FFSS99, Workshop I
Group leaders: Ulrich Marzolph (Germany) and Anna-Leena Siikala (Finland)
Report by John Shaw (Scotland) & P. S. Kanaka Durga (India), Gila Gutenberg (Israel), Anne Heimo (Finland), Flora H. Losada (Argentina), Nasanbayar (China), Patricia Nyberg (Finland), and Nino Tokhadze (Georgia)
Our presentation conceives of textualisation as a process treated here sequentially from the initial interest in documentation to the final published product. At the various stages specific questions and issues are addressed by representatives of traditions existing in various geographical areas (South and Central Asia, South and North America, Eastern and Western Europe) and varied political systems whose working experience provides a particularly informative or challenging perspective.
1. IntroductionWhy: the politics of textualisation?
We need go no further than those present in this room to understand clearly that no serious folklorist can say today that our discipline is apolitical. This view, which most if not all of us share, can be attributed in no small part to changes in power configurations, perceptions, values of the last thirty years or so. Such is the scale of the shifts in power relationships between groups and social strata that they have inevitably had an effect on exchanges between researcher, informant and the various communities and interest groups involved. Within folkloristics this circumstance has led to an increased preoccupation with fields of study that are potentially political or contested, where many of these – transcriptions of verbal texts, for example – had previously been regarded as stable and circumscribed. The dialogue has become global, expressing a growing awareness of the political nature of the folklore materials and the processes involved in folkloristics. Consequently issues earlier treated as irrelevant or trivial are now regarded as fundamentally political. What, for example, is worthy of being recorded/textualised and who decides?
Current research is less attached to the concept of a fixed text than before and has set its sights beyond the reduction of folklore materials to “single-line written texts”, engendering an increasing awareness of the “constructed nature of what used to look like neutral texts”. There is a movement toward a multiplicity of voices and an interest in looking beyond purely verbal forms to materials exterior to the verbal text and their very real potential to present information that is not as tidy or easily subject to political control as before. In textual criticism analyses have become increasingly politicised (as demonstrated by deconstructionism) with a marked impact on folkloristics manifested, inter alia, in the recent interest in textualisation as a process. (Finnegan 1992: 17-22, 50-52.)
A brief theoretical overview
Such large-scale developments lead to theoretical concerns. The first has to do with the close relation between the folklorist’s textualisation work and the field of anthropology: how they are traditionally linked by ethnography in the field, leading to a challenge to the concept of boundaries between disciplines with consequent political issues arising within academia. In fact all indications for future directions in our field point toward an interdisciplinary framework accommodating “current rethinking across several disciplines”.
Secondly, the emphasis in fieldwork and publications has moved toward the interpretive, culturally specific and “on the ground”. A look at the political implications of the work of the anthropologist Clifford Geertz, familiar to many of us here, serves as a case in point. Geertz espouses a concept of culture, and therefore of the various stages of description and presentation that concern us, as “essentially a semiotic one, believing… that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun” and that the analysis of culture is therefore not “an experimental scheme in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning”.
Let us look at a few of the political implications affecting both disciplines. In terms of the presentations at this summer school, one of the most striking upshots is the renewed emphasis on the importance of dialogic aspects of textualisation, and the necessity of an emic approach to the material as well as recognising the intellectual contribution from informants at various stages of textualisation. Needless to say, this theoretical perspective calls for further changes in the traditional power relationship around the issue of interpretation. Geertz’s use of “thick” description, which he describes as “a stratified hierarchy of meaningful structures” also has its political aspects to be considered, since it advocates a further remove than ever before from what the anthropologists call ethnocentrism, especially in initial stages of textualisation. At the same time, knowledge generated according to Geertz’s approach, if presented as a scientific, accurate representation of folklore from the field, should by its nature be less subject to political, propaganda, or commercial uses than in the past, and within the discipline and its academic debates this direction may be leading to constraints on political “tweaking” of textualised materials.
