Ceallaigh S. MacCath-Moran joins me for this month’s Learn With Me, sharing an academic discussion of folklore, fiction, responsibility in using story, the universality of motif, and conspiracy theories!
The Longest Road In The Universe by C.S. MacCath
What Happens Next? Contemporary Urban Legends and Popular Culture by Gail de Vos
Happy Tuesday!Unless it’s not Tuesday when you’re
hearing this, in which case,welcome to today.
So we are here tonight for our very firstLearn with Me, the first one since I
announced our new themes,which I’m really excited about.
Right before we start that,I want to throw out a massive thank you.
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That’s great, too.So.
Oh, hello.From Wednesday.
Grace is in New Zealandcheating a day ahead.
It’s good to know that the world will make
it another day, which is what I alwaysfeel when I get a heads up from Grace.
So that’s awesome.So I’m going to bring in our–
Oh, I’m sorry.
I wanted to mention oneother thing really quickly.
We are working our way slowlytoward November and NaNoWriMo.
So if you have any related NaNoWriMo
questions, send them my way and I’llbe happy to throw them into the queue.
So let’s do that.
OK, and then today it’s going to be ourLearn with Me, our first Learn With Me,
And I’m very excited because I have
a distinguished Learn With Meguest to educate me tonight.
So this is, lemme see,
Hold on, magical.
Where’s my button?There’s my button.
OK, Ceallaigh, hi, welcome.
Ceallaigh is now on screen with me.
So, Ceallaigh , Ceallaigh S. MacCath-Moran
is a Ph.D. candidateat the Memorial University of Newfoundland
and in the folklore department, and herparticular areas of academic interest —
hold on, I’m checking my notes because thisis like wordy, wordy academic language.
It makes me feel, like,my IQ is going up two points
just saying this.
Her particular areas of academic interestare narrative constructions of power
and performance theory of activismin the animal rights movement.
And the way I know Ceallaigh,the way how we first met is,
she is also a writer of fictionand then also of nonfiction and poetry.
And we were in some anthologies together,which is how we first met.
But in her fiction, nonfiction and poetrycareer, Ceallaigh has been a Washington
Science Fiction Associationsmall press award
short listee.Is that the right word?
She has been shortlisted for that
and she has also been nominated for theRhysling Award and the Pushcart Prize.
Thank you for joining me, Kelly.
I’m thrilled to have you asmy first Learn With Me guest
and the concept herebehind the Learn With Me.
So and we have a ton of helloscoming in in the chat.
So there’s lots of.
Yeah, lots of lots of hellos coming in.
guys, as we go feel free
feel free to throw any questions for Ceallaigh intothe chat and I will be happy to use those.
But we’re just going to have a great
time because we get to talk about folkloretonight and I am thrilled to do this.
let’s start with the reallykind of hanging in the air question.
Ceallaigh, what is a folklorist?
How do you do–
do you get paid for telling stories?You know, how does this work?
So tell us this.
We might study performance,we might study narrative.
Ceallaigh, I’m going to interruptyou for one second.
Sounds like we’re not getting your voice,your voice coming through.
Hey, guys, I am OK playing with some.Oh, OK.
Do we have Ceallaigh say something?
We’re going to double check.
OK, can you hear me now?
It looks like chat says fixed now.Hurray!
So sorry I — took me a second to get thatorganized, but now we’ve got you back.
So I was hearing you,but no one else was appreciating.
So can I rewind you, please tell us again.
Well, I had a chance to practiceand I have it right.
It sounded really good and I liked it.
I was like, oh, I didn’t know that.
So folklore is the study of expressive
culture and folklore scholar Stan very famously offered the definition and
that folklore is artisticcommunication in small groups.
And so what we study isthe way people make culture.
And I’m going to start in a different
place than I did whennobody could hear me.
For instance, I’m on Cape Breton Islandin Nova Scotia, and a perfectly legitimate
study of folklore in Cape Breton might bethe steel mills in Sydney or coal mining
culture or processes around coalmining culture or the steel mills.
And we wouldn’t necessarily be looking at.
OK, from a technical perspective,how was this done?
We’re looking from a human perspective.
What is the work culturearound this process?
You know, how do people talk about it?
Is there any vernacularlanguage that people use?
If we have smelters?
Are there any colloquialisms?
Do smelters have names?
It has the equipment,the name, that kind of thing.
So we’re looking at the culturalcomponent of work life in that situation.
We can also study religious beliefs,whether they be major world religions or
vernacular religious movementor beliefs, that kind of thing.
Superstition,although the word superstition is fairly
loaded, you know,we might study vernacular architecture.
Why was this buildingbuilt the way it was?
What why was it important to put
these stations in this circlefor people to go and pray?
Why was this
this Buddhist temple put up?
You know, what is the function of thisand and how do people interact with it?
We might study music and be the particular
branch of folklore associated with thestudy of music is called ethnomusicology.
