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5 thoughts on “Calling All Bards

  1. The short answer, though not the best and incomplete, is “for any language, at the point at which notating (in the form of ‘writing in L’) becomes possible,” perhaps?

  2. The short answer, though not the best and incomplete, is “for any language L, at the point at which notating (in the form of ‘writing in L’) becomes possible,” perhaps?

    The lame answer is “one couldn’t possibly say!”

    Obliquely, an aslant answer might hint thusly:

    When engaged in affixing jelly to a wall these approaches may be helpful –

    Avoid the use of nails as a general rule.

    Tilt the room, thus treating the wall as a floor, or position a sufficient mass at a sufficient distance perpendicular to the wall to achieve pretty much the same effect, and proceed thencefrom forward.

    Cool the jelly to decrease its ability to deform. (Sometimes nails can be used here, though the temperature must be kept low in most cases.).

    Add more solvent, then paint the resultant liquid on the wall.

    Separate the two components of the gel and affix separately to the wall along with instructions for their recombination (at least two additional elements are required here, one to contain the fluid component of the gel, and an agent to do the recombining, though nails can be of real use here.)

    More straightforwardly, you switch from ‘literature’ to ‘poetry’ a few times: why? Are the two terms usefully substitutable in this context (sic)? Could there be an “oral prose”?

    Accepting that non-fiction is not necessarily factual, though it can be, is there an analogy in oral literature to the distinction between fiction and non-fiction?

    Does the distinction between fiction and non-fiction usefully analogize with the distinction(s) between different types of poetry (e.g. lyric and narrative)? Narrative poetry can be fictional and could be factual, obviously, but can lyric poetry be fictional? And can lyric poetry be factual?

    Assuming that a dialogue between a storekeeper and a customer does not fall under the rubric of “oral literature,” at the present time, are there circumstances in which it could be reclassified and, if so, what are they? At what point in the progress of these circumstances – if they exist – would the conversation be transformed into ‘drama’?

    If a person listens to a sermon, through which a previously written text is conveyed via the medium of sound to an attentive congregation, and then that person rushes home and tells her family what the preacher had said, would this be an example of oral literature ‘happening’? If one of the family then related what had issued from the lectern, would that be oral literature? Repeat ad nauseam both phenomenon and question: what happens?

    (Repetition sounds very important here. Here, in answering this question, transmission by repeating is important.

    Repetition refines, fractionates, perhaps, sorts into sets. As we are speaking of the gelatinous, it seems apposite to suggest that repetition might form part of a hypothetical ‘communicative refinery.’ Might oral literature be a result of filtration and refractory processes, which remove the unnecessary and preserve the essence, however intrinsically volatile?

    Anything that is included in the set “oral literature” must cease to be an element of the set when there is no one alive who remembers it so it may no longer be repeated. Unless it has been notated or recorded and the notation is decoded, the device required to play the recording survives, can be redesigned using information present in the recording itself, or preserved elsewhere, then the lost piece of oralit (sic) cannot re-enter the set from which it has been subtracted. (The same ‘falling out of the set’ would happen were there to be no one alive to pass it on to, though here the net would have to be cast widely indeed, certainly wide enough to allow the proposition that “no one was alive” to become, effectively, universal. Though this is non-trivial it may, I think, be ignored. This conveniently steers away from the question of the status of a lost-yet-notated object of oral literature during the period between its “death by silence” and its resurrection by reverse transcription, a term I deliberately lift from the lexicon of microbiology.) The point is that falling out of the set is possible, as is re-inclusion in it.

    It might be useful to note which cultural products can NOT be oral literature? Or what can NOT be literature at all?

    You ask a very important question, on which these are just thoughts, and these just for starters, though I hope something useful can be found herein.

  3. I’ll make the grandiose hypothesis that there can be no fundamental difference between “literature” or “written down literature” and “oral literature.” Writing is a technology, and no technology is neutral, but the switch from oral to written didn’t change the fundamentals of literature, any more than the switch from the technologies of manuscript to print or print to digital changed literature’s fundamentals (that is, insofar as anything such as literature has any fundamentals, fundaments, or funding left!).

    The only reason we find “oral literature” to seem like a self-contradictory phrase is, I hypothesize, because the term “literature” came into existence as we know it in literate societies. That enabled beliefs in certain features such as stability and identity, both of text itself and of textual meaning, which might appear more durable in textual transmission than in oral transmission. But considering things like scribal errors, editorial or political fiat, censorship, and translation, especially from the p.o.v. of post-structuralist insights that have deconstructed, problematized, and undermined concepts like “original” or “stable,” it’s pretty easy to see that textual transmission of literature and its meaning has never been very stable, either. I’m sure I’m not saying anything very different here from what Derrida says about Levi-Strauss, btw.

    Basically, then, the answer to “when and how did ‘oral literature’ become an object of discourse?” is, I hypothesize, whenever literate societies pushed up against the boundaries of their own knowledge, and wanted to find ways both to link and differentiate their literature from their “literature proper.” Their “origins,” which they were “transmitting.” If “written literature” requires a belief in stability and originality, it needs to invent a stable origin to originate from, even if what it invents about the origin is that it is unstable.

    That’s my hypothesis, which I had transcribed via voice-recognition software.


  4. I’m sure I didn’t mean “wanted to find ways both to link and differentiate their literature from their ‘literature proper.’” No real idea what I did mean, though. Maybe “link and differentiate their precursors’ oral literature to their ‘literature proper'”? See what I mean about textual instability!


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