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18 Translating Stories Across Cultures Carol Korn-Bursztyn Introduction: Stories and Storytellers Stories, and especially their resolutions are sedimented within a web of belief and value specific to a particular culture. The traditions or shared understandings of a culture are communicated intergenerationally through shared social practice, and especially through language. They suggest paradigmatic dilemmas, and offer solutions drawing upon the prevailing cultural beliefs and meanings. One is reminded here of the anthropologist Clifford Geertz's (1973) observation that the stories a society tells are an important means in which the culture's frame of reference and traditional folk wisdom are applied to everyday problems. Bruner (1990) adds that a culture's beliefs enter into the narratives that it tells about human plights. He further notes that these narratives tell not about the way things are, but about the way they should be. Stories bear also the imprimatur of the storyteller's voice; her understanding lends shape and form to the story. Like the story she tells, the storyteller too is situated within a particular cultural and historical frame bound to the culture and to the time in which the story is told. The Luba of East Africa preserve, for example, their history in the form of "memory boards," sacred objects which iconographically represent the culture's history ("Memory: Luba and the making of History, Museum for African Art, March-September, 1996). In Luba culture, history is preserved through the oral tradition , only specially designated court trained storytellers are able to "read" the history told by these memory boards. The narrator's power lies in his ability to tell the story of his people. The story inevitably changes in the telling, different interpreters in different times attribute different meanings to the symbols represented on the "memory board." For the Luba historical events are constructed and reconstructed over time; this is accepted and undisputed practice with the story's meanings shared by storyteller and public alike. The storyteller can assume that the story's meanings are shared and that the audience supports and participates in the authority of the storyteller. The power of story within the Luba culture is such that their influence within the geographic area is predicated not on war, but on the authority of the storyteller. In the Brooklyn College oral history/storytelling project, the teacher education students are close to the stories they record and work with. Many are themselves immigrants or the children of immigrants, and turn to their own families to gather stories. For most these are familiar tales, heard time and again while growing up. They encode particular ways of being in the world, capture dim memories for historic events or present typical dilemmas together with culturally sanctioned solutions. The students, though, can neither assume the authority that comes naturally to the Luba storyteller , nor do these stories always hold the same resonance today as they once did when heard at the family hearth. The stories that a culture tells are intimately connected to what Dewey referred to as "life as it is ordinarily lived" (1934), or as it once was. Works of art, Dewey noted, lost their connection to ordinary life and became, instead, specimens of fine art rather than artifacts connected to the daily lives of people. Art and artistic activity have consequently grown increasingly split off from communal life, rather than anchored within the culture. Folktales, steeped as they are within a particular culture, are repositories of cultural beliefs and traditions, and may be psychologically distant for the culturally different audience. In the absence of shared meaning , the story may be experienced as an interesting anthropological artifact, rather than as part of the lived experience of the storyteller and audience within the native culture. The meanings that folktales hold for the culturally diverse audience are likely to be very different from the ways in which these tales are understood when the gap between story and lived experience is far narrower. Yet it is only when the stories are re-examined, held up to the light of the "new culture" that differences in understanding and meaning emerge. The middle ground, the disputed space between the story's meaning in the culture of origin...


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pp. 18-23
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