A Journey into the Traditions of Orality

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Wow, what impressive e-journals we have in class!

So I've been cruisin' around the different e-journals goin' on in our class, and it's really interesting to see what things people take with them once we're set free at 3:25 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I was especially intrigued with what Allison wrote back in January concerning the "kinkiness" of books. It's spell-binding to contemplate the effect that touching books, or somehow physicalizing them has on the ability to remember them years later. The mere possibility of taking a book with you, and incorporating it into the memories you have on a certain trip, where it became all dog-earred and tattered while simultaneously saving you from strangling one of your traveling partners... oh, is that just me? I guess I'm very grateful for the escapism that books provide. When I was about 6, I became enamoured by the adventures of two fictional characters named "Betsy and Tacey." I took these books with me everywhere, but namely into my leaf-fort with me. It was Autumn, and those books will always smell like dying maple leaves to me. We had 11 of these trees on the boulevard where I grew up. I had tunnels built into the walls, which served as my cubby-holes for anyone treacherous enough to come along and steal my Betsy and Tacey books, of which I was certain was going to happen on some unforntunate day.
Someone else commented in their journal about how "books should be smelly to be memorable," and although they put this line in quotes, I don't know where it came from. But they're right.
Another amazing thing about books is the transformation they assume when merely sitting on your bookshelf, patiently waiting for you to pick them back up, flip through them, discover old train passes, pressed flowers, coffee stains, possibly some drool. They remind you that the two of you had history together. Whether good or bad, it was there. That book is not inatimate, it is not dead. It's pages breathe the breath that used to belong to a beauitful tree in some unknown forest, in some unknown area, rained on and burnt with the glorious sunshine. Crawled on and tickled by countless little feet, pecked at and finally sliced from its place in the world, to be imprinted with ink that would create the form of words. Words that would eventually reach the imagination of countless and innumerable people. Whether read directly or heard about indirectly from someone who tells someone else, "I read this great book last week! it was about a man in Scotland who discovered a woman who was lost and had actually fallen through the standing stones of a futuristic age..... you have to read it!" books are by far anything but dead.

I think I'm going to take the time to hug more trees :) Even though my dad's a logger ;)

Friday, April 29, 2005

Who's Afraid of the Brothers Grimm?

In case anyone's interested more in the brief blurb I gave you guys on Thursday about the Borthers Grimm, here's the paper I wrote on it. I found it to be a fascinating topic, and I'm stoked that I had the opportunity to learn more about it, while simultaneously receiving credit! :) Enjoy...

Who's Afraid of the Brothers Grimm?

