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Editor's Column

From: Oral Tradition
Volume 27, Number 1, March 2012
10.1353/ort.2012.0001

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This column marks an unwelcome first for Oral Tradition, unwelcome though inevitable. John Miles Foley founded the journal in 1986 and edited it for 26 years. The last two of these John mounted a heroic resistance keeping disease at bay long beyond the initial prognosis; that struggle ended May 3, 2012. His absence has left those who knew John or engaged him through his writing deeply saddened. Though death has taken a reliable guide whose vision swept far along the horizon, solace may yet be taken in the example John set and the certain knowledge that his life's work has bequeathed an enduring legacy and a compelling incentive for future advances. John's soft-spoken manner, unfailing kindness, and genuine collegiality—my own debt to him remains outstanding—cloaked an indomitable spirit unvanquished by adversity, no matter its form. Homeric tradition epitomizes this aspect of John's courage with Hector's vow to confront Achilles, ἀλλὰ μάλ' ἄντην στήσομαι ("but face to face will I stand against him;" Iliad XVIII.306-07), while the diction of South-Slavic tradition confirms the ironic truth, Ni od puške, ni od noža, no od Boga, staroga krvnika ("Not by rifle, nor by knife, but by God, the old executioner;") (Ranković, infra, p. 50).

For more than a quarter of a century, Oral Tradition has hosted an ongoing conversation sustained by you, its authors and readers. This journal draws its strength from the collective effort of your participation in that discussion. Let me therefore extend an invitation to continue this time-honored collaboration. As always, the journal seeks articles that challenge conventional thinking and received wisdom, provoke new questions or essay novel responses to old questions, and offer insights into the multifaceted forms, operations, and meanings conveyed by traditional verbal arts in human societies. Entrusting your work to this journal ensures that it enjoys a full hearing from specialist and generalist readers, receives meticulous attention from the editorial staff, and is distributed internationally in electronic form without cost.

The present issue begins with Slavica Ranković's stimulating exploration of the performative aspect of twelve days of recorded conversations between Milman Parry, Nikola Vujnović, and Salih Uglajanin (and to a far lesser extent Albert Lord). This fine work of discourse analysis details a clash of cognitive systems while underlining how the unstable balance of discursive power shifted repeatedly between the interlocutors along and against linguistic, cultural, and economic fault lines.

The next five articles form a cluster, representative of work presented at the November 5-7, 2010, Colloquium "Oral Culture—The Difference it Makes," which was organized by Katherine Campbell and Emily Lyle of the Department of Celtic and Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh. John Foley gave the Sir Everard im Thurn lecture, the colloquium's opening address.

In the first essay of the cluster, Ingrid Åkesson casts an ethnomusicologist's eye on the transformation of traditional Swedish singing. She looks at how the revival and institutionalization of a diminished living tradition effect changes in vectors of transmission, singing techniques, aesthetic ideals, performance locales, and singing itself as an identity marker.

Katherine Campbell considers the historical role of Masonic songs in Scotland, the communal and ritual context of song circles, and the songs' cohesive capacity to imprint shared identity on the singers, or in Campbell's phrase "to pledge allegiance to the group." An account of songs' ritual significance for Masonic processions and concomitant appeal to the wider community closes this study.

William Lamb addresses the curious case of Duncan MacDonald and his brother Neil McDonald, Scots tradition bearers, as well as Donald John MacDonald, Duncan's son. The curiosity resides in the nearly identical wording of tales told first by Duncan then ostensibly told twenty years later by Neil, with versions taken from the latter being nearly identical to those taken from the former twenty years earlier! The near identical wording was long considered the hallmark of a highly conservative tradition, but Lamb's analyses uncover seemingly irrefutable statistical evidence of plagiarism as well as of visual copying on the part of Donald John MacDonald, one of twentieth-century Scotland's finest poets.

Emily Lyle delivers a new perspective on the hybrid nature...


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