A life of any worth : life histories of retired Brandeis University faculty

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[Bloomington, Ind.] : Indiana University
Making sense of lives has an awkward history in the discipline of folklore. For many years, storytellers were seen as the bearers of tradition they did not own. Folklore texts of all sorts were regarded as a collective representation of a group rather than a personal possession of individuals. When folklorists realized that the ballad singers or storytellers were recognized by their own community and very much aware of their role, they began to ask questions about the individuals' lives, influences in their lives, in order to help explain the role of the particular folklore in their folk group. Thus, the life of the performer became important in collecting and evaluating the text (and became a required appendix to all studies). Drawing upon the works of such scholars as Bauman, Dolby, and Goffman, this dissertation examines the life history as host to the many dimensions and genres of folklore. Life history is egocentric: the teller presents it imbedded in the current of his/her own life and the facts of this life are biased by his/her views. This condition may prove useful in the search for an adequate classification system to guide us through this body of everyday narration. Except for practical, thematic distinctions, or distinctions according to permanent, transitory or ad-hoc social groups to which the teller relates his story, no attempt has yet been made to create analytical order. In an attempt to make sense of the lives of retired professors, I look at this "hodgepodge" of stories that many scholars propose to edit and present the texts as performed to me: as an oral text or narrative, responding to a prepared questionnaire; as the product of an analytic conversation between folklorist and informant; and as spontaneous narration, where the folklorist tries to minimize his/her influence on the natural context and allows the informant free expression. Separate chapters of the study demonstrate how life histories, processed through inspiration, as they become self reflective, occurring in any narrative moment serve many functions. They unite a group of professors through the actual performance of the life, circumstances of history and through the presentation of self. Throughout the dissertation I will present various examples of life histories, unedited, to underscore the notion that life histories defy the notion of story because they are not linear and need to be read and listened to in their natural uninterrupted flow. Since the beginning of the discipline, there had been an undercurrent of belief that the Grimms wrote better stories and Krohn created an epic where there was none. That's what's wrong with framing life histories and why one needs to be reminded to appreciate the performance of folklore.
folklore, American Studies, cultural anthropology, higher education, Jewish identity, oral history, life history, memory, Jewish intellectual history
Griff, H. (1994). A life of any worth : life histories of retired Brandeis University faculty.
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Doctoral Dissertation