“Thick” description further precludes “moving from local truths to general visions” in the field, thus discouraging cultural stereotyping on the basis of one or a few isolated items selected from folklore materials. A consequence of recent interpretive and emic theory behind textualisation is the even greater awareness that the textualising of any folklore material is at best only partial, because “cultural analysis is intrinsically incomplete”. However much the traditional or academic communities might wish otherwise, produced materials will always be open to serious challenges, and at every stage the process must be understood as a mediation between two symbol systems, languages or cultures. (Finnegan 1992: 50-52; Geertz 1973: 5-6, 21-29.)
Following the very general summary above of the background to our topic, a couple of brief and specific examples may be in order.
We have agreed in the workshop that the process, and therefore the politics, of textualisation in folkloristics does not begin with the stage of recording or transcription, but long before, at the point where an interest is expressed. The initiative does not necessarily have to be the collector’s or the archive’s, though this is most often the case. In at least one of the areas in Maritime Canada having its own distinctive language and culture the agenda within the community has incorporated strands such as using folklore fieldwork as an acceptable device in order to receive federal government subsidies in the form of make-work grants; the need to appear modern by responding to the “roots phenomenon” which was sweeping North America in the 70s; and the provision of a practical and socially viable means for active and interested individuals to explore their own culture first-hand and contribute to a community project.
In the same region, the agendas outside the community – e.g. those of the Federal and Provincial governments – for the textualisation of materials from the same sources were not always the same. Some of the more obvious ones were to further the national policy of maintaining a cultural mosaic; to channel money into an economically disadvantaged area; to reduce statistical unemployment and keep the poor off the local welfare rolls; to consolidate, through the targeted awarding of jobs, the positions of local politicians; to raise the profile of the local centres for higher education through the founding of local archives with their associated activities; and to provide an archived basis for proposed enterprises as diverse as language teaching materials and regional tourism. Clearly considerations such as these, through the choice of projects, control of resources and selection of personnel, can have a profound effect on the process of textualisation from the very beginning.
Our second example, taken from the same part of the world, concerns the identification of the tradition community in the case of endangered or lesser-used cultures. This is a scenario destined to become increasingly familiar to folklorists in view of the global language prognosis made early in this decade which predicts that by the end of the 21st century 90% of the languages spoken today will be extinct (Krauss 1992: 4-10). With so much of folklore materials being language-based, language death, in North America at least, has created communities that are divided in terms of people’s ability to participate in their own culture, and their orientation toward it. Criteria of belonging, however, whether they are determined by family, local or institutional affiliation, or the command of specific cultural skills, do not prevent various marginalised groups within a culture from feeling a strong sense of ownership over folklore materials along with their treatment, uses and distribution. Experience has made it clear where internal linguistic and/or cultural marginalisation is involved that there can be multiple overt and hidden agendas revolving around the status of such distinct groups within a single tradition community.
(P. S. Kanaka Durga)
Text is a sequence of signs with any configuration that can coherently be interpreted by a community of users (Ricouer 1971: 553; Honko 1998: 140). Hence text is predominantly a social phenomenon and textual analysis is about discourse. Textualisation is a process that passes oral discourse into a number of discourses and transfers them from their original to secondary context. Discourse includes and relates both the textual patterning and situating language in a context of use. The context is: (a) socio-economic backdrop, the ground rules and assumptions of language usage and (b) the immediate ongoing actualisation of speech. (Sherzer 1987: 295.)
The process of textualisation is the resultant of human interaction in its respective contextual situation (as referred above) and hence highly flexible/extendable with the dynamics of the culture of society in space and time. To study the politics of the process of textualisation, one needs knowledge of the socio-economic pursuits of the castes and communities that represent different cultures. Society is not a homogeneous entity, but a heterogeneous representation of different groups of people living together and separately in different categories. It reflects cultural plurality in the social arena.
A cultural category, be it a caste or class or community or religion, adapts to changes in its environment and coexists with the other categories, yet keeping their identities intact, which is essential for them to remain ‘distinct from others’ in the society. The politics of the textualisation process of traditions are based on the ‘identity’ and ‘legitimation’ crises among different communities in culturally pluralistic societies like India. The identity is ambivalent and operates at two levels, personal and community or group. This ambivalence is reflected throughout the textualisation of expressive behaviour.
