Date: Fri, 14 Jan 2005 00:25:01 -0500 From: Olga Levitski Subject: Narrative as Social Practice: Anglo-Western and Australian Aboriginal Oral Traditions
AUTHOR: Klapproth, Danièle M. TITLE: Narrative as Social Practice SUBTITLE: Anglo-Western and Australian Aboriginal Oral Traditions SERIES: Language, Power and Social Process 13 PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter YEAR: 2004
Olga Levitski, Department of Linguistics, York University, Toronto
This book is a comparative study of two cultures and their respective storytelling traditions: Anglo-Western and Central Australian Aboriginal. The author compares the oral storytelling traditions of two widely divergent cultures - Anglo-Western culture and the Central Australian culture of the Pitjantjatjara/ Yankunytjatjara Aborigines. The book demonstrates that the process of narrating stories has different meaning and different function in cultures under investigation. Narratives reflect values, worldviews, and patterns of representation the various situations. From the point of view of social constructivism, narratives are used for social construction of reality. The core constructive element of narratives is cognitive/narrative scheme. The author demonstrates that, despite certain similarities, such schemata display a high degree of cultural variability, and are in fact culturally specific.
The book deals with both theoretical and empirical issues and is indispensable to the scholars studying oral traditions and narratives. The book offers students of linguistics, folklore, and anthropology an original insight and methodological framework, which incorporates the theories of discourse analysis, cross-cultural pragmatics, folklore study, ethnography of communication, and anthropology. It opens a venue for studying storytelling as a social process and social practice, an essential human communicative activity.
The book is organized in two parts, theoretical and empirical. Part one consists of four chapters. The first chapter introduces the aims of the study, its theoretical and methodological background, theoretical framework, and outlines the analyzed data. The second, third, and fourth chapters focus on the theory of narrative discourse, its role in the social construction of reality, and its cognitive dimensions.
Part two, with its empirical focus, presents a detailed comparison between Anglo-Western and Pitjantjatjara/ Yankunytjatjara oral folk narratives. Chapter 5 and 6 offer a discussion of the Anglo-Western fairy tale and a traditional Pitjantjatjara/ Yankunytjatjara narrative. These chapters aim at developing criteria of "what makes a good story" in two respective traditions. The final two chapters bring together theory and practice, and draw conclusions in respect with theoretical and empirical findings of the book.
Chapter 1. Introduction
This chapter introduces the theoretical framework, aim of the study, and outlines the data for the cross-cultural comparison of two traditions: Anglo-Western and Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara, the Central Australian indigenous culture. Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara, people of the Western Desert, like all Central Australian people traditionally lived as semi-nomadic hunters-gatherers. This life was practised until the 1930s. The Western Desert people had deeply religious understanding of the Universe. The present-day Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people retained their traditional values, beliefs, and practices. The terms of Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara are the names of the two closely related (south-eastern) dialects of the Western Desert Language. Although there are certain differences between the two dialects, they are very close. The number of Pitjantjatjara speakers is estimated at around 1,600, and the number of Yankunytjatjara speakers at 200 to 300. (p. 17)
This book is one of the few linguistically oriented studies of narrative discourse in Australian Aboriginal languages that examine oral folk narratives. The narratives encapsulate human experience and mirror worldviews. Although the genres of traditional oral folk narratives exist in both Anglo-Western and Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara cultures, their forms and functions differ, and they reflect different worldviews. For Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people, the rich oral storytelling tradition plays an outstanding role in their socio-cultural life and, is intrinsically linked to the culture's religious and mythological worldview and totemic social organization.
Chapter 2. Creating webs of significance: the role of narrative in the sociocultural construction of reality
This chapter focuses on storytelling as socio-cultural practice, and on its socio-cultural contexts. It discusses of the theoretical framework of social constructivism, introducing Berger and Luckmann's (1996) theory of social construction of reality. Language plays a central role in the processes of reality construction. This chapter also deals with the function of narrative in social construction of reality, construction of social identity, and exploration and transmission of knowledge in two cultures - Anglo-Western and Australian-Aboriginal.
