What Might Have Been Lost
The Formation of Narrative Identity Among the Dutch Indie-Folk Audience
This article examines the role of “independent” folk music (indie-folk) in personal identity formation. It builds upon Paul Ricoeur’s theory of narrative identity, which argues (i) that it is through the mechanism of narrative that people build a more or less coherent life-story, and (ii) emphasizes the role of art (most notably literary fiction and poetry) as a mediator in the comprehension and regulation of transitory life experiences. This article aims to apply these insights to studying the role of indie-folk, a narrative art form adhering to the traditional understanding of folk music as a genre rooted in oral tradition, in the construction of personal identity. Studying the daily use of indie-folk songs by audience members through in-depth interviewing, it shows that (i) the reception of indie-folk music results in ritualistic listening behavior aimed at coping with the experience of accelerating social time; (ii) that respondents use indie-folk narratives as resources for reading the self, and (iii) that indie-folk songs provide healing images that are effective in coping with the experience of narrated time as discordant. In arguing for the central role of narrative in identity formation, this article aims to contribute to existing research on music as a “technology of the self” (DeNora). It specifically emphasizes how narrative particles are tools and building blocks in identity construction, a process characterized by the oscillation between narrative coherence and disruption.