We might study performance as
in theatrical performance orperformances of everyday life.
And and that’s something that I’m very
interested in, the averageeveryday performances of.
You know, when you’re performing as
a person in an office, what’s that likewhen you’re performing as a mom?
What’s that likewhen you’re performing as a pastor?
What’s that like?These are all different kinds
of performances from aperformance perspective.
And of course, we study narrative,
which has really close connectionswith the writing community.
And it’s the reason I’ve been writing
a newsletter for the last coupleof years to connect folklore to fiction.
So that’s sort of in a in a very sort
of broad strokes,what folklore is and what we study just
think artistic communication in smallgroups and think expressive culture.
And that’s really cool.
I was listening to you talking about this.
And, you know, when you said,do they name the equipment,
the smelters, I’m thinking like,no, this is the kind of thing that we
think of is so minorand so inconsequential.
And, you know, I’m not even going to tellpeople if I name my car or my chair.
Right.But but from a cultural perspective
that says a lot about a societythat names their chairs.
Or the individual who does that
in a society that generallydoesn’t, or that kind of thing.
And so, yeah, it’s really and and so I’m
listening and I’m I’m just curious, likea lot of the things you mentioned,
I intrinsically associate with the wordfolklore, some of them I don’t.
So when you’re talking about, you know,folklore versus I’m going to pull out
anthropology, you know, is therea dotted line somewhere in the middle?
is it more that,you know, is it do we consider it more
an artistic thing or what?What’s where’s the line there?
Well, when whenwhen we’re looking at anthropology,
like I’ve heard folklore describedas sort of a subset of anthropology.
So and I had a minorin anthropology many moons ago.
So there’s cultural anthropology,which studies culture.
There’s linguistic anthropology,which studies language.
There’s physical anthropology,
which studies, you know, which isvery closely related to archaeology.
And so so we’re notnecessarily interested in.
In interpretive work in archaeology,
but we’d be very interested in finding outwhat can be understood culturally
from from what archaeologists talk about,how they narrow divides, what they find
cultural anthropology, I think,is very closely related to folklore.
But we’ll move into as folkloristsinto things like performance theory,
we’ll move into ethnomusicologyand we’ll look for nuance.
We tend not to be very broad strokesresearchers.
We tend to look at small groups,sometimes individuals.
One of the things that I looked
at in my own research is, you know,you have 10 animal rights activists
and they’re all going to have 10 differentideas about their performances of activism
and what they think ethicallyand that sort of thing.
So so I’m not necessarily looking
to generalize and draw a broaderconclusion, although I will do that.
I’m always very careful to say, OK, thisis what I see, as I understand up here.
But these are the nuances and theseare the individual voices.
An individual voice isextremely important to a court.
Does that help a little bit?
I don’t think that’s the best answer I
could possibly give you,but that’s —
Well, I didn’t tell you the question was coming, so foroff the cuff it was pretty good.
But but no, I think you’re you’redescribing something that you know what
I’m sitting here listening to and I’mthinking about when I write, you know,
I’ve done some historical fiction and Ican easily look up, you know,
what was the map of this city 2000 yearsago that we’ve excavated today? Or I can
things. But then I gotinto a point where I’m like, OK,
what were the various viewson breastfeeding in that particular….
Archaeologists haven’t written that down?
Nobody has, you know,like how many people were
breastfeeding or versus using wetnursesversus whatever and like,
how would we know this and allof these kinds of things.
And that was a pretty odd exampleto pull out, but it’s one that I,
I personally struggledwith in the back in the past.
And so I really like what you’re sayingabout finding, you know,
it’s not in no culture is a monolithof everybody believes one certain thing.
Everybody practices one certainthing, you know, saying,
you know how you know.
Yes, this was the general gist of this.
But you’re always going to have, you know,
a bell curve always hastwo ends, you know, so.
Yeah, well, and one of the other things,
too, you were talking about archaeologyand one of the things that that that
gosh, how do I phrase this?
Archaeologists haveto interpret what they find.
And that process of interpretationis a process of narrativization.
They create a narrative.
And that narrative certainly isrooted in the science they practice.
But it is still a narrative.
And sort of I had a leapfrog moment when
you were talking about narrativizationin the process of your citation.
And one of the things folklore do iswe study that process of .
And for instance, if I may be a bitpolitical and talk about Q-anon
when we’re talking about some
of the underpinnings of thisconspiracy movement,
there is there’s a narrative,a narrative process that’s happening.
And folklorists understand that there isa narrative process happening here.
We can identify, OK,this is what’s happening here.
OK, I know this is happening next.
And and I wrote a special editionon Conspiracy Theory a couple of
a couple of months ago for the Folkloreand Fiction newsletter.
And I think
Philip Stevens Jr.
when he was writing about the SatanicPanic in the 1990s,
which is the Satanic Panic itself,is a moral panic rooted in legend.
