Wept Thoughts: The Voicing of Kaluli Memories
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The study of lament forms, including ritual wailing, sung-texted weeping, keen, mourning songs, dirge, and elegy, is complexly located in discourses of the humanities and social sciences. Because lament varieties are reported throughout the world, questions as to the universality or cultural specifi city of their structures and meanings are important and implicitly comparative. Folklorists, philologists, ethnomusicologists, literary scholars, and anthropologists have drawn our attention to a great variety of lament forms. Some researchers have taken a more microanalytic view of the poetics of lament texts, others a more macro-analytic view of the role that laments play in mourning customs (see Ajuwon l981 and Honko l980 for an overview). Some have concentrated on the differences between laments and other verbal and musical genres. But the key factor that situates all of these studies of laments fi rmly in the area of research on oral traditions is the dynamic interplay of individual expression and collective forms and sentiments. Vladimir Propp put this quite forcefully in his essay on "Folklore and Reality" (l984:16-38). There he draws attention to the fact that while formulae and motifs (like the poetic rhetorical question to the deceased) are common in laments, the genre is more clearly defi ned by improvisation, by lack of close variants, and by a certain lack of close similarity despite common motifs. "Each lament contains unique motifs," Propp writes, "for example a kind of biography" (32). This biographical dimension, and its linkages to what Propp termed a "subjective evaluation of reality" (33), speaks to the complex interplay of generic norms and individual creativity in lament, and additionally emphasizes how the analysis of lament texts must necessarily be situated in their socio-historical contexts.
Oral Tradition, 5/2-3 (1990): 241-266.
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