direction you choose.
1. How do you think Wilson’s term “value center” (68) works as an analytical category for describing folklore? In developing the concept, Wilson seems to suggest both that folklore works as a purely descriptive marker of a culture’s value center, and that folklore, in its collection and distribution, can be deliberately shaped to alter a culture’s value center. (See, for example, the discussion of “service folklore” beginning on page 69.) What is (or ought to be) the method of the folklorist: purely descriptive, or subtly prescriptive?
2. Wilson discusses the convergence and divergence of traditional folklore and scientific historiography on page 67, pointing out that folklore must be handled with care in answering historical questions. In contrast, an ethnobotanist like Paul Cox actively mines folk traditions for scientific knowledge. In what relationship does folklore stand with respect to “real” history?
3. Wilson has a slightly defensive attitude toward his discipline, anticipating dismissive literature professors (74) and hostile mission presidents (75). (Lest you think me unduly critical of Wilson, I hasten to add that I myself have been known to adopt a slightly defensive attitude toward my own discipline on occasion.) Do the literature professors and mission presidents have a point? Is folklore really able to bear the weight of academic scrutiny? Does recognizing traditional stories as folklore undermine their ability to promote faith?
4. Bubbling up from popular and oral sources as it does, is there an inherent anti-elite, anti-intellectual bias in folk traditions and folklore?
5. Blogging versus folklore; blogging as folklore?
6. And, of course, share your own folk stories in any of the categories mentioned in the interview, and suggest additional topics for collection.
Many thanks to Irreantum for sharing content. Subscription forms are available online.