Once upon a time, there were two brothers named Grimm. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were their names, and theirs was a life full of magic and fairy tales, luxury and splendor. Or was it? Many misconceptions have been made in the past two hundred years concerning the two brothers and their quest to record the tales and legacy of their country. Exactly how precise was their methodology in transcribing and retaining the information that had formerly been passed on purely by means of the oral tradition? Most critics seem to assume that the tales are genuine folk tales, but they, along with many children and adults, would be sorely disappointed to learn that the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm have been tweaked, misconstrued, edited and re-edited, and contain a definite agenda hiding in the shadows, right back there with the big, bad wolf.
Jacob Grimm was just eleven years old when his father died, forcing him into the role of the man of the house in helping his ailing mother raise his five younger siblings. Their drastic drop down the social ladder caused both Wilhelm and Jacob, the two inseparable brothers, to come to terms with the social injustices and cruelties that the lower classes faced. Their strict Calvinistic upbringing embedded morals and a rigorous daily structure in their lives. After shrugging off their life-long plan of becoming lawyers, the Grimms took to collecting folk tales. However, they were not simply collectors of these tales. Their agenda also included creating an ideal type for the literary fairy tale, one that sought to be as close to the oral tradition as possible, while incorporating stylistic, formal, and substantial thematic changes to appeal to a growing bourgeois audience.
Contrary to popular belief, the Grimms did not collect their tales by visiting peasants in the countryside and writing down the tales that they heard. Their primary method was to invite storytellers to their home and then have them tell the tales aloud, which the Grimms either noted down on the first or after a couple hearings. Memory played an important role in the Grimms’ transcriptions. Most of the storytellers during this period were educated young women from the middle class or aristocracy. “What appears to be natural in the Grimms’ tales was not natural in the oral folk tradition: the oral tales were not, nor are they today, as eloquently structured and thematically oriented around bourgeois values until literate members of the aristocracy and bourgeois began accepting them and adapting them for the printed page and for educated audiences” (Zipes 22). The Grimms took these products and infused them with their own psychological needs, utopian dreams, sexual preferences, and socio-political views. This deconstruction of the primary tales polluted what the brothers had originally claimed they wanted to do with them, which was to preserve, contain and present to the German public what they felt were profound truths about the origins of both German culture and European civilization. Instead, these tales have morphed into what they desired those truths and origins to be. The brothers made incredibly major changes while editing the tales, such as eliminating erotic and sexual elements that might be offensive to middle-class morality, adding numerous Christian expressions and references, emphasizing specific role models for male and females protagonists according to the dominant patriarchal code of that time, and endowing many of the tales with ‘homey’ or biedermeier flavor by use of diminutives, quaint expressions and cute descriptions. “In seeking to establish its rightful and ‘righteous’ position in German society , the bourgeoisie, due to its lack of actual military power and unified economic power, used its ‘culture’ as a weapon to push through its demands and needs. It was in the house and through household items that bourgeois character was to be developed” (Zipes 21). The consciousness on the part of the brothers concerning this particular effort is debatable, though the effects of it can clearly be seen. Fairy tales in their oral, literary, and mass-mediated forms have enabled children and adults to conceive strategies for placing themselves in the world and grasping events around themselves. They are a beloved addition to any childhood, and it is almost inconceivable for modern audiences to imagine a time when they did not exist.
But in their primitive existence, these folk tales did not always have a happy ending. On the contrary: it was quite rare indeed to hear a fairy tale that did not include commentary on society and the current government, as well as graphic, sexual content. These components had their functions, though educated audiences preferred to rule them out as unneeded vulgarities. “The violence and conflict in the tales derive from profound instinctual developments in the human psyche and hence represent symbolical modes by which children and adults deal with sexual problems” (Zipes 16). The removal of these components gave fairy tales an unrealistic rose-colored-glasses view of the world, which it consequently passed on to children, who, rather than dealing with the realities as they come and having a reference point from these tales, are given over to disillusionment and heartbreak when the world turns out to be a less-than-friendly place.
The Grimms, who stood up to monarchs, worked tirelessly and diligently to attain their social status and prestige, cannot be given the credit which has handed over to them so nonchalantly: the credit of preserving German folk tales in their untainted form. The brothers worked like tailors, for they kept mending and ironing the tales that they collected so that they would ultimately fit the patriarchal and Christian code of bourgeois reading expectations and their own ideal notion of pure, natural German culture. By tailoring the stories they intervened in their cultural heritage and actually projected their own present and futuristic hopes onto the past.


Work Cited

Zipes, Jack. The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World. New York: Routledge, Chapman and Hall, Inc., 1988.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Memorization takes many forms

I think we can all safely say that we've all come to the awesome conclusion as to how varied and unique oral presentations can truly be. Last week, the presentations of the Kane chapters was more fun and educational than I have experienced in quite a long time. Before that, the poems to our "soul mates" were also highly entertaining and inspiring. I went to class today, after reciting my "50 Largest Cities in Germany" to Professor Sexson in his office, and I had been informed that we were merely hearing 3 more people recite their "lists" before we moved on to the presentations of the papers. I had no idea, as I'm sure many people didn't, that we were in for 3 of the sllllllllllllllloooooowwwwwwwwwwweeeeeeeessssssstttttttttt memorization presentations of our lives. I'm not sure how these 3 people got away with taking 35 minutes of the class to do it, when it should have taken no more than 6 minutes, total...... but I have to admit I have better things to do than sit there watching Mick re-enact the 50 phenomenal moves of a chess master's game, included with a running commentary and cheating (by looking at his notes), but I think I'll use this time wisely, and start seriously researching the stuff I need for my paper.
Later ;)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Let the memorization begin!

For my "50 Random Objects" memorization, I'm planning on memorizing the 50 largest cities in Germany, since I studied there last year and am planning to return for another semester next spring. Here's the run-down of what everyone will be hearing when my moment of glory comes on Tuesday:


Berlin

Hamburg

München

Köln

Frankfurt

Essen

Dortmund

Stuttgart

Düsseldorf

Bremen

Hannover

Duisburg

Nürnberg

Leipzig

Dresden

Bochum

Wuppertal

Bielefeld

Bonn

Mannheim

Karlsruhe

Gelsenkirchen

Wiesbaden

Münster

Mönchengladbach

Chemnitz

Augsburg

Braunschweig

Aachen

Krefeld

Halle

Kiel

Magdeburg

Oberhausen

Lübeck

Freiburg

Hagen

Erfurt

Kassel

Rostock

Mainz

Hamm

Saarbrücken

Herne

Mülheim

Solingen

Osnabrück

Ludwigshafen

Leverkusen

Oldenburg


Wish me luck! : ) I think this'll be something that will be useful to know during my time over there. It's always good to be something other than a "stupid American," I found. ; )~

