Tuesday, December 14, 2004

from "Bäuml, Franz H. "The Theory of Oral-Formulaic Composition and the Written Medieval Text" in Comparative Research on Oral Traditions: A Memorial for Milman Parry:

"Part of the difficulty [with the Parry-Lord theory as expressed in The Singer of Tales] is merely a matter of definition. An epic text which is orally composed and performed in the sense of the theory is an oral text. But the recitation of a memorialized epic text is also oral, and so is the reading of such a text aloud; they are all spoken and heard. The mechanism by which such texts are received, therefore, is the same (apart from visual indications of the differences among them). Since the reception of a text is part of its transmission, the overlaps and differences in the orality of various kinds of texts are crucial. Similarly, one must distinguish between various kinds of writtenness: an orally composed text that has been written down is no less written for its receiving public or a public used to being read to, and therefore familiar with the reading process. Yet the origin of the former in the oral tradition will be suggested by certain textual characteristics, which, moreover, do not cause it to revert to its original orality" (30).
"[...]the tradition determining reception is not the oral tradition, nor is the function of tradition through the formula the same as in the oral tradition in the sense of the theory, since the theory is concerned only with the process of oral composition. The functional concept of the formula thus raises the question of which function of a number of possible functions is meant: composition as it is meant by the theory, or as a mnemonic device? As a device to serve whose memory, the poet's or his public's? Is the formula, along with the 'thrift' of [page break] its use, seen as limiting in the process of composition or in that of reception? And if reception, what is being received by whom? Is it the tradition being received by the composing poet, or is it the text being received by the composing poet, or is it the text being received by the public in terms of the tradition? The public may, of course, receive a text in terms of a completely different tradition from that in which the poet received it: if the text is medieval, it always does" (33-34).

"Again, it is necessary to define terms, to distinguish between various types of orality (oral performance, recitation from memory, reading aloud) and writtenness, between composition and reception. In an oral performance composition and reception are simultaneous: a 'real' author performs for a 'real' audience and vice versa, for the audience response affects the performance of the author; and both, author and audience, share the same tradition. In the case of a written text, composition and reception are separated in time and space, and therefore the conventions governing its reception may differ markedly from those determining its composition. hence each process, composition as well as reception, is implied and fictionalized by the other: composition is unthinkable without the fictionalization of a public, the implied reader, and reception is equally unthinkable without the implied author and fictional narrator" (36).


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