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  • Author or Editor: Gerald Porter x
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Drawing on Pierre Macherey’s location of ‘real history’ in the silences and gaps of the historical record, this paper studies the changing role of the paid singer in England. Although singers and musicians in England have been rewarded for their performances at all periods, more attention has been given in recent years to traditional singing as a recreational, even domestic activity than as a means of livelihood. Because of their constantly changing social status, the position of the paid singer has been ambiguous and frequently oppositional. A recent book sees their status as one of continuous decline. However, the process was not a continuous and inevitable one: the singer adapted to changes in society and found new sources of support.

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Cannibalism is a narrative of the self and of the other. Dramatising as it does the fear that the body's boundaries are unstable and can be breached, it remains the representative barbarism, yet it also lies at the center of Western culture, in the form of the Catholic Mass, for example. From Othello's 'anthropophagi' to the racist jokes of the 1950s, the theme of cannibalism in popular discourse has coincided with periods of high colonialism when relations with the other are at their most sharp. As The Silence of the Lambs showed it is also a popular contemporary narrative of alienation. This paper examines the topos of cannibalism in nineteenth century popular songs relating to the sea. Given the horror with which the practice was condemned in the nineteenth century, particularly by the proselytising churches, it is paradoxical that it became central to popular representations of contemporary capitalism as a metaphor of the colonial project. Bloodsucking and dismembering became regular features of popular legend. In these songs the victims are not the colonial other but usually disempowered members of the ship's crew such as cabin boys. They exist against a background of several documented cases of actual cannibalism. The song representations became so widely known that they attracted parody and burlesque in light opera and the music hall.

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