On anniversaries.

Author:Kostlin, Konrad
 
FREE EXCERPT

Beginnings and Repetitions

SIEF is not alone in celebrating its anniversary. Much like the rest of us, SIEF is surrounded by anniversaries. Old and new media constantly bring us news of yet another anniversary and their constancy is more packed with every passing year. On August 3, 2014 we learned that electronic post has existed for 30 years in Germany (Radomsky 2014). Any and all founding dates or birthdays of institutions, cities and villages, as well of course as those of individuals, seem to merit commemoration. The focus is on beginnings. For the celebration of their special jubilee anniversaries, rabbitbreeders and sport-clubs, much like scientific organisations, establish planning committees, create logos, hold events, and issue publications--like this one.

Anniversaries, and that is what they all have in common, highlight institutions or persons or groups. Anniversaries seem inevitable and somehow necessary in modern societies. They serve as hooks for ideas, as apologies for reflection, as catalysts for creativity. Wedding anniversaries for instance accentuate and decorate the couples' twenty-fifth anniversary with silver, the fiftieth with gold. In a testament to its heightened consumerism, the last century discovered more and more time junctures to celebrate as anniversaries (the 5th as wooden and the 10th as tin, etc.), each with its corresponding, appropriate gifts.

Anniversaries often involve celebrations and it seems to go without saying that these are more meaningful than a mere party. Indeed, celebrations often have a touch of solemnity. A celebration then may flow into a party, but the first part, the celebration, is more solemn and self-important than the party in its focus on history and tradition. The celebration is very often attached to the idea of its repetition. The celebration can announce its temporality, like for instance the Christian last supper does. It instantiates a pattern common within European culture when its words of institution demand: "Dies tut, so oft ihr's tut, zu meinem Gedachtnis!" (Martin Luther) ("For as often as you do this ... do this in remembrance of Me") (Corinthians 11, 17-32). The anniversary's strict and explicit demand for repetition seems to come from a European understanding of culture as a permanent dialogue with the past, related to the European obsession with heritage (Harrison 2013). The repetition has to quote, returning to the beginning in a justification of the self and a celebration of its discrete, organic being--tending to its "roots" (an organic metaphor). Hermann Hesse, Germany's twentieth century Steppenwolf-dreamer, once wrote: "Und jedem Anfang wohnt ein Zauber inne." (A magic dwells in each beginning) (Hesse 1961).

Popular Culture, Our Fields, and Long Lines

Remembering its beginning in 1894, the Wiener Verein fur Volkskunde (Viennese Association for Volkskunde) and its museum celebrated its centennial in 1994. Designed as a nearly perfect reenactment of the association's beginning (European Ethnologists are the experts!), the celebration took place the same date as in 1894, on December 20, and in the same location, the old Vienna town hall. The music played in 1994 was composed by Hugo Wolf who had a special relation to Michael Haberlandt, the founding director of the Museum (Schindler 1995, 101-104). (1) Instead of the Habsburgian archduke, who was the protector 1894, in 1994 the Austrian minister of science gave the festive speech (the empire making way for the republic), after which the current director and a Viennese academic gave lectures. (2)

What am I insinuating? Anniversaries, like the one mentioned above, follow certain patterns. They try to simulate, to copy the beginning by performing it as a repetition. The repetition brings into relief the legitimacy of whatever is so celebrated by displaying its continuity and staging its fidelity to its founding principles and original obligations. Furthermore, the performance holds also the promise to improve the institution. Highlighting the beginning is entirely the norm; it is a common practice. Anniversaries and jubilees recall the beginning and its order of events in an act of repetition. So accepted is this pattern that a big market in advisors, a coaching industry, has come into being (Roth 1999). (3) Internet calendars underline the importance of anniversaries, of our awareness of them and, indeed, our celebration. (4) And then enter the ethnologists and folklorists, to study these socio-cultural and popular events in the production of which we have, in fact, been intimately involved during the last two centuries, charged as we have been with modern society's historical and reflexive self-consciousness (Kostlin 1997). SIEF as a scientific institution has thus gone native in celebrating its own proper jubilee.

Topolatria, the Adoration of Places

All the paradigms of the historicization and musealization of remembrance--that is the genre to which anniversaries belong--subscribe to the sacredness of the time and the place of the beginning (Turner 1974). One may perhaps be forgiven for wondering if the obsession with anniversaries owes anything to changing interpretations of time and place in times perceived to be "globalized." Of course, globalization has no real...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP