Thick Corpus, Organic Variation and Textuality in Oral Tradition.

Edited by Lauri Honko.
(Studia Fennica Folkloristica 7. / NNF Publications 7.)
Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2000. 688 pp.
ISBN 951-746-196-8

The articles in this volume stem from the 5th International Folklore Fellows’ Summer School, a forum for the global evaluation of folklore methodology, held in Turku in August 1999. “Thick corpus”, “organic variation” and “textuality” are new keywords in folklore theory. They signal a shift of paradigm between the intercultural and intracultural study of variation. The message is that only the latter is capable of disclosing the real variation of folklore in a living culture and of penetrating the processing of meaning in performance. Where the earlier comparative method worked with a bird’s eye view on the “variation” of individual folktales, ballads, proverbs, etc., trying to design the history of the origin and dissemination of an oral product, the modern scholar focuses on intensive fieldwork on living systems of tradition, trying to create thick corpora of material reflecting the organic variation of folklore in context. Organic variation is the main characteristic which distinguishes oral from literary culture.

One consequence of this line of study is repetitive collection and dialogue with the performers. Not surprisingly, this is the way toward understanding the immanent textuality of oral tradition. Without the sequentiality and cohesion formulated in one brain the bits and pieces plucked from the pool of tradition will soon prove worthless and devoid of their actual meaning. This awareness will also enable scholars to reread archival and other sources derived from early collectors with a new sensitivity.

(FFN 20, November 2000: 15 )

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