Thoughts and research on polyphony

After witnessing the awesome technique of blindfolding and captivating their audience for the performance given by Juliet, Opai, Cindy et al's group for the Kane presentations, I became quite interested in the effects of "polyphony." Actually, what really interested me was "hmmm, I wonder if I could do this for all the presentations I ever give again in my life so people will actually listen to what I have to say!" Which lead me along a train of thought and back to something someone was telling me last year about telephoning. There's a new technology out there that is called something like "deep suspension telephoning." The point of it is that people never truly "listen" to each other when they talk on the telephone anymore. They hear, but they don't listen. The way that this "deep suspension" telephoning works is that the person who is going to make a telephone call is strapped into a special suit that allows them to be submersed in a special tank that suspends almost all their senses, save hearing. Their sense of smell, taste, gravity and sight are temporarily stricken defective, in order for them to concentrate 100% on what the person they are talking to is saying. Obviously, this is not your average phone booth on a busy street, but a high-tech chamber that studies the relationship that the other senses have on our ability to listen as hard as we can when someone is trying to tell us something. This choo-choo-train of thought lead me back to polyphony, and how we experience it in our every day lives. Other than that, I googled it, and here's what it spit out:


Polyphony (polyphonic). From the Greek for "many-sounding." Music in which two or more "voices" are heard simultaneously; as opposed to monophonic ("one-sounding") and homophonic ("like-sounding").

Counterpoint. The art of combining two or more musical lines that are to be played or sung simultaneously. These lines may be said to be "in counterpoint" with each other. The term is in some ways synonymous with polyphony, although counterpoint is most commonly used for Baroque music; polyphony for music from the Medieval and Renaissance periods. The rules of counterpoint were codified from the music of Palestrina by J.J. Fux in his 1725 treatise, Gradus ad Parnassum (Steps to Parnassus).
Polyphony (polyphonic). From the Greek for "many-sounding." Music in which two or more "voices" are heard simultaneously; as opposed to monophonic ("one-sounding") and homophonic ("like-sounding").

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Some info on the Kabbalah

Cabala (also caballa, kabala, kaballa, Kaballah, qaballah, etc.)
Kabbalah is Hebrew for tradition. But the Cabala has come to refer to a collection of mystical and ethical Jewish writings, mostly dating from the medieval period. It consists in good part of speculative and symbolical interpretations of Hebrew Scriptures.
There are several cabalistic traditions, some of which are noted for their messianic leanings. One of the more well-known messiahs was Sabbatai Zevi, who, in 1666 convinced a large part of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian world that he was the Messiah. His conversion to Islam is seen variously as a cowardly pseudo-conversion aimed at saving his life or as a necessary step in the redemption of the world.


Rabbi Michael Laitman said, "The wisdom of Kabbalah teaches a practical method to attain the upper world and the source of our existence. By realizing our true purpose in life, man attains perfection, tranquility, unbounded enjoyment and the ability to transcend the limitations of time and space while still living in This world."


Rabbi Yahuda Ashlag states that there are "several reasons for keeping the Kabbalah secret: 1. "There is no necessity"2. "It is impossible"3. "It is the private secret of the Creator"There is no single detail in the Kabbalah that is not covered by all of these three prohibitions. 1. "There is no necessity" This implies that there is no point to disclosing the secrets. This would only be possible if there was some immediate benefit to be gained by society. Otherwise, it would only be met with a reaction of "so what." This would be the reaction of people who believe that the Kabbalists deal with and make others deal with matters of no importance. This is why the Kabbalists took as students only those who were able to keep a secret and not disclose it unless absolutely necessary..2. "It is impossible" This means a ban on the disclosure of the secrets because of the limitations of the language. This language (ours) is not capable of conveying subtle spiritual concepts. All of our attempts to explain with words are destined to fail and lead the student astray. Thus in order to be able to disclose these secrets, permission from above is necessary.. Permission from above This is mentioned in the works of the famous Kabbalist named AR"I. There it is said; "Know that the souls of the great ones are filled with an outer (surrounding ) or inner (filling) light. And those whose souls are filled with the surrounding light have the gift of telling the secrets. They do it in such a way that an unworthy person will not understand them.". For example, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai had a soul filled with such an outer light. He had such power that even when he appeared in a congregation, he was understood only by those who had received the instruction from above to write in the book of the "Zohar". There were some Kabbalists before him who knew more. However, they did not have his ability to put spiritual concepts into words.So it is clear that the presentation of the Kabbalah does not depend on the level of knowledge of the Kabbalist. Rather it depends on the qualities of his soul. According to them, he receives his instructions from above to disclose a certain part of the knowledge. And so we cannot find any sort of fundamental work on the Kabbalah before the "Zohar". Those works that we do have include only vague and unclear hints. From the time of Rabbi Shimon the only one who was permitted to "open" another part of the Kabbalah was Rabbi Ari. Again it is possible that some Kabbalists before Ari knew much more but they did not get the permission from above. Since the appearance of Ari's books, all of the people dealing with the Kabbalah have left the other books and have studied only the "Zohar" and Ari's books..3. "It is the private secret of the Creator" The essence of this ban is in the fact that the secrets of the Kabbalah can be revealed only to those who are faithful to the Creator and who respect Him. This reason for concealing the Kabbalah's secrets is the most important one. Too many charlatans have used the Kabbalah in their own interests. They have made prophesies, given charms and have thus lured trusting people. The initial concealment of the Kabbalah was done precisely for this reason. True Kabbalists have therefore taken upon themselves to check their students very strictly. The very few people who were allowed to approach the Kabbalah in each generation were under the strictest of oaths. They were prohibited from disclosing even the slightest, most negligible detail which came under the three mentioned bans.We should not think that this division into three bans divides the Kabbalah itself into three. No, every part, every word, every term comes under these criteria for concealment. These three criteria are constantly in action in this science..However a question appears. If indeed this secret wisdom is so deeply hidden, how did all those different writings about it appear. The reason is that there is a difference between the first two conditions of secrecy and the last one. The last condition is the one that carries the greatest importance. The condition of "It is not necessary" too often can change because of external circumstances and become "It is necessary". For instance, this can happen due to the development of mankind as a whole, or because of the permission given from above. This permission was given to Rabbi Shimon and to the Ari and to a lesser extent to others. This is why we receive some authentic books about the Kabbalah from time to time.. This is also the manner in which I received my knowledge from my teacher. I received it under the same strict conditions, to guard and to conceal. However, because of the reasons that were mentioned previously in "The Time to Act " The condition of "It is not necessary became transformed to "It is necessary". And so I am disclosing one part while still concealing and guarding the other two, as I have been sworn to do."

Kabbalah Publications include The Magician, Kabbalistic Stories, The Dining Table, Tree of Life, and Kabbalistic Holidays

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

My tribute to Brian, the bastard boy born from an alligator's bosom

My Epic Poem to Brian
Bequeath me, Muse
and bless me with the emboldening boast
that embodies Brian
the bastard boy born from an alligator's bosom
The boy who became a brassy, sassy bachelor
Beneath the big Montana sky.
From his birthplace in Florida
where the crocodiles smile their crocodile smiles,
Brian, the bastard boy born from an alligator's bosom
(once a bashful mama's-boy),
who was entrapped in an alligator lifestyle
had had enough.
He wanted to learn!
He wanted to read
things like thoughts on Orality and Literacy.
His brother Bob would beat him up
for having this love of lore.
But Bob, the brat,
was really quite a bore
and Brian would listen to him no more.
Mama Gator done told him,
"Baby Brian, college ain't fer yew!" and begged him not to go.
He bellowed and he bleeped
and he bludgeoned those crocs
who made him think he weren't bright,
and he beat it, lickety-split
to a barge that went upstream.
Brian, the bastard boy born from an alligator's bosom,
was determined to go
where no mama's-boy had ever gone before.
Between the bottles of beer he bought
from the bar-room in that barge,
he built a plan
beneath the decks
to blow his past away.
He bit his nails and cursed that croc
as he pounded those beers away.
His scales fell off!
His snout fell off!
Brian was born again.
Now a burley boy
with bright blue eyes
at Montana State-Bozeman.
He bit the bullet
and bore the brunt
and basked beneath the sun.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Presenting.... Salman Rushdie!!!

For those of you who (unfortunately!) didn't have the pleasure of seeing Mr. Rushdie speak on the 7th, or maybe if some of you want to remember some of the things he said.... here are the notes I took. It was, by far, one of the most pleasant (academic ;) evenings I've spent in a long time.


