'The people' comprise a political and cultural category -- the ultimate dominated -- which can be used by the dominant (including the dominated within the dominant) as a source of power in their internal struggle for power within the intellectual field. As PB writes in his opening statement, ". . . 'the people' or the 'popular' . . . is first of all one of the things at stake in the struggle between intellectuals" (150). [By his consistent use of 'the people' in quotation marks, I assume that PB is using this term self-consciously and with full acknowledgment that it constitutes an idealized category -- i.e.: He is a man of the people -- but not an actual reality; that there exists no lump of homogenous humans who can safely be called 'the people.' There has, however, been little acknowledgment on PB's part that the dominated -- that big lower-half of the diagram of the social field which shows up on the blackboard occasionally -- are more than a big lump, and that study-worthy struggles for power occur anywhere other than in the field of the dominant (someone pointed this out in class a few weeks ago -- I think that it was Gerald, but my apologies if I'm mistaken).]
Who can speak to, for and about the people thus constitutes a struggle on both the cultural and the political fields. On the cultural field the products of the people are divided into negative ("the vulgar") and positive ("'naive' painting or 'folk' music") -- with the positive consisting of those products which certain artists or intellectuals (". . . most often dominated in the field of specialists") evaluate and celebrate "out of a desire for rehabilitation which is inseparable from the desire for their own ennoblement" (151). The ways in which the people and their products are represented by any given writer, artist, academic is the result of the relationship that the representor has to the represented but also has to both the intellectual field and the social field, and to "the trajectory that has led to that position" within those fields (152). PB further claims that those in the artistic field who align themselves with the products of the people are usually *of* the people ("have come from the dominated regions of the social space") who succeed in the artistic field and can thus "draw a surplus of merit and scarcity value" (152) from their origins. Though he gives examples from France, I'm certain that we can think of any number of American examples -- the graffiti artist Basquiat (sp?), the Appalachian poet Jim Wayne Miller, add your own here. If we were to open up the artistic field to include pop entertainment we would get a group of country music -- Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton -- and, of course, blues artists -- Muddy Waters, BB King, Elmore Leonard, Son House (for these last two groups, of course, success in the field is normally predicated on their origins, which mark their "authenticity").
PB notes, however, that "it is clearly in the political field that the use of the 'people' and the 'popular' is most directly profitable, and the history of struggles within progressive parties or workers' unions bears witness to the symbolic effectiveness of workerism" (152). Again, American examples are never far off, especially considering that our Chief Executive is not only the Man From Hope, but also the man who played his saxophone on MTV and campaigned in a bus. In both cases -- the intellectual and political fields -- claiming the symbolic power of the people necessitates a break with the actual people; in the first instance by entering into the intellectual field in the first place (and thus becoming one of the dominated among the dominant instead of one of the fully dominated) and in the second place by becoming a "spokesperson" and thus separate from the mass of people who do not speak.
PB then goes on to describe the effects of populism on the 'people,' which he outlines as primarily negative. He writes that it "tends, as one of its effects, to disguise the effects of domination" and to forget that the "dominant determine at every moment the rule of the game" thus making the "cosmetic or aesthetic innovations" of populism "mis-placed" (153). Here, especially, he strikes a chord that has been echoing among ethnographers -- well, I can speak about folklife studies -- for more than a decade now: the concern that in some way our goals to validate the cultural productions of the 'people' as equally worthy of appreciation and study as the products of the 'elite' has led to what Sara Suleri calls "unthinking celebrations of oppression" (in "Woman Skin Deep: Feminism and the Postcolonial Condition"). Or perhaps it would be more appropriate to quote the words of one of 'the people' who complained of cultural celebrationists that the effect of their work on his 'people' is ultimately "to keep our economy down so that our customs stay up" (from Gerald Pocius's "A Place to Belong: Community Order and Everday Space in Calvert, Newfoundland").
PB does not, however, give much of an alternative to such attempts, other than, I gather, to stop, which is hardly an alternative. It is certainly important that intellectuals (artists, politicians) who find themselves concerned with the 'people' and their productions be aware that such a concern contains the potential of continuing to marginalize the 'people' while simultaneously adding to the cultural capital of the intellectual -- and that the struggle for the authority to speak to, for and about the 'people' is a struggle for a certain power in the intellectual field. Okay, sure, these issues have been much discussed among folklorists and anthropologists. But once such an intellectual becomes aware of these issues -- becomes, dare I say it?, *reflexive* -- then what? Become paralyzed by one's obvious inadequacy to effect any change, shut the books, turn off the tape recorders and go home? Perhaps PB would like us to concentrate our energies on illuminating the struggles within the field of the dominant (the literary field, the academic field, the intellectual field), that is, on the (rather incestuous) practice of continuously studying ourselves and our work?
PB concludes by discussing the "paradox in the dominated" -- the possibility that "resistance may be alienating and submission may be liberating" -- two poles of action that might be visible in the complexities of our changing national mantras: once the Great American Melting Pot, now Unity Within Diversity, neither of which seems to have been satisfying. He looks at this paradox in particular in terms of language, which is a nice coincidence in light of our brief touch on Ebonics last week -- the paradox being that the dominated must always be defined in relation to the dominant, and thus, as long as the dominated language exists, consecrated or not, it will be dominated (if it ceases to exist, then the dominated have submitted to the power of the dominant language, which was the ultimate goal of the Ebonics policy in the Oakland school district). I was particularly struck by his comment that "those who, out of a need for rehabilitation, talk about popular language or culture are victims of the logic which leads stigmatized groups to claim the stigma as a sign of their identity" (155). However, PB misses the point that more important than the sign of identity -- the particular stigma -- is the *act* of claiming it -- the act of naming oneself, naming one's own category, and thus of taking the stigma away from the stigmatizers ideally so as to make it ineffectual when and if they attempt to use it. Was that not the point of the re-appropriation of the word "Queer" by members of the Gay Liberation movement? Of "Paddy" (not to mention the leprechaun) by the Irish? Wouldn't it be too simplistic to dismiss such movements out of hand as simply re-enforcing the dominant/dominated dichotomy? Resistance and submission, as PB himself writes, are not simple categories -- perhaps dominant and dominated are not either?
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