If Beale Street Could Talk

Music, Community, Culture
Author: Robert Cantwell
A dazzling, expansive exploration of the culture-making activities and artifacts of everyday life
Paper – $28
eBook – $19.95
Publication Date
Cloth: 11/03/2008
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About the Book

Seeking 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.

About the Author

Robert Cantwell is a professor of American studies at the University of North Carolina and the author of Ethnomimesis: Folklife and the Representation of Culture, When We Were Good: The Folk Revival, and Bluegrass Breakdown: The Making of the Old Southern Sound, which won an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award.

Also by this author

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"This collection is magisterial in terms of its historical and contemporary depth and breadth, and its conversations with a very wide range of philosophers, theorists, artists, musicians, and cultural forms and ideas. The writing is superb, suffused with originality, playfulness, intensity, and the willingness to take risks that models the best of public intellectual writing."--Mary Hufford, editor of Conserving Culture: A New Discourse on Heritage

"Like no other commentator, Cantwell grounds structures of feeling in historical experience, reclaiming the landscapes and bodies that have left their traces on our haunted American culture. This book is a wondrous tour of the American imaginary."--Dorothy Noyes, author of Fire in the Plaça: Catalan Festival Politics After Franco