  • You're doing a very strange thing: you've come to listen to a writer SPEAK!
  • There are some writers who are good at this (giving lectures); but it kills you! (like Dickens)
  • People don't believe in the fictionality of fiction anymore
  • Journallists always ask, "is your book autobiographical?" The right answer is to say that everything is completely autobiographical. Allll the things in every single one of my books happened to me, close friends or family ;)
  • The thing that's fascinating about books is that writers make them up!
  • If it were all autobiographical, wouldn't that be redundant?
  • Midnight's Children started off autobiographically
  • My parent's favorite joke about me is that I was born, and 8 weeks later, the British ran away
  • Are we able to shape our history, or does our history shape us?
  • Colonization doesn't end when the colonists leave: there is a long, deeply-felt residue that lasts a long time
  • The blood-letting all around the world is a testament to what people will do in the name of God
  • Bombay is a culturally impure city because it's a British city in India
  • Cleanliness is not next to godliness, it's next to fascism
  • Cultural purification = death
  • Dialect in Bombay is very unique, which I attempted to capture in my books
  • The world you come from shapes you

  • ORAL TRADITIONS is alive and kicking in India >>> story-tellers draw HUGE audiences. The themes can be anything from contemporary political to ancient tales. Singing, digressing, dancing can all occur in the middle of the story, and that adds to it!
  • The act of story-telling is also an act of juggling: multiple stories can all be up in the air, and if the story-teller is a really good juggler, he won't drop any of the "balls": they'll leave some of them up in the air, but in the end, they have make sure all the loose ends are tied up and accounted for. It's a pyrotechnic juggling act: how do you accomplish that on a page?
  • Oral story-tellers know when they're pleasing their audience: they get instant feed-back in facial expressions, restlessness....
  • Man him/herself is a story-telling animal! we're telling stories every single day of our lives, doing this in order to understand ourselves
  • Initiation in families occurs when the person who's marrying into the family slowly learns all the family stories, and this helps in making them feel like they belong
  • We tell stories to feel like we belong
  • The one real thing I can thank my parents for is that they excused me from religion. I never had it forced on me, because honestly, it didn't matter to them
  • The population of gods vs. humans in India is like, one god per 3.3 people!
  • Religion has become like a monster that is coming after us
  • If we don't fry this fish, it's going to fry US
  • The American idea of the frontier used to be honorable and hopeful: the boundaries used to be something we sought, now it's something we shrink from. That frontier is now a curtain that is permeable, and it's capable of letting in dangerous things
  • Now Americans want to close that frontier and build walls to protect themselves
  • Soviets built walls (i.e. in Berlin) to keep people in, now Americans want to build walls to keep people out.
  • Heraclites said that "character is destiny" but those people who were bombed in Dresden? it didn't matter if they were good or bad people: their destiny was out of their control!
  • It is a tragedy of our lives, no matter if we live well or ethically, that we have no control over it
  • How do you write a novel in that kind of atmosphere?
  • Novelists tell the truth using the agency of untruth
  • The difference between politicians and novelists is that novelists tell you to your face that they're lying!
  • Reality is no longer possible!
  • The fiction that we call our "ordinary lives" is not ordinary in the slightest! the stuff that goes on behind closed doors is fantastically bizaare! We all live grand narratives
  • People in power want to have power over the story of our "ordinary lives"
  • It is a type of freedom to assume that we have the ability to re-tell the stories which we live
  • When we see Religion get in the driver's seat, it's going to be a bloody ride
  • It's no trick to agree with Freedom of Speech when you're agreeing with what's being said
  • It's heartening to see that people, on the whole, have good sense
  • Letting the film that bashes me be released (when it was being refused a certificate) diffused the public's want to see it, which made a louder statement than refusing it's release did
  • "FOR GOD'S SAKE, OPEN THE UNIVERSE A LITTLE MORE!"
  • Don't stay in the safe middle ground: go to the edges and push
  • This role of Art is to open the universe
  • "Blasphemy is a victimless crime," infact, it played a BIG part in shaping the USA
  • Just because I don't belong or subscribe to someone else's belief systems, it makes me an immoral person? no, I don't think so
  • Once you terrify the populus, you can make them do anything
  • Places (like NY, CA, WA D.C.) where people were directly affected by terrorism voted against Bush! the people who weren't affected became terrified and bought his sales pitch: that's a profound statement, right there