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Jun 12, 2015
52fe424d0770a09735915843d926cba1 Justin Arft 1 posts

Topic: Current fieldwork on oral traditions / Structures in Composition

To the ISSOT community:

I am currently working on a project concerning the structural "center" or "middle" of Homer's Odyssey, and I am particularly interested in how traditional singers and poets from across traditions conceive of (if at all) the structural center or middle of their compositions. Is the middle simply a space between a finely constructed beginning and end (a la ring composition), or is the center a guided destination in a larger chiastic structure? Moreover, do performers actively plan for reaching a center point and "backtracking" their way out, allowing for a reflective symmetry between items?

These are all abstract and broad queries, but they aim at elucidating the compositional strategies of a variety of performance constructions - I would love to get the perspective of scholars and performers and I would be glad to share my own thoughts on this too. I have my own insights from archaic Greek poetics and Foley's work, but I'm excited to get a comparative perspective on this.

And, perhaps we can let this be an initiation to larger conversations on this forum as well!


Apr 9, 2013
735dac4af2f4da4afb32c03a12ac8a53 Raymond F. P... 2 posts

Topic: Medieval oral-derived texts / Materiality and Medieval Oral Tradition

In a forthcoming essay I draw from medieval studies (O'Brien O'Keefe, Doane, Lionarons) to support my understanding of the relationship between multiformity in oral traditions and the textual plurality of ancient texts (Dead Sea Scrolls, Hebrew Bible). I think this kind of work, especially with regards to the materiality of the Dead Sea Scrolls, holds great promise and my work is moving in this direction. If you would like an electronic copy of this forthcoming essay, let me know.
Apr 9, 2013
735dac4af2f4da4afb32c03a12ac8a53 Raymond F. P... 2 posts

Topic: Oral tradition and text / OT and canonical literatures

You've asked the question we all want to answer and the answers will differ to a large degree from one historical period to another and from one culture to another. Furthermore, even those of us who have promoted specific models related to such issues related to classic literary texts do so in a scholarly context that often dismisses our work.
In my own work in Hebrew Bible I have argued that the characteristic of multiformity common in living oral traditions (e.g., Serbo-Croatian, Native American) provides an excellent explanation for the textual plurality evident in the extant texts of ancient literature (Hebrew Bible, Homer, New Testament, Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.). Thus, for my own take on the Hebrew Bible, I suspect that the written texts were mnemonic aids for internalizing the tradition and much of what we understand as "textual variants" and even "secondary" texts reinterpreting earlier "source texts" would not necessarily be understood as "different" by the ancients themselves, since they accepted a much greater degree of multiformity than our modern standards suggest.
Raymond F. Person, Jr. The Deuteronomic History and the Book of Chronicles: Scribal Works in an Oral World. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2010.
Raymond F. Person, Jr.

"The Role of Memory in the Tradition Represented by the Deuteronomic History and the Book of Chronicles." Oral Tradition 26 (2011): 537-50.
Mar 23, 2013
4fc6e644e3757b27e27b826d7d5e84d6 Sarah Zurhellen 1 posts

Topic: Oral traditions and digital technology / Oral Tradition / Internet Technology / Digital Technology

To take on Oral Tradition and Digital Technology as a discussion topic feels overwhelming, which is perhaps the best sign of the richness of this relatively new area of study. In very practical ways, digital technology has aided those working in the field by increasing both the amount of data they can collect and the speed at which they can collect and disseminate that data. For those with access to the Internet, opportunities are multiplying both to share oral traditional performances and to view them. And, of course, each new tool raises far-ranging questions from the efficacy of a particular methodology to the authenticity of the performance experience for audiences separated by many miles or years.

Some of the most compelling responses to the questions raised by the emergence of digital technology and its relationship to oral tradition come from scholars who examine structural and functional similarities between these different (and not-so-different) modes of communication. For example, in the Pathways Project, John Miles Foley illustrates the primary connection between oral tradition and internet technology as communication technologies that “mime the way we think.” Because OT and IT are comprised of flexible systems that operate by variation within limits, communication is structured by recurrence rather than repetition, which Foley associates with the print tradition. The flexibility of OT and IT—in contrast to the stable structure of print communication—means that communication in these arenas is fluid and dynamic, governed by the idiomatic rather than the institutionalized.

Relatedly, Thomas Pettitt has popularized the phrase “Gutenberg Parenthesis” as a kind of grammatical metaphor for thinking about the time period during which print ruled the day. According to Pettitt, this period is distinguished from the pre- and post-parenthetical periods during which other modes of cultural production are privileged. Like Foley’s pathways, the parenthesis is a generative metaphor because it highlights the way in which what happens during what we might call the print blip affects not only what comes after but also how we interpret and think about what came before. Pettitt’s metaphor, however, emphasizes the way we interpret historical transition, whereas Foley’s metaphor of the pathways focuses on structural similarities in cognitive processes. Nevertheless, both scholars are clear in the distinctions they draw between OT/IT/DT and the print tradition: OT/IT/DT are participatory, emergent, recursive, and mobile, while print is hierarchical, contained, repetitive, and stable.