Chapter 3. The narrative sharing of worlds: storytelling as communicative interaction
Chapter three describes with the pragmalinguistic aspects of narrating as act of communication exploring the model of narrative as interplay of narrated and narrative event. Following Bauman (1986), the narrative event is understood as an instance of socio-communicative verbal interaction in which stories are told and shared. (p. 28)
Casting experience into narrative form is one of the most central ways by which human beings attempt to make sense of their lives. (p.3) The chapter is based on a communication-oriented framework that recognizes the various levels of communicative event. The notion of narrative aesthetics is introduced here as the culture-specific coherence structures used in narrative creation.
Chapter 4. Exploring the structure of narrated worlds: the search for story schemata
This chapter introduces the concept of the story schema as a tool that helps explore the culture-specific narrative coherence structures. Schemata are understood as structures of expectations that enable individuals to process, and make sense of, their experience. Story schemata consist of expectations of the structural make-up and conceptual organization of stories. This chapter analyzes a number of schema-related analytical frameworks and critically evaluates their usefulness for cross- cultural narrative research. Central in this respect is the conclusion that Anglo-Western narratives are built as problem-solving episodes.
Chapter 5. The Beautiful and the Beastly: cultural specifics of Anglo- Western narrative aesthetics
This chapter offers a detailed analysis of the traditional fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. The text-building conventions, and the criteria of what makes a good narrative, are discussed there in light of the theoretical findings made in previous chapters. Using the concept of episodic analysis (Johnson and Mandler, 1980), the author shows that the Western stories are prototypically based on the concept of problem- solving.
Chapter 6. Always keeping track: text building strategies in Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara storytelling
Unlike in the Western narratives, the storytelling principles of the Pitjantjatjara tradition are not based on problem-solving. The chapter presents a detailed analysis and discussion of the traditional Pitjantjatjara narrative "A child transforms into a Kangaroo", and attempts to answer the question: what makes a good story in Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara cultures? Specifically, the chapter is dedicated to testing the analytical tools developed for Anglo-Western narratives and their cross-cultural applicability. It is aimed at defining the text- building conventions used by the narrators within Pitjantjatjara culture.
Chapter 7. Holding the world in place: the interrelatedness of story, practice and culture
In this chapter the author brings together the findings of the textual analysis of Chapters 5 and 6 by comparing the culture-specific narrative aesthetics of the two traditions. A special emphasis is put on how the narrative creation in both traditions is interwoven with culture-specific social discourses.
Chapter 8. Conclusions and implications
This chapter summarizes the findings regarding the similarities and differences of the two storytelling cultures. The cross-cultural description and definition of the narrative is presented.
This book is a fascinating study, providing a highly original and innovative insight into the interrelatedness of narrative structures and the worldviews they mirror. Klapproth offers a very broad overview of disciplines, concepts, and theories that are related to the field of narratology. In general, this book can be of a great interest as an introduction to the subject of narrative analysis. The book overcomes one of the shortcomings of numerous studies that deal only with archival data. In addition to the archive sources, the author, a field anthropologist and linguist, analyzes the traditional stories that she personally collected. She also translated the studied texts as close to the originals as possible, without editing or embellishing them, because editing the stories makes them sound and be perceived as Western. The first-hand knowledge of the studied communities and their traditions enabled the author to provide an ethnographically thick description of the community's social practices. Such a thorough understanding of spiritual, religious, and many other aspects of a studied culture, and attention to linguistic and extra-linguistic details, help the author uncover the disparity between Anglo-Western and Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara aesthetic principles, which lay in the core of the storytelling practices.
The descriptive treatment of the data is very rich and detailed. The book systematically examines the previous research in the various adjacent disciplines, such as cognitive science, discourse analysis, cultural anthropology, etc. The references and theoretical discussions of the concepts pertaining to the narrative theories are undoubtedly an excellent starting point for anyone who is interested in construction of reality through the narrative practices. The book certainly will be of interest to readers specializing in linguistics, anthropology, folklore, comparative and cultural studies.
