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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
a) all sensory experience,
b) art events,
c) (and most especially) verbal art events.

The talk concerns 
a) a speaker’s and a listener’s identification with images,
b) with image-complexes (which feature relationships between images), and 
c) a speaker’s enactment/roleplay of certain images. 

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:

cognitive psychology: sensory perception, stimuli response.
ego-boundary maintenance.
small-group interaction/process/dynamics.
psychodrama (J. L. Moreno).
roleplaying; creative, collaborative, symbolic play (Jean Piaget).
long-term processes:
personality formation: transference, identification.

phenomenology (Alfred Schutz; Katherine Young, Taleworlds and Storyrealms: The Phenomenology of Narrative); aesthetics (John Dewey, Art as Experience); dramatism (Kenneth Burke).

long-term processes: 
assimilation; identity, roles, roleplaying (George Herbert Mead, 1930's, University of Chicago school).

frames, interaction, bounded social events (Erving Goffman).

performance-centered approach to folklore (Richard Bauman, Story, Performance, and Event):  1) event, 2) narration of event, 3) social situation in which the narration is presented.

anthropology of play, anthropology of experience (Clifford Geertz, Gregory Bateson).

(Roman Jakobson, "Linguistics and Poetics," in Style in Language.) 

ethnography of speaking, ethnography of communication (Dell Hymes, "Models of the Interaction of Language and Social Life," in Directions in Sociolinguistics). 

discourse analysis, conversation analysis (Harvey Sacks), ethnomethodology (Harold Garfinkel).

literary criticism -- reader-response theory.
oral literary criticism -- listener-response theory.
reception aesthetics and 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 this paper).

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
language and imagine the images.  I am positing that it is in the process of translating the sounds or the written markings into imagined objects and processes that a person comes to identify with and enact them.)

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):
The formal academic definition is: the telling of folktales.  However, in this context I am using the term to encompass all verbal oral behavior and performance that involves narrative (the relating a series of events).  According to this definition, much of what occurs in everyday conversation is storytelling.

Numerous possible terms: storyteller, narrator, speaker, presenter.
The speaker may especially identify with the subject of the sentence; listeners may especially identify with the object.  However, all present identify with all that is presented.  And moreover, the relationships between the images provide models for the relationships between people at the storytelling event.  People then react to these suggestions.  These reactions color the present social situation.

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 
to do next.  To present an image is to raise a subject: this image may manifest on the physical plane if people in the here-and-now are so inclined.  That which is presented puts thoughts in your head, words in your mouth.  To some extent,
"You are what you eat," and also what you see, hear, perceive, contemplate.  When an image is presented, one can contemplate it, assimilate it, or be revulsed by it, find it abhorrent.  If one abhors and feels revulsion toward a thing, one may prefer 
to avoid exposure to it (if film is exposed to a shape, the film will create a replicated image of that shape).  Contemplation, consideration, assimilation.  We learn from examples, we internalize our environment. 

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 mode.
Listener / object of sentence: both are in receptive, passive mode.
However, both (the speaker and listener) identify with the subject and object, and both (the speaker and listener) identify with the interaction between the subject and object.

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. 
Identify with.
Experience vicariously.

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 group).

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
engagement, is to enact a role, and to direct ones role-playing behavior towards another - this functions as an appeal to that other to comment on the enactment and/or respond to it from the complementary and corresponding, role, that is, to join the play.  Role-playing (often) occurs in pairs: if one enacts a role, there is usually an interlocking role that the other can enact in response, so as to form a dyad.

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 addressed.

"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)
        a) single static image -- (example:) a building.
        b) complex of images -- (example:) a shopping mall.
        c) images in motion -- (example:) people walking in a mall.
        d) images relating to each other  (example:) 
A salesman in a shop in a mall said to a person who was walking through a shop, "Can I help you?" 
While enacting the salesperson, if the speaker looks at a listener, aligning him/herself in relation to that listener, that listener is then put in the position of the pretend figure whom is being addressed.  (This is the aforementioned Method #2.)

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 
in other terms, namely: the speaker presents images, which all present can then partake of.

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. 
Reconstitute it as a spatial location (KY, 87).

Gesture space.

Metaphoric gesture.

Choreography of the miniature.

Enclosure gesture.

Being inside the situation vs. being outside it.
Perform from internal perspective.
Character viewpoint.
Insert oneself into the story. 
Embody a character.

What grabs us?
Body organizes to do something.
Complete the action.
Act out the action.

An urge may be deflected, prohibited. 
Deferral of suggested action may cause emotion.
Deferral of desire causes anger.

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.