The Problem of Agency in Creative Non-Fiction: Writing "The Voice in the Drum"
What does it mean to be an agent in a work that straddles "scientific" ethnography and creative writing? What can a fictional character accomplish, both literarily and ethnographically that the original researcher cannot? What are the limits of a piece meant both to make a direct academic argument and convey indirect messages through the nuance of character dialog and plot? The work in question is Richard K. Wolf’s recently published book, The Voice in the Drum, an ethnomusicological study of South Asian drumming couched delicately in the form of a novel. It presents actors whose lives trace some of the religious and cultural tensions that have persisted in the wake of the partition of India and Pakistan. Analytically, the work suggests new ways of framing the relationship among rhythm, melody and the voice.
Richard K. Wolf ist Professor für Musik und Ethnomusikologie an der Harvard University.