South Slavic Oral Tradition and its Textualization
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The concept of the transitional text has so far had a destiny of the spectre of oral studies – its disturbing presence occasionally comes into view, but somehow without a proper recognition and place in the real world. Initially rejected and then accepted by Albert Lord (1960: 129, 1986a: 479–481), the term subsequently gained certain currency among the leading theorists (Foley 1988, Finnegan 1992: 116), only to be questioned again in the more recent scholarship (Jensen 1998: 94–114, 2008: 50). By revisiting Lord’s analyses and South Slavic oral and written tradition, this article describes transitional texts as a distinctive generic form involving two principal modes of enunciation – literary notion of fixed textuality and oral performative principle of composition in performance in traditional oral-formulaic language. Following the discussions of Lord and Foley, it also offers a synthetic framework for their analysis, based on the phraseology, style, outlook and contextual evidences ...about their documentation and singers. South Slavic tradition offers a continuum of published texts with various degrees of oral traditionality, and upon closer examination some turn out to be literary works written by educated poets familiar with oral tradition, whereas others are nothing more but fixed, fossilized texts that do not involve oral composition in performance and are not part of a living oral tradition (see also: Miletich 1988: 100–102). But this still leaves us with a number of examples that involve both oral and written attitudes and techniques of composition and cannot be reduced to either. After examining early nineteenth-century examples of the emerging literary influence on the still predominantly oral Montenegrin culture of the time, I will argue that such transitional South Slavic texts emerged in two principal ways, either by educated writers adjusting their literary technique to accommodate an oral traditional content, or by oral singers appropriating originally literary characteristics to their oral performative manner and style. In the final instance, the article advocates that a consistent theoretical model of transitional texts can provide leverage for comparative studies of the contacts between orality and literacy, and invites further analyses of the interpellations between oral and literary culture in other traditions.
Keywords:transitional texts; oral theory; epic poetry; Serbian oral tradition
Source:Genre, Text, Interpretation: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Folklore and Beyond, 2016, 483-504
- Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society (Studia Fennica, Folkloristica 22