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The following are notes upon which my talk was based at the October 2000, Columbus, Ohio, meeting of the American Folklore Society.
I also delivered a paper at the October 1999, Memphis, Tennessee, meeting
of the AFS. To see an abstract of that paper ("Videoconferencing
for Folklorists"), please click here
"The In-Performance Identification Process"
This talk concerns ways in which people may identify with images in
the course of
The talk concerns
People inevitably bring personal and cultural baggage to any communication event: they are preconditioned to respond to images (or figures, or three-dimensional imaginings) in certain ways. However, this talk is limited to consideration of the mechanics of a short-term process: the often fleeting identification process that may repeatedly occur in the course of the bounded communication event.
Fields in which this topic has been explored:
discourse analysis, conversation analysis (Harvey Sacks), ethnomethodology (Harold Garfinkel).
literary criticism -- reader-response theory.
I usually take pride in knowing what I am about and in being a good editor, but in regard to this paper I am still a bit fuzzy.
I know that solid academic work involves asking and answering a question. I am having trouble finding my root question here.
I am aware that it is a waste of time to conjecture regarding what people
might feel, think, and imagine. And yet, I am having trouble avoiding
doing so here. It seems that what I am trying to describe (identification,
role-playing) can only be measured through observation of subjects' body
language and other behavior. Post-event interviews might be of some
use. One might ask listeners what/how they identify with. What
are their reactions to images? However, much of this action occurs
in people on unconscious levels. Finally, one can only speak of one's
own experiences of identifying with images. I suppose one could attempt
to wire a computer to the brain, although this approach is not for me!
Bottom line: my general approach to story and storytelling has for years
been, and probably will remain being, about identification with and enactment
of story characters and elements -- regarding both long-term (personality
formation) and short-term experiences (the latter being the subject of
In this paper I am considering the process by which people experience elements of their environment through the five senses, and how they respond to those experiences. Reactions to a situation include: fight or flight. What about? -- assimilate, identify, love, empathize, follow, imitate.
I want to ask: How/when might people identify with, and on some
level enact, the images that they perceive? (In the case of verbal
language, people must decode the
I am proposing that we map presented images onto our selves and onto our present social situation.
Simply by presenting images, one offers them for mapping onto the selves
of all who become conscious of those images.
Definition of storytelling (for this talk):
Numerous possible terms: storyteller, narrator, speaker, presenter.
Everything is potentially contagious to the mind.
For a moment, let us limit the discussion to consideration of representational,
symbolic behavior such as spoken language. Language and play (I would
like to say that language is a form of play), present a model of the past
and a model for the future. They present a suggestion for future
behavior: an option for what
I am not at present referring to the long-term processes involving the formation of identity and personality, but rather to fleeting experiences that occur in great number in the course of everyday life, especially communication events.
I am looking at this phenomena not just in children, but in all people;
not just in play, performance, or storytelling, but in all communicative
behavior. In all everyday talk, and in all verbal arts. In
all body language. In sum: in all social communication (actually,
in all experience).
Speaker / subject of sentence: both have verbo-motor process in active
Stories present a series of relationships, attitudes, feelings of one
toward another. Of a self toward an other.
All that is presented (all that one becomes conscious of) functions as a model of the past, and a model for the future. This process occurs not just in the course of experience of play, language, symbols, images, and masks, but in the perception of all objects.
Perception, contemplation, consciousness -- as one becomes conscious of a thing, it fills one’s field of vision, one can get lost in it, forget oneself, lose oneself, become engrossed.
Feel related to.
One substitutes one's self into that which is perceived. And conversely,
one maps that which is perceived onto one's self (and onto one's social
A frame is proposed through an act by one person in relation to another: if that other responds in a way that signals willingness to engage in ongoing communication, the framed event has begun.
One may propose a frame, step inside of that proposed area, and invite
others to do so also, to join one inside the framed event. But to
invite is to ask another to make a conscious choice, a commitment, which
people may hesitate to do. It may be more effective to seduce the other
into the engagement by just presenting something for contemplation (identification
and/or rejection), or by addressing that other from the position of an
enacted role. One way to initiate contact, to propose
Give listeners an emotional workout. Put audience members (vicariously) in a series of emotional positions. This is a way to get listeners involved.
Method #1 -- Just present figures that interact with each other, and let people imagine, identify with, and enact those figures as they may.
Method #2 -- Enact one figure while addressing a listener. This
can seduce the listener into taking on the role of the figure who is being
"What is going on here?" (Erving Goffman, Frame Analysis, 8.)
When a speaker is before an audience, the following occurs:
1) A speaker presents his/her physical self: physical presence; clothing,
grooming, body placement in relation to other objects, body language (stature,
2) A speaker presents words (leading to imaginings by listeners)
Dell Hymes' ("Models of the Interaction of Language and Social Life," in Directions in Sociolinguistics) only mention of identification or role-playing is: it is "not frequency of interaction, but rather definition of situations in which interaction occurs that is decisive, particularly identification (or lack of it) with others. Sociolinguistics here makes contact with the shift in rhetorical theory from expression and persuasion to identification as key concept (54).
Roman Jakobson ("Linguistics and Poetics," in Style in Language) speaks a bit to the role-playing issue (although he identifies it only in poetic speech). In poetic speech, Jakobson writes, "not only the message but the addresser and the addressee become ambiguous ... Virtually any poetic message is a quasi-quoted discourse with all those peculiar, intricate problems which 'speech within speech' offers to the linguist" (371).
In describing the speech event, Jacobson writes, "The addresser sends
a message to the addressee" (353). Of course this is true, but I
have been thinking of it
Kenneth Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives, 1950, pp. 19-37, 55-59 :
“Identification is compensatory to division” (21).
A principle of rhetoric is to “induce the auditor to participate in the form as a ‘universal’ locus of appeal” (59).
"Imagery invites us to respond in accordance to its nature" (59).
Katherine Young, "Gestures and the Phenomenology of Emotion in Narrative," Semiotica131 - 1/2 (2000) :
Stage the story.
Choreography of the miniature.
Being inside the situation vs. being outside it.
An urge may be deflected, prohibited.
Once an idea/image/example/model is presented/suggested, there is tension
over whether people in the here-and-now will choose to follow through and
manifest it, or whether they will suppress and avoid it.
I have a couple of examples from Indian storytelling events, to which I could apply this type of identification/role-playing analysis, but I hesitate to do so because I do not want to give the impression that what I am describing only occurs in exotic situations -- "exotic" in the sense of involving formal stories and storytelling (as opposed to everyday conversation), and in the sense of involving India.
These issues of identification, imagination, and roleplaying are relevant
to all study of the humanities and social sciences. It might be a
bit out of place to have discussed such general issues in this sort of
conference: but I wanted to begin my career of presenting at AFS at the
beginning, by identifying and discussing basic aesthetic building blocks
of experience. (I consider my paper last year about videoconferencing
to have been a jump ahead of myself).
Thanks to Laura Simms, who introduced me to the study of formal storytelling
and who directed my attention to the perception of images; and to Katherine
Young, for making the very helpful suggestion that three-dimensional imaginings,
as well as images, may be the issue here.