The relative position of different castes and communities at the various socio-economic levels determines the textualisation process, i.e. the way they represent themselves and the others in the textualisation of their traditions. The highest caste (varna), the Brahmins, mostly teachers and priests, depict themselves as custodians of knowledge, capable of organising men and material resources by being ritually pure, best propitiators of the gods and therefore possessing religious authority over the people. The other castes they deem socially low, ritually impure and intellectually inferior.
The second ranking group, the Ksatriyas, traditionally warriors and landowners, claim the right to rule the land and people, to enforce law and order and, by being the strongest of men, to protect the land and people to the point of sacrificing their lives. The other groups they represent in different ways, in neutral or negative terms. An example of the latter is their characterisation of the third varna, the Vaisyas, traders by profession, whom they deem misers and evaders of taxes to be checked upon frequently. The Vaisyas see themselves as ritually pure and twice-born (like the two higher varnas) and possessing a high economic status and the ability to sponsor various activities in the temples. The other castes they depict as lazy and treacherous exploiters of their varna and thus not dependable (a feature which the Vaisyas may apply to their own community, too).
The fourth caste, the Sudras, comprises mainly of landed gentry, cultivators, artisans and other village servants such as washermen, barbers, etc., who view themselves as the base of the socio-economic structure without whom pollution and impurity would reign. They also see themselves as innocent and obedient, yet suppressed by the higher castes. The other castes they view as parasites, exploiters and numskulls who are responsible for their low ranking. The fifth main group, the untouchables, dealing with menial and servile tasks, depict themselves as the original descendants of the gods, born well before the four castes were laid upon them and therefore the only rightful propitiatiors of the village/mother goddess. They regard the other groups as cunning and treacherous, ritually impure and inferior and as having gained superiority over them through the foolishness of the untouchables.
The categories are vividly depicted in the genre of Caste Myths. In the textualisation process each caste develops an overt ethnocentrism which forms the basis of its survival. Yet the categorisation is not rigid. Such a watertight compartmentalisation does not exist in any culture and India is no exception. There is constant reciprocity and flow of traditions between different caste communities and religious groups, making the process of textualisation most accommodative. However, the process of reciprocity depends upon factors such as the need, access, acceptance, means, internalisation and enculturation of different communities in social interaction.
Economic and social reciprocity is reflected in the process. The bard and minstrel tradition voguish in Indian society is an example of this. Certain castes and communities in Andhra Pradesh maintain bards who sing the glories of their respective castes, an age-old practice. They maintain the genealogies, caste histories and mythologies of their community in their oral repertoire and perform them on different ritual occasions. In return they will get a share in the produce of their community or people. The singer and the community are both beneficiaries in the process of textualisation of their community as a whole. The former gets his livelihood and the latter has its legitimised position perpetuated. At the same time both of them become identified with one another in their community and in society. In a way the tradition of singing textualised the community in oral literature, thereby providing a socio-economic cultural milieu for the entire process.
The other important social issue is gender and its construction. This matter occupies a pivotal role in the politics of textualisation nowadays. Gender roles, relations, and power are the aspects of discussion. Since socio-cultural ascription of gender roles, their relations and experiences are also vital in human interaction, they are considered as ‘units of meaning’ in the process of textualisation.
Roger Abrahams emphasises the significance of communicating the role and social identity of the narrator and the audience (Abrahams 1990: 50-55; Abrahams 1992) in the textualising of a performance situation. It may be summarised from the above discussion that the ability to find the importance of role-based and identity-based creations and expressive behavioural patterns of different genders operating in different gender relations in the dynamics of socio-economic dimensions makes it easier to understand the politics of the textualisation process in folklore research.
2. Researcher, field and environmentDialogue and negotiation in the field
The fieldwork process and the written study are not separate but rather they affect one another (Vasenkari & Pekkala 1999: 1-2). The choices that have been made during the fieldwork as regards, for example, fieldwork methods, informants and interviewers, have an effect on the data produced. That is why the fieldwork situation is the first locus where interpretations are made and plays a central role in the politics of textualisation. In an interview situation there are two subjects, the interviewer and the informant, who negotiate meanings and produce the data. But it has to be noticed that once the fieldwork has been completed, it is the researcher who decides “the form, content and the analytical interpretative frame applied in the representation of the primary dialogue in the written form”. (Vasenkari & Pekkala 1999: 10.)
The process from field to text should be taken into consideration and it should also be scrutinised somehow in the written study. (See the Ingrian Finnish case of producing thick data in Vasenkari & Pekkala 1999 and Pekkala & Vasenkari 1999; see also Dwyer 1982.) The situation is quite different when one is analysing data that has been collected by someone else. By this I mean archived material. How, in that case, can the interview context be brought into the analysis?
Interview as one of the fieldwork methods is customarily hierarchical and discourse is controlled by the research problems posed and the questions asked by the interviewer. He is the one who has brought about the interview situation in the first place and decides the speech genre that is used (Briggs 1986: 2-3; see also Pekkala & Vasenkari 1999: 6). He is also the one who chooses the informants he wishes to interview. But this does not mean that the interviewer has control over the whole interview situation. An informant who is competent and ready to answer the interviewer’s questions is often perceived as the person holding the power. “Good informants” (who can respond to the researcher’s expectations) are often those who are interviewed most. (Alver 1992: 59; Briggs 1984: 21; Briggs 1986: 11.) It means that the data to be collected represent only a narrow group of people. Who are those we choose as our informants? Are men and women equal as informants in collecting and interpreting folklore? How large a group of informants is representative enough for generalisations, for example in studying the identity of some ethnic group? Whose voices do we allow to be heard?
The kinds of roles the interviewer and informant take or are allowed to take also influence the dialogue they develop during the fieldwork process. Michael H. Agar has noted that aspects of “who you are” deserve some careful thought in doing research. He says that the ethnographer is assigned to a social category by the informants. The category may not be permanent, but it will always exist. Defining the researcher’s role will guide the informants in their dealings with him. (Agar 1980: 41.) Creating an interviewer-interviewee relationship and a mutual feeling of trust may cause problems. How does the researcher deal with personal, intimate or even politically delicate information which he may come across? (Alver 1992: 58-59.) Because of the political situation in some areas access to the field may be denied or the informants may not be willing to cooperate. What the researcher’s purposes are thought to be by the informants will affect the interaction between interviewer and informant and the collected data. If the informant sees the researcher as some kind of spy or a representative of the government, the fieldwork may render doubtful results.
The researcher’s gender, personality and cultural background create the initial framework for his/her evaluations of other cultures and attitudes toward the data. (Agar 1980: 43; Camitta 1990: 21-22.) It has been noticed that the researchers from the ethnic majority often tend to pay attention to the archaic aspects of the minority group, and thus underestimate its complexity and differentiation. This has happened, for example, in studying the Saami people. (Keskitalo 1976: 20; Lehtola 1997: 8, 14-15.) The strengthening of the Saami movement in the 1960s gave emphasis to their position as an indigenous culture under pressure from a majority culture. (Morottaja 1984: 329-37; see also Nyberg, Huuskonen & Enges 1999: 2-3.) The use of the Saami language, the interest in Saami history and culture became valuable for the Saamis’ own identity and began to represent a valuable heritage. (Eidheim 1997: 33-35.) It also had an effect on the interest and opportunities for the Saami to study their own culture. There has been discussion of whether the insider or outsider should do the research. How do their views differ? Have the researchers from the ethnic majority the competence to make a decent study of Saami people? Is it enough to have studied the language, if for example, the nature and surroundings of Sápmi (Saamiland) are not familiar? To what length can or should a researcher from the ethnic majority go in learning another culture without the risk of losing his own identity? (See Maranhão 1986: 293-94.)
James P. Spradley says in his book on the ethnographic interview: “Fieldwork… involves the disciplined study of what the world is like to people who have learned to see, hear, speak, think, and act in ways that are different” (Spradley 1979: 3). In the fieldwork situation and during the writing process we researchers should not forget to study ourselves a little, too. As Maria Vasenkari and Armi Pekkala write, “the production of data is… always a two-way street” (Vasenkari & Pekkala 1999: 11).
The changing political context of the field: Georgia
I would like to talk about the ways of textualising folklore which took place after the democratic changes in Georgia. This question cannot be discussed without referring to the previous years, when the situation in this respect was quite different in the Soviet Union.
Georgia is a small but multicultural country in the South Caucasus. People who speak different dialects of the language inhabit various regions of Georgia. Public holidays are often held in various parts and folkloristic traditions vary as well. It is interesting to observe how one and the same folktale, legend or poem is narrated in different villages and towns. Folklore research gives us a chance to represent the national identity: people cite the Vepkhistkaosani epic and “Aminani” (“Prometheus”) myth by heart. Although the epic has been published many times, it is still popular to rewrite it. The poem is the most important present given to a couple on their wedding. The country regions are full of folk performances; seven-voiced songs are transmitted from generation to generation.
In former times, fieldwork and archiving were carried out in a systematic way. Performers were also introduced to foreign visitors occasionally, but there was a lack of publishing: even if the performers dared to say something forbidden, there was very strong censorship. Fieldwork was limited in neighbouring foreign countries, which are populated by Georgians. Once in a while a group of prominent researchers was able to visit them and collect materials. Even then, permission ought to have been given by Moscow.
In recent years a new tradition has been born: famous folklorists, ethnographers collecting materials in a region invite its inhabitants once a year to the capital city, Tbilisi, to participate in a folk concert. Lots of performers – singers, narrators – have become famous: the audience can often see them on TV or listen to them on the radio. Documentary films are made of them. The poems written by them are published. Young performers even continue their study at universities; they become professionals, poets, writers and folklore researchers. Today there is no restriction in this respect and different groups of researchers can easily reach distant villages and towns in Turkey and Iran. Young people from these countries come to Georgia to study at high-schools. Informants provide rich material as they save everything they have heard from their ancestors; we come across all the forms of the language as it was spoken in the 19th century.
New attitudes towards folkloristic research have given the collectors a chance to obtain foreign archive data – in written and taped forms. Recently we have received records from Germany in which the folk songs of Georgian prisoners in World War I have been preserved. The democratic changes in East Europe have opened up ways to mutual relations; several times my country has been host to a group of students from American universities and also from Japan. Singers have performed the most difficult seven-voiced songs with absolute precision.
Effects of the dominant ideology on the collecting and editing of folklore. Experiences in China
The most obvious examples of the effects of the dominant ideology on the collecting and editing of folklore derive from the period of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). At that time some collectors of folklore intentionally or unintentionally made certain modifications of folklore materials in the textualisation process in order to meet demands from the domain of ideology. The collector/editor of Balgansang’s tales (a series of Mongol jokes), for example, made modifications in the collections. One day Balgansang saw a person carrying a pot on his head while walking along a road. Balgansang shouted “Look, there are two suns over the sky.” The man looked up and consequently broke his pot. In his textualisation the collector of the tale indicated in the text that the man was a rich official, and as a result, the whole narrative became a class struggle story with an emphasis on how Balgansang made mischief with a person from the ruling class.
In an epic I discovered the word ehe ulas that must have been changed in recent decades because it was a new term coined after 1949 meaning ‘motherland’. It seems that the collector/editor tried to show the aim for which the hero fights. The original word might have been ehe oron or ehe nutag meaning ‘home town’. In this respect the situation in China has improved greatly since 1980.
The dominant ideology has made an impact on informants in ways not yet thoroughly studied. When I participated in fieldwork on shamanism, I felt our informants were very cautious in their words and deeds. Shamanism and other folk religions were considered as superstitions in the official Chinese ideology. The folklorist was considered as a kind of governmental agency by informants in certain places. Some related departments of China’s government had organised large- scale projects to collect, publish, and research cultural heritage, including folklore. I was told that this kind of governmental initiative deeply affected some informants in their performances. But I do not know yet what the actual effects of this motivation were upon textualisation.
Folklore research and the construction of identity: a South American view
(Flora H. Losada)
There are countries such as Argentina lacking institutes and departments specialising in folklore. In such cases the collecting, research, publishing, etc., should be simultaneously enriched. Because it is impossible to collect and research all the folklore materials, the collecting should be connected to research and conducted in relation to the goals of research. But, what are these goals? Here we enter the field of politics of textualisation. For a start, we may begin collecting in order to serve future folklorists or researchers representing other academic branches. There might also be other interests in folklore in the society at large. A government, for example, might develop a plan for folklore preservation and decide to start collecting and researching folklore materials. In that case, a Department of Folklore (if it exists) is involved in the process of deciding what kind of folklore material should be collected, and what topics approached. This work will be done negotiating with the government’s agent, who has the final word in the selection of topics and the data collected.
In the contemporary world, such phenomena as modernisation, globalisation, migration, etc., are present-day realities in the majority of countries. These phenomena convey other phenomena such as the depopulation in some geographical areas and the overpopulation in others. What happens to the identity of cultural groups in these processes? Today, identity seems to be one of the major research topics in folklore studies. I consider that any research containing fieldwork should always be conducted in relation to materials of the past, especially in studies of oral narrative. One may search for different texts, i.e., literary texts, historical texts, journals, magazines, historical sources (registers of legacy). These documents can help to construct a social and cultural context reflecting the past.
Folklore is constructed “not just to mirror local identity, but also to reinforce and shape it” (Drakos 1990: 72). Researchers should try to study oral narratives as local oicotypes in order to see, say, how different forms of folklore are reproduced in relation to the diachronic as well as the synchronic dissemination of traditions. This implies that one should find features which link oral narratives to social contexts, i.e. names of places, objects and characters, to idiosyncratic expressions, local stereotypes, etc. But do these features only mark local oicotypes? Or, can we find other features to characterise them? I believe that another possibility would be to collect oral narratives and by analysing them try to find common characteristics about characters, motifs, themes, schemas, etc. Then, according to Foucault, it is possible to establish an idea of the dispersion centre where features were concentrated. If we proceed in this manner, the method would not be aprioristic but based on the collection of data. Also, it would permit the establishment of identity groups with certainty.
Finally, if institutes involved in collecting and researching folklore want to do a good job, they have to study both situated communication and that taking place in predetermined contexts. In Argentina, for example, the formal expressions of national identity, such as the gaucho parades in the city of Buenos Aires, have increased in recent years. A gaucho parade in the city centre is a new phenomenon in the cosmopolitan Buenos Aires, though it belongs to the tradition of smaller cities in Argentina. Some authors relate such customs to globalisation phenomena and to the necessity of nations to show manifestations of local identity.
3. Archiving, publishing and the uses of folklore Safeguarding and the use of archive materials
The Unesco recommendation for the safeguarding of traditional culture and folklore (1989) includes the protection of the material, protection of the informants, protection of the collector’s interest and protection against misuse (see also Honko 1999: 3). When using archived materials we have to keep in mind that archives are also constructions and that the representativeness of the material is only an illusion. The archives choose what information is gathered and which questions are asked, but it must also be remembered that it is only a selected group of people who answer questionnaires or are interviewed (Skjelbred 1999: 4-6; Salomonsson 1999: 14).
In recent research into the Finnish Civil War it was noted that people wrote in different ways to the different archives (for example, the Finnish Literature Society’s Archive was considered more White than the Labour Archive by the informants) and that some of the informants wrote to several archives on different topics and from different points of view (Peltonen 1996: 60-132).
Archives have different regulations concerning the use of their material. Some are open for research use only. But who owns the copyright to the material: the collector, the informant or the archive? Who is allowed to use it and how? For what kind of research has the informant actually given his consent? (Alver 1992: 57-58; Caunce 1994: 194-97.) For example, can the information produced in interviews conducted for the purpose of collecting dialect be used for local history research? It is usually suggested that it would be polite to ask the interviewees’ permission for the use of the material, but what if they are dead?
Politics of publishing
Clifford Geertz has stated that written studies are always constructions, fictions, something made (Geertz 1973: 15). Dialogic methodology has dealt with problems related to the power relations in publishing. It is the researcher who makes the decisions on what is to be published, how the material is edited, how the study is theoretically based, etc. (Vasenkari 1996: 97.)
One of the matters to be taken into consideration is the choice of language. Should the research be published in one of the major languages in order to serve the international academic field as widely as possible? When research is done in a multilingual community the choice of language becomes even more important. For example, when the study focuses on a minority such as the Saami people, who live in the northernmost parts of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia and usually speak one of several Saami dialects in addition to one or two Nordic languages, which language would be most appropriate? (Keskitalo 1976: 15-17.)
No folklorist would doubt the use of quotations, but their use can be quite problematic. Some researchers claim that editing is unavoidable, because when written, speech can make the narrator seem a poor speaker and even ridiculous. Also for the reader all the sighs and mumbling can be quite disruptive and difficult to read. (Caunce 1994: 188-89; Salomonsson 1999: 14.) Not all researchers approve of altering the text, for example, rearranging the text into a chronological order or editing unclear words, and they demand that the spoken form of quotations be kept as authentic as possible. In this way the reader is given the opportunity to see how the researcher has achieved his/her interpretation. Also, as Margaret Mills has pointed out, even the same oral performance may be textualised in various ways, each of which will reveal different aspects on how the performance can be interpreted. (Alver 1992: 56-57; Dwyer 1982: 278-79; Mills 1999; Vasenkari & Pekkala 1999: 8-9.)
One way to ensure the protection of informants is to use pseudonyms instead of their real names in the study. Some researchers prefer not to use any names. In some cases it is to protect the contributors, but in other cases it is to depersonalise the material or to protect the researcher from being criticised by his or her object of research. Even though some informants probably would prefer their names to be printed, the recommendation is to use pseudonyms. Especially in small communities the use of fictitious names is not always enough and so the amount and nature of background information that is given also has to be considered carefully. (Alver 1992: 55; Aro 1996: 56; Caunce 1994: 196-97.)
Of course no researcher wants to offend his or her informants in any way. When dealing with a sensitive subject, how can this be ensured? In Finland the 1918 Civil War is still, at least at the local level, a sensitive research subject. People are still very cautious about what is said in public about the topic, and it is not always easy to predict what will be perceived as negative. People expect history to be true. In research dealing with the ways the 1918 Civil War is told about, regardless of whether it is true or not, in other words, the social memory of the war (Fentress & Wickham 1992: xi; Passerini 1989: 197; Portelli 1991: 51-53), the problem is, will the readers, both the people of the community and academic historians, share the researcher’s understanding of truth(s)? For example, the informants place the number of Reds executed higher than the official statistics (the latter give 26, the informants over 40). The informants do not make a distinction between the victim’s place of birth, home place and place of death as historians do. Does the researcher have the right to challenge the myths of their harmonious past and the way they have dealt with the past (for example, with the help of stories that all deal with the innocence of us, the villagers, and the guilt of them, the outsiders)? The picture given is not “objectively” true, but it has helped to provide a past that the people can live with. How about topics that they do not talk about? Does the researcher have the right to write about them? What will the informants, their relatives and the communal authorities think of the attention the research draws to this tragic and negative part of their history?
Processes of representation and adaption of tradition
Let me first offer a diachronic analysis of an invention of tradition: the “Camelot” legend. “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.” These lines were taken from the Broadway musical “Camelot” which opened in December 1960, a few weeks after John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States.
Once upon a time, not too long ago, a grief-stricken widow, fearful and alone, created the Camelot myth, which came to define that part of the country’s political and cultural experience, by lodging the Arthurian legend in the nation’s collective consciousness. Jackie offered the metaphor as a way to characterise the Kennedy years.
On a cold November day, only days after her husband’s murder, Jackie summoned Theodore H. White, a noted journalist and loyal friend of the Kennedy family. In the exclusive interview, Jackie recounted for the first and last time the events of the assassination in Dallas. Then she confessed: “I’m so ashamed of myself; all I keep thinking of is this line from a musical comedy Camelot.” Jackie told White that at night, they would listen to a recording of the musical on their Victrola before they went to sleep. Kennedy’s favourite song came at the very end of the musical, and his favourite lines were: “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.” “There’ll be great presidents again and the Johnsons are wonderful, they’ve been wonderful to me but there’ll never be another Camelot again,” she said. She wanted Americans to remember that her husband was a man of magic, that his presidency was truly special, and that the era was a brief, shining moment just like the song said – and it worked! Despite countless infidelities and a relationship that was anything but magical, Queen Guinevere and King Arthur lived once upon a time in the White House, with their two children – the daughter and son of Camelot, as they were recently referred to by deeply impassioned media. The myth is still very much alive not only in the American collective memory but also, through the world wide media, in the global village as a whole.
