If Beale Street Could Talk
About the BookSeeking to demonstrate the intimate connections among our public, political, and personal lives, these essays by Robert Cantwell explore the vernacular culture of everyday life as a way of understanding the cultural ecology of the contemporary world. A keen and innovative observer of American culture, Cantwell casts a broad and penetrating intelligence over the cultural functioning of popular texts, artifacts, and performers, examining how cultural practices become performances and how performances become artifacts endowed with new meaning through the transformative acts of imagination. He traces, for instance, how a blues song becomes a blues recording and enters a collection of blues recordings, joining other energies, both creative and exploited, both natural and human, that represent the residues of modern life and culture.
Cantwell's points of departure range from the visual and the literary--a photograph of Woody Guthrie, or a poem by John Keats--to major cultural exhibitions, such as the World's Columbian Exposition or the Smithsonian's Festival of American Folklife. In all these domains, he unravels the implications for community and cultural life of a continual migration, transformation, and reformulation of cultural content.