Morgan Grey’s contribution to the Pathways Project is one particularly productive illustration of some of the elements identified by Foley and Pettitt. Focusing on the practice of recombination as one strategy in a system based on variation within limits, Grey compares the South Slavic Epic, in which the “guslar composes his poem [within a predetermined story line] as he performs,” the late Roman/early Medieval cento, a poem completely formed from pieces of other poems, and the contemporary Mashup, in which artists “mash” two or more songs together to create a new piece of music. Like Foley and Pettitt, Grey emphasizes that she is outlining a set of parallels, not making a totalizing equivalency. The parallels that she draws suggest that recombination is an important strategy for innovation and creativity. Grey’s example also raises questions about the way that print-based ideologies restrict recombinatory practices. For instance, while copyright supports mass production (or, mass copying—repetition), it significantly regulates sampling. Such examples raise questions about the way that available mediums affect cultural production and invite us to consider creativity as a collaborative human activity.

It is in that spirit that I hope this brief overview helps to prompt a fruitful discussion on the ways that we study, perform, share, and interpret our oldest and newest communication technologies. Some possible avenues I see for this discussion include (but are certainly not limited to) the following:

  • How do economic and legal systems affect cultural production in OT, DT, and print worlds? And, conversely, how do certain forms of cultural production affect the economic and legal systems with which they interact? In other words, is it possible to consider that changes in the medium of cultural production can influence parallel changes in other modes of production?

  • What are the nuances of materiality in these traditions? As Peter and Rebecca have been considering in
  • another ISSOT forum, moments of transition (from OT to print to DT) seem particularly fraught with fruitful contradictions from which we might glean all kinds of ideas about what and how we communicate during times of intense language change.

  • How might the emerging and interdisciplinary field of cognitive studies contribute to what we know about OT/IT/DT strategies? How might OT/IT/DT scholars contribute to cognitive studies research? Quite literally, what is the relationship between thinking metaphorically about pathways of the mind and actually mapping those pathways?

  • In addition to the Internet and mashups, what are other digital technologies that use strategies similar to OT? For instance, where does “electronic literature” fall within these parallels? Should we call it literature if it’s not print? What about content management systems? Conversely, what digital communication technologies seem to more accurately mirror print, and what does that say about our continued commitment to print practices? Blogs come to my mind, but perhaps there are others.
    Mar 15, 2013
    404d975ff9064ce878a228e6644aed89 Rebecca Rich... 1 posts

    Topic: Medieval oral-derived texts / Materiality and Medieval Oral Tradition

    Actually, I have been considering this interplay between materiality and orality myself with regard to the Cotton Nero A.x MS that contains Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I have been looking at the placement of the ornamented capitals within that text and their proximity to oral traditional heroic themes. I think this might be one area that could be expanded and then help us to break down that oral/literate dichotomy, especially since this is a fourteenth-century text.
    I'd also be interested in others' thoughts about such an approach like you, Peter, suggest.
    Mar 14, 2013
    Bf8679cdefbcae07556a612332bad704 Peter Ramey 1 posts

    Topic: Medieval oral-derived texts / Materiality and Medieval Oral Tradition

    A particularly fruitful direction for future studies in medieval oral-derived literature is the intersection of material and oral traditional aspects of texts. In many respects, some excellent work has already been carried out in this area--folks working with manuscripts and the role oral tradition plays in manuscript encoding and transmission, for example. Recently Lori Garner has studied the interplay of Anglo-Saxon architecture and Old English oral poetics as well. Numerous--limitless--other lines of inquiry might be explored, complementing the "material" turn in literary studies as a whole. In particular, the burgeoning critical category frequently labeled "history of the book" might prove (somewhat paradoxically, perhaps), to be particularly ripe for further exploration from oral-traditional angles. Oral Traditional scholarship has long outgrown the simple dichotomous view of oral-literary, although those unfamiliar with recent work sometimes still presuppose this mid-20th century conceptual framework. More in-depth explorations of early book history and oral tradition will put this dichotomy to rest, once and for all.

    So how might such an approach proceed? I'm currently working on a book project that considers the Old English "writing riddles" in terms of the interplay of oral tradition and early book production. This might be a useful forum for sharing ideas in this area. Any thoughts?
    Mar 9, 2013
    8ed80d569862a391e4afd289b70040bb Ruth Knezevich 1 posts

    Topic: Oral tradition and text / OT and canonical literatures

    I'm working on a small research project in my field of 18th-century British literature and would appreciate any insight or discussion over any of the following:

    How did the emergence of a literary canon integrate oral traditions into written and published literatures? What are the primary forms of oral traditions appearing in written literature?

    How specific to British literature was this phenomenon? In what other cultures and traditions does this interface appear?

    What does recognizing the interplay of literary and oral forms contribute to a text-based understanding of oral traditions?
    Nov 13, 2011
    The_arka Jovana Backovic 1 posts

    Topic: Oral traditions and digital technology / Re-interpreting oral tradition through technologically assisted composing and performing practice

    Exploring the problems of interpreting musical identity, meaning, and socio - cultural value of compositional work influenced by two traditions with different values: the modernist tradition founded on Western European classical heritage, and the oral tradition of the Balkans.

    How technologically assisted composing and performing practice can be used to express, and possibly bridge this dichotomy.

    Employment of technology in order to discover different ways to establish social meaning of the compositional work and creative practice that relies on oral tradition.

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