Unlike other researches, Klapproth uses her own detailed transcription of the recorded performances. The author's goal is to study the micro- dynamics of performance, at pragmatic and discourse level in order to define the aesthetic criteria of what is considered an ideal/good narrative in a given tradition. This goal is achieved: the dissimilarities between the two traditions are evident. Different narrating techniques and principles govern the text generation and processing in two respective storytelling traditions. The differences in story production and comprehension are stipulated by the divergent worldviews (one is deeply rooted in a spiritual and religious syncretism that is characteristic of the Aboriginal people, who regard humans as part of nature, another one is a modern Westernized worldview and its aesthetics).
Although the author's contribution to the narratological research is undisputable, the book is not free of minor shortcomings. The cross- cultural applicability of schema-theoretical story model is tested on two sets of data. However, ironically, the choice of data is subject to the same criticism that we find in the author's discussion of the data used by other investigators. The author maintains that "one of the major problems affecting much of the story research carried out within the cognitive science framework stems from the fact that inadequate data were used in the development of the theories and models." (p.155) As Klapproth points out, the claims made by Johnson and Mandler, and by Rumelhart, two studies that are taken as a basis for testing the schema story models, are at times questionable, because "the development of a story that represents the underlying structure of stories ... [are] ... from a variety of cultures."(p.155) As Klapproth demonstrates, such a choice of data is not suitable for the culture specific micro-research, which deals with the patterns of conceptual and organizational structure of narratives, linguistic, prosodic, mimetic, etc., features found in live performances - "textual surface features"(p.167)
The author analyzes two performances of folklore texts. One is the artistic performance of the tale Beauty and Beast by a professional actress. The second one is a community member's performance of the traditional story of type Kutara-Pula-Stories ("brother pair") by a gifted storyteller. The tale Beauty and the Beast is a folklore tale by origin (AT 400-459), but its record represents a literary text. Its variant performed by Katherine Hepburn was not stored in, and retrieved from, a collective memory, but was a version of a story written down and memorized. R. Firth wrote about the "plasticity" of a folklore text:
"One of the critical ways in which myth (like all folklore) differs radically from written or printed literature concerns variation. There may be as many different versions of a particular myth as there are tellers of that myth. Even one individual teller may alter details in his account of a myth over a period of years or a lifetime". (Firth, p. 207)
The comparative study would have benefited from the Anglo-Western data obtained in the same manner - from a community storyteller who narrated the story that he/she learned from another community member. Therefore, it would be more appropriate methodologically to study a live performance of the tale that is part of some local tradition, the text that is not merely memorized, but reproduced as a folklore variant. There is no doubt that the appearance and structure of a text in this case would differ significantly from that analyzed in a book, probably having more gaps, pauses, or logical inconsistencies. On the other hand, at the conceptual/content level, the narrative scheme - plot - might be very similar (same protagonists, goals, etc.) The folklore texts do not exist as ready-made narratives, but rather represent variants of a prototypical version that is stored in a collective memory, i.e. is known to the members of a particular culture. With very rare exceptions, the folklore texts are never mechanically memorized, but rather reproduced or re- created each time they are performed.
The second text under investigation is a traditional Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara story. We know that this tale exists in three variants in author's collection, and that the studied variant is the longest and most elaborate. (p.220) However, there is no information on how the storyteller has learned the tale, or on which occasions it was told. We don't know if the variants of this tale were recorded from other informants. Knowing the dynamics of folklore we may assume that the text in question is part of a local tradition, probably is a fragment of a myth.
The plot of the tale can be schematically outlined as follows: there were two brothers, one of them (the younger) every night turned into kangaroo, keeping this secret from his elder brother. Once, when he was enjoying himself in a form of a kangaroo, the wild dingoes chased and torn him apart. His elder brother discovered his death and mourned his younger brother. Based on what we know about other oral traditions, this text is most probably, a fragment of a myth or mythical tale about human-animal metamorphosis and punishment for breaking a taboo. Although this version is elaborate, we cannot assume this text to be a full and final version. Thus, it is necessary to compare this text to other myths from the same or similar traditions in order to find parallels or its fuller versions. The text seems to be truncated, because there is no internal logic or motivation for 1) the younger brother to turn into kangaroo; 2) his death. There is a vague mentioning that the younger brother was punished for his transgression. The motivation for this metamorphosis could be found only based on the comparison of this text with others.