At this point I would like, by examining the Arthurian Myth, to refer to the process in which past images serve as a helping tool in the establishing of hero figures in the present. The Camelot legend draws its power directly from the Arthurian Myth, which was built on the foundations of the Arthurian Ideal and was able to keep its vitality through a constant dialectic between the content of the story to its changing context. It is impossible to gain a true insight to the Arthurian Myth without knowing the twelfth century roots, which nourish the Arthurian Ideal.
In this forum of limited space I would only like to mention that Arthur, in addition to the romanticism and the supernatural, which always have a warm place in our heart, symbolises the virtue of justice, moral force, wisdom, dignity and ambition to a better life. The legend contained, from a very early stage, some strong Utopian features. Arthur was introduced as an ideal military leader and later on as an ideal ruler. His knights gathered around the round table in a court which later (at 1842 in the “Idylls of the King” by Tennyson) become Camelot, where more than one thousand years before the French Revolution people discussed the ideas of peace, brotherhood and equality. Furthermore we must remember that Arthur is not only the perfect king but, in a way, a messianic hero as well. The legend left us with an open window through which Arthur might return and this allowed him to be the saviour of the future as well as the saviour of the past. This is a tragic story since even the most noble society cannot overcome the failures of human nature. However, this dark side is accompanied by brighter hopes for a better future and a longing for the reanimation of Arthur, which will conduct a new age of peace and prosperity. As once said by Merlin “An Arthur will yet come to help the English” … and a Kennedy will yet come to help the American people.
Secondly, let me offer a synchronic analysis of processes of adaptation and animadversion in stories – animal fables. In the twelfth century, a time of cultural awakening characterised by openness, curiosity, and relative tolerance, fables were repeatedly not only translated but also adapted by medieval writers who took archetypical stories as universal truths and modified them to reflect their own thoughts and views. Changes occurred in style and in themes, which were employed to express the author’s point of view, by applying universal social morals to specific social groups. More than in any period in the past, the fables in the twelfth century were not only a form of entertainment but also a means of concretising abstract ideas and beliefs through simple stories, as well as a vehicle for expressing controversial beliefs under the protective guise of animals.
My study discusses four collections, each of which contains a substantial number of animal fables and meets two important criteria. The first is that the fables’ wide distribution and popularity indicate their close connection with the society from which they stemmed and which they addressed. The second is that they are the writings of well-known authors of the time and place. The four Compilers are Berechiah Ha-Nakdan, a Jewish scholar; Marie De France, a Christian woman, and the two churchmen Jacques De Vitry and Odo de Cheriton.
The conclusions of my study are drawn from the examination and comparison of the various versions against the background of their time and context. The origins, lives, work, and writings of the four writers are essential to the understanding of the motives and circumstances out of which the stories were created, and therefore help to clarify the meaning of the variance that emerged from the comparisons of the different versions.
The four compilers were all wealthy and educated individuals who lived in relative security and material comfort. Their fables – with the exception of those in Jacques de Vitry’s sermons, directed towards people in a range of social strata – were aimed at their reference groups, whose language, values, and beliefs they shared. Naturally, we cannot assume that the messages sent by the teller of the fables and the messages received by their audiences were always the same. Nonetheless, the great success of these fables testifies to a considerable degree of acceptance and agreement, and it can be said that the fables were securely anchored in the societies of which they were part. Despite the comfortable social positions of the compilers, all four were concerned with the behaviour of the well-off and powerful towards the poor and less fortunate.
The significance of this criticism becomes apparent only when we look at it from the perspective of the Middle Ages, in which the dominant forces were power, influence, and religious faith, and where freedom of expression was not a basic value of the feudal society. Yet despite these conditions, the twelfth and thirteenth century fabulists expressed both explicit and implicit social criticism in their fables. Though they did not call for major social change, they seem to have expressed their criticism with little interference and it seems to have fallen on accepting ears.
The above reports, taken from representatives of widely distributed cultures and traditions, are but a small selection of the possible views on the politics of textualisation. If our work has served to make anything clear, it is that the politics of textualisation is open- ended and capable of generating any number of specific issues, and the greatest certainly to emerge from our effort is that our discipline will encounter these issues with increasing frequency in the future.
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(FFN 19, March 2000: 2-10)