Academic journal article Narrative Culture

Discursive Shifts in Legends from Demonization to Fictionalization

Academic journal article Narrative Culture

Discursive Shifts in Legends from Demonization to Fictionalization

Article excerpt

Introduction: Legends in Context

The relationship between vernacular genres and their discursive, social, and historical context is one of the major problems of folkloristic scholarship. In order to understand generic expressivity we need to look into its communicative uses and surroundings, whereas it is often diffficult to identify genres, diffferentiate between them, and delineate the boundaries that would set them apart from the rest of discourse. Some verbal genres can easily be distinguished from the flow of communication, as stylistic or performative features mark them offf, but there is also a range of verbal genres that are "not rendered as performances" (Bauman 26). Legend as a distinct communicative genre often remains indiscernible, because it is "not set apart from the flow of conversation through the use of distancing formulas" (Tangherlini 8). With its long history of research several definitions of legend exist, starting from the Grimm brothers who drew attention to their historicity, that is, their connection with their temporal and geographical environment (Gunnell 13).1 Leander Petzoldt in his comprehensive monograph about legend research fused the results of earlier scholarship when he summarized the essential features of the genre, describing it as a mimetic narrative form that generates an impression that the narrated event has really taken place and tries to verify this event by providing temporal, spatial, and personal data (Petzoldt 58). Remarkably, most of the existing characterizations of legend point out that claims about the veracity of the reported extraordinary event are the distinctive feature of the genre. Secondly, some definitions note that the rhetoric devices employed in these narratives are there to ensure believability and draw attention to the peculiar embedding of the genre in sociohistorical, natural, and psychological contexts. Definitions indicate that credibility as a potential quality of all legends is achieved through the blending of the narrative plot with a surrounding reality that is familiar to the storyteller and the audience.

The goal of this article is neither to contest nor to elaborate on the existing definitions. My intention is to discuss what happens to legends when they are shifted to new discursive contexts and media, such as books in print. These shifts can enhance or undermine their credibility and afffect their rhetorical power and status among other forms of expression. As noted, legends can hardly be isolated from their context; moreover, as they circulate in communication, they are surrounded and permeated by large-scale discursive currents-ideologies and doctrines that often originate among the intellectual and social elite, spread gradually, become dominant, and folklorize. Legends are not satiated by their narrative contents but express views and ideas that proceed from these powerful discourses that encompass and afffect the whole society.2

In order to distinguish legends from their concomitant context, I talk about genres and discourses in this article. According to Bakhtinian thought, genre is an artistic totality with its own methods and means of seeing and conceptualizing reality (Bakhtin and Medvedev 129-35). Genres cannot be considered as sealed containers, as the very thought of a genre implies comparison of a text or performance with some antecedent cases of textual production, thus causing the need for intertextual approaches (which also proceed from the works of Bakhtin). The article discusses interrelationships between legends and other genres, and the connections between oral traditions and other media that shape the very character of folklore (see Shuman and Hasan-Rokem 56). This broader discursive context of folklore genres can be of a diffferent kind, but here I focus on mainstream verbal currents-discourses that manifest anonymous, collective, and authoritarian views supported by powerful institutions, such as those of religion, education