The author's argument against those investigators who approach the folklore texts as having universal underlying narrative schemata is valid only at the discourse level of analysis of the live performance. However, it becomes problematic at a higher level of analysis (content of tale, or its plot). Plots of both the Anglo-Western and Aboriginal tales are based on the same motif of human-animal transformation and protagonist's real/possible death as a result of breaking a taboo/promise. While the logic of the narrative/plot in the Anglo-Western tale is clear (spells and the evil sisters preventing the Beauty from coming on time), the motivation for the Aboriginal tale is not obvious. Nevertheless, its absence in the studied version does not mean that it does not exist. There might be such motivation in an Aboriginal story as well. Knowledge of the internal logic of the plot could be crucial for the author's goal in studying the worldview and the various social practices in a given culture. For example, the motivation for the transformation can be rooted in some kind of totemic beliefs (a kangaroo may be a totemic animal). Alternatively, it can provide an insight regarding the cosmogony, myths of creation, etc.
Analyzing data from different unrelated traditions is a method used in a comparative folklore, which studies macro, or content level of the narrative schemata, namely motifs that have worldwide parallels, and are classified and catalogued in the Folklore motif index. (Aarne-Thompson) The macro level of the narrative schemata is as important as its micro- dynamics level, but the reviewed book addresses only the micro-level of the schemata. The notion of narrative scheme when applied to the folklore text can also presume a macro-level or content analysis. There can be a broader understanding of a narrative scheme as mini-scenario that is stored in a collective memory, and is retrieved or re-created during each performance. As the author remarks, the analysis is possible on a variety of levels (p. 168), and the conceptual level presupposes the abstract level of the story plot. Here is, for example, how P. Crepeau explains the importance of understanding that in respect with folklore, the level of cognitive competence, "langue", and the level of performance, "parole", are interrelated:
"That folklore is a communicative process rather than an aggregate of the traditional materials and that it should consequently be dealt with as such is a point no one will argue. But one should also bear in mind that if analysis of folklore items cannot pretend to explain the whole of folklore, it nevertheless constitutes a necessary step towards a full comprehension of this cultural phenomenon. ...Of course folklore is performance and as such it cannot be fully explained without any attention paid to its process. However, in folklore as in language, there is no performance without underlying competence. Folklore is a communicative process on its own, with its own structuring rules. There is the folkloristic parole; there is also the folkloristic langue..." (Crepeau, p.12-13)
In conclusion, it can be said that the author understands the narrative scheme quite narrowly, as a surface level of text formation, appearance, or linguistic make-up of the individual text/performance with all the richness of its prosodic, mimetic, gestural and grammatical features. (p.173) Such understanding of a story scheme is perfectly legitimate, and corresponds to the book's goal. It helps reveal the individual characteristics of the studied texts and uncover the differences in storytelling practices in two cultures.
Bauman, R. (1986) Story, performance and event: contextual studies of oral narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University press.
Berger, P. and Luckmann, T. (1966) The social construction of reality. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Crepeau, P. (1978) The invading guest: some aspects of oral transmission. In: Yearbook of symbolic anthropology, 1, 11-29.
Firth, R. (1984) The plasticity of myth: cases from Tikopia. In: A, Dundes (ed.) Sacred narrative. Readings in the theory of myth. University of California press, Berkley, Los Angeles, London.
Mandler, J. and Johnson., N. (1977) Remembrance of things parsed: story structure and recall. In: Cognitive Psychology, 9, 111-151.
Rumelhart, D. E. (1975) Notes on schema for stories. In: Bobrow, D. and Gollins, A. (eds.) Representation and understanding. New York: Academic Press, 211-236.
Thompson, S. (1955-1958) Motif-Index of Folk Literature. A classification of narrative elements in Folktales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla, Fabliaux, Jest-Books and Local Legends. Rev. & enlarged ed., 6 vols. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Olga Levitski has a MA degree from St-Petersburg State University, where she specialized in folklore. Now she is a MA student of theoretical linguistics at York University of Toronto. Her main interests are discourse analysis, sociolinguistics, and folklore. At the moment she is finishing up her master's degree working on plurilingual codeswitching; this also involves fieldwork conducting sociolinguistic interviews (data collection, transcription and analysis).