Key figure of mobility: the Gypsy
Judith Okely (Oxford University/University of Hull)
Paper short abstract:
The nomadic Gypsy offers space for artistic fantasy. Celebrated for difference or demonised as disruptive, the invented Gypsy is made real in a sedentarist hegemony. 'True' Gypsies as aesthetic representations are tolerated in nostalgia. Different oppositions occur within non-fiction disciplines.
Paper long abstract:
'Gypsy', from 'Egyptian' as 'foreigner', is a global ever changing icon. Historians have unearthed negative archives of a non-literate people, denied testimony. Literature, the visual arts and music offer inverse possibilities for projecting exotica, alongside the gruesome. Gypsies, of 'no fixed abode', have walk-on walk-off parts. As objects of imagined inversions, not subjects, they are liminal. Invented traditions stain the sedentary imagination in rhymes, opera, novels and paintings. Despite Bizet and Lawrence, the Gypsy is less often the central character, but interloper/seducer. The Gypsy is celebrated or demonised as disruptive nature, never culture. From the margins, Gypsy musical creativity is admired then appropriated. The fictive is made real in the sedentary mind. Wherever in the world, this anthropologist is deluged with fantasies from others who've never conversed with a Gypsy, let alone lived with them. Paradoxically, the Gypsies' livelihood depends on engaging with such projections. From direct observation, there are outsiders' prized images: Van Gogh, Laura Knight, Constable. The aesthetic is difference, whether horse and waggon, attire or trade. Empathetic details are also scattered in fiction. Such 'real' Gypsies are tolerated as nostalgia, rarely as living beings. Alternatively, non-fiction academia produces very contrasting oppositions. Linguists prioritise authenticities of mono Indic origins, centuries back. Social scientists pursue recent variegated histories and transformations in changed contexts. All the while, international institutions float free of ethnography. The EU in 2004 banned the label 'Gypsy', permitting only 'Roma', despite groups who prefer 'Gypsy' as self-ascription.
Key figures of mobility (ANTHROMOB)