Chapter 7: Tradition and innovation in writing cultures
Before the introduction of writing for purposes of communication and social interaction, common knowledge is generated in local relationship and communication networks with the aid of spoken language, mimicry, and gesture, and passed on via “chains of witness.”1 Every communication of valuable information is embedded in the flow of spoken language and is therefore subject to a logic of disappearance, whereby words and phrases vanish into thin air before they have even been fully articulated.2 This compels oral cultures on the one hand to concentrate common (shared) knowledge in highly standardized language – formulas, proverbs, stories, poetry, songs, etc. – what scholars of orality call a formulaic style. In ancient Egypt, for example, advice for protecting oneself against dangerous animals was passed on via incantations and spells, a form of magic closely linked with Egyptian religion and other cult practices.3 At the same time, oral cultures must also be committed to regular memory exercises, i.e. they must submit themselves to a form of strict discipline, a kind of “observance,”4 securing the procedures for preserving common knowledge via the widest possible range of interconnected institutions. These goals are served by practices that ensure the use of repetition as such (rites, festivals, ceremonies) or that frame coincidences as not merely coincidental (black magic, sorcery), as well as by institutions that seek to alleviate uncertainty about the basis of tradition through origin stories (myths, patriarchal histories).
Already in the medium of spoken language, the continuity of tradition...
You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.
Elgaronline requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals. Please login through your library system or with your personal username and password on the homepage.
Non-subscribers can freely search the site, view abstracts/ extracts and download selected front matter and introductory chapters for personal use.
Your library may not have purchased all subject areas. If you are authenticated and think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.