Who Is Speaking in Traditional Texts? On the Distributed Author of the Sagas of Icelanders and Serbian Epic Poetry
Abstract

The paper raises the issue of inadequacy of the current narratological vocabulary when it comes to the question of who is speaking in traditional (oral and orally derived) narratives. Drawing on the concepts of "emergence" and "distributed representation" from the sciences of complexity, I attempt to provide an account of traditional narratives as self-organizing adaptive systems, the stories that "tell themselves." Rather than being products of a single mind, traditional narratives evolve over extensive periods of time and arise from networks of interrelated individuals: epic singers, storytellers/writers/scribes, audience members. Each of these individuals (network nodes) makes a local (if creative, or even unique) contribution, but none in particular is responsible for the character/identity of the whole text. This creativity relates irreducibly to the levels of organization beyond the individual, and is to be credited to the evolutionary dynamics of the narrative production itself, here termed the distributed author. The paper focuses on the sagas of Icelanders and Serbian epic poetry as they, due to the strong prevalence of decentralizing social factors in the milieus in which they evolved, represent exemplary products of distributed authorship.


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