Folklife Friday is a weekly digest of arts and culture articles, podcasts, and videos from across the web. Read on for a selection of the week’s best cultural heritage pieces, and don’t forget to check back next Friday for a new set of weekly picks.
In this review of Joel Dinerstein’s The Origins of Cool in Postwar America, Benjamin Markovits surveys the layered and labyrinthine history of postwar cool—a construct drawing from the West African Yoruba concept of itutu or “mystic coolness,” with its emphasis “on projecting coolness in music and dance across the African diaspora.” Markovits explores the commercialization of cool and its “individual grace that has a social function, too, that responds to others and contributes to the general harmony.”
The Uses of Beauty: On “Daughters of the Dust” and Diasporic Inheritance
A Netflix revival of the 1991 film Daughters of the Dust is bringing to light new questions about the African diaspora, among them “what will be left behind, what will be carried, and what will be transformed?” In this review, Carina del Valle Schorske examines these and other questions, weaving in Gullah folklore, excerpts from seminal essayists, and the memories individuals carry under conditions of dispossession.
Is Linguistics A Science?
In The Kingdom of Speech, Tom Wolfe explores Noam Chomsky’s concept of “universal grammar” and challenges to the theory by, among others, linguist Daniel Everett. In this essay, Arika Okrent reviews the text, asking, “Is universal grammar in particular—and theoretical linguistics in general—a science at all?” Drawing from Karl Popper’s criterion of falsifiability, Okrent concedes that the theory of universal grammar, at the very least, offers a framework for discovery. “Whether as a structured mythology or a catalyst for conflict, it nonetheless helps us to reach a deeper understanding of the world.”
Spotlight — Africa Haiku Network
For Adjei Agyei-Baah, cofounder of the Africa Haiku Network, traditional Japanese poetry is helping local writers tell their stories in new and nuanced ways. In this Q&A, Agyei-Baah speaks to the recurring motifs in African haiku poetry, including harmattan, a dry dusty wind characteristic of autumn in West Africa. “I for one am most fascinated by harmattan ability to leave nature bare and reveal things which were once hidden from the eyes,” Agyei-Baah explains. “And since haiku is about little details that gives a bigger revelation, my curiosity is heighten at this point in time to explore and write more.”
The Uncanny Double: An Interview with Megan McDowell
“Translation is a creative practice, it’s subjective,” Megan McDowell says, reflecting on her recent translation of Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream. “But you have to take the final piece as it is rather than as a reflection of some kind of hallowed platonic ideal.” For McDowell, translation is a creative process—one that requires “a lot of smoothing and polishing.” Here McDowell speaks about the novel’s portrayal of female characters and her early interest in reading, however detached. “I felt like an outsider looking in rather than a participant. Which is what a translator is, an outsider looking in.”
Special thanks to editor Elisa Hough and to Michael Atwood Mason for their contributions to this week’s digest.