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TSE  August 2001

TSE August 2001

Subject:

Re: Essays In Criticism

From:

"Nancy Gish" <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 28 Aug 2001 21:09:58 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

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Phyllis Wheatley was a woman.  She was fortunate to have been taught to 
read and write:  most slaves were not, and indeed it became illegal to teach 
them to read.  It's hard to write poems when you can't read or write and it is 
illegal to teach you.  Wheatley did have those advantages.  But she wrote 
the poetry of her time as educated poets wrote it--heroic couplets with 
somewhat conventional views (not surprising given what she had available); 
she was, however, the first Black poet whose work was preserved in 
Americ.  Her poetry is very much part of a written, literary tradition, not an 
oral one.
Nancy

Date sent:      	Tue, 28 Aug 2001 20:24:59 EDT
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To:             	<[log in to unmask]>
Subject:        	Re: Essays In Criticism

In a message dated Tue, 28 Aug 2001  6:26:45 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
"Richard Seddon" <[log in to unmask]> writes:

> Tom
> 
<<What do you mean by "rich oral tradition"?>>

I was unclear.  In speaking of "communities with a rich oral tradition", I
meant societies where the dominant culture relies upon an such a
tradition, either entirely  or as an important supplement to its
literature.  By "rich", I mean Homer rather than "Friends."  (Granted,
there's a lot in between, but y'all get to sort that out on your own
terms.)

<<Is the modern urban myth part of this rich oral tradition?  When does
common gossip become "rich oral tradition",  when the common gossipers 
are
illiterate and members of a government defined minority?  Can a visually
identifiable but illiterate member of the majority have a "rich oral
tradition"   i.e..,  are Red Necks as good a place to find "rich oral
tradition" as Hispanics in a barrio?>>

As I say, I'm not undertaking to answer all the particulars.  Just trying
to get a little conversation going.  If you want my opinion, Southern
culture would have been a better place for a "rich oral tradition" in the
days when oral storytelling was relatively more important than the press
and television.  But, I suppose, if conducted at a sufficiently high
level, television (or radio) could qualify.  

As to the "redneck"/barrio" leg of your question, it seems likely to me
that both of those subcultures today are too modernized to qualify for a
"rich oral tradition" in the sense I used the term.  Again, I agree with
your point (as I construed it) that this is a loose term.  My limited
usage of it was not intended to disparage communities that might fall
outside that usage, but only to distinguish societies dependent primarily
on oral communication for communication beyond daily conversation from
those dependent primarily on other means. > > I think most illiterates
have no more a "rich oral tradition" than most literates regularly read
well crafted mind expanding literature.  Because of this I think that it
would be difficult to find a"rich oral tradition" as a niche within a
larger literate one.  The minds that would be drawn into intimate
interrelationship with a "rich oral tradition" would be attracted to the
greater universe of literacy.  Literacy is not that difficult.  As Phillis
Wheatley, illiterate slave turned poet, showed,  the attraction of
literacy to capable minds is irresistible.>>


You make a good point.  However, the slave example is particulary apt in
cutting against it as well: Mr. Wheatley (I confess I'm not familiar with
him) was no doubt exceptional, and I would propose the ante-bellum slave
community as precisely one based upon oral tradition, existing within a
largely (for the day at least) literate society.

<<I think well crafted and mind expanding literature acts directly in the
lives of a literate and thoughtful minority.  It acts less directly and
more indirectly in the greater portion of a literate society and
indirectly in the lives of every illiterate.  Literature is bound to
affect all who directly or indirectly contact it.  An example would be the
number of Americans who know of the Constitution, are capable of reading
it and have, that literate majority who have not and those Americans who
know of the constitution and could not read it.  All have been affected by
it.>>

Yes, but the impact of the Constitution is inherent in its operation upon
the citizens' lives through its role in defining our government. 
"Literature" as I intend it must find other ways to influence the
illiterate.

<<Another example would be the elite position of the professional scribe
in highly illiterate countries.  Literature and especially good literature
seems irresistable to humans.>>

Hmmm.  Sometimes it seems that bad literature is even more irresistable. 
But then, that requires one to define the good and the bad, which each
must do by differing standards.  I certainly agree that literature I would
consider "good" comes down from many socities, and probably (no,
certainly) exists in those that I am not familiar with.


> Rick Seddon
> McIntosh, NM, USA

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