So he said folkloristshave an obligation to bring
what they understand about narrativeto contemporary events
and help people understandthat what’s happening is a pattern.
And this is what the pattern lookslike and how you identify the pattern.
And so that’s another way I think folkloreare different from anthropologists,
especially as it comes throughfellowship of narrative.
Does that make sense?Yeah, yeah.
And again, like listening to what you’resaying and I’m connecting it with things
in my head, you know, so my day job,when I’m not playing with my imaginary
friends and making them fight each other,is in behavior, mostly animal behavior.
But there’s a lot of human behavior that’sconnected with that,
and they’re not as dissimilar aspeople would like to believe.
But one of the things we’re constantlybattling is the idea of the explanatory
fiction of, you know, oh,my dog barked at this child
on a bike because he must have beenscared by a bike in the past or.
This dog is shy, therefore he wasabused or, you know, whatever, because.
The human brain,for very good reason,
is designed to connect thingsand to extrapolate between them
and project between them, and that’sa really useful trait in a lot of areas.
It’s less useful when we’re trying to makeup data that doesn’t actually exist.
And so knowing how that works, I mean,
just knowing myself,knowing that my inclination is going to be
to find a connection where there may ormay not be one allows me to be more
skeptical of connections that Ihave not actually observed.
So, yeah, that is somethingthat is constantly
what am I doing?Which just something we need to be aware
of and something that we’re tryingto stay on top of as we are playing with.
These concepts and just, you know,
I don’t know,I don’t really have a point to make.
I’m just taking what you’re saying
and going, oh, yes, this makes sense because!It does.
And I’m hearing you talk about narrativization
and the behavior,the animal behavior community and how
in your work, what you’re trying to do is,is understand the narrative that your
clients are creating aroundthe animals in your life.
And you understand thatthere are patterns here.
You understand that,
for instance, my cat, Salem,
and this is true, my cat, Salem, werescued him after he was struck by a car.
And,you know, now I have a narrative
in my head that says he hates to travelbecause he was struck by a car.
And that’s a narrative that I’ve created.
And I don’t know whether or not it’s true,but I certainly give him I certainly give
him a little something to calm him down ifI have to take him in the car, you know,
but that’s that’s a that’sa process of narrativization.
That’s a process of creating a storyin our minds about our lives.
And it’s it’s human, as you say.Yeah.
And Natalie’s pointing out in the chat,Natalie also works in animal behavior.
And,you know, she’s talking about sticky
narratives like dominance,which is something that was introduced
culturally about six,seven decades ago now and was disproved
four or five decades ago now,
but has stuck in the culture so muchthat no matter how much the scientific
community says, like this isn’t a thing,it’s a narrative that feels so good
to the average layperson, you know, “Oh, no,I am owed respect” and
all of these kinds of things, that it’sjust so hard to get those roots out,
you know, that that’s a weedthat won’t let go, you know.
And yeah, it’sand it’s one of those things where it’s
like I can look at it and I can say, “OK,I see why this is working for you,
but at the same time,it’s really not working for you.”
It’s right.Yeah, right.
So and and that’s that’s a really
a really interesting thingthat folklore can do
There have been folklore,contemporary folklore to have studied
narratives around ageand narratives around illness.
And in understanding these narratives,we come to understand how they’re
culturally derived and how theirpast and how they’re transmitted.
And in you know, it’s not my place to make
a judgment about, you know,these narratives.
But I do think that it is my place asa scholar of narrative to say, OK,
this is what this looks like.
This is what this pattern looks like.
And this pattern hasvarious and sundry hallmarks.
And if you’re looking at this pattern,
you’re probably lookingat this sort of phenomenon.
And if you’re looking at this pattern over
here, you might be looking at thissort of phenomenon over here.
And I’m specifically thinking, again,about about conspiracy narratives.
As I say, the.
Yeah, yeah, and I think, you know, sayingthis is part of a pattern does not.
That’s notI don’t think any rational person would
automatically dismiss somethingjust because of a pattern.
But it’s also good to say, OK,let’s look at this in context.
Is this something we can graspadditional about this?
So, yeah, and you’ve used an incrediblyimportant word right there.
You’ve used the word context.
You said, “let’s look at this in context.”
And that’s what we’re alwaysdoing is folklorists.
We’re always taking whatever we’re lookingat and we’re looking at it in its context.
So it’s nuance and context.
We’ll look down at the individual.
We’ll look at the context there in.
And that’s where the ethnography happens.
That’s where we learnabout about the culture.
So we just got a question in the chat
that’s a great question.
And I’m going to…
we are in a delicate period pre-election
in the US and I reallydon’t want to turn — my chat
people are always fantastically well
behaved and we’re just goingto continue that here.
But I totally trust you’re going
to address this from a completelyacademic perspective.
I’m just throwing a warning out therebecause of paranoia, because social media.
But the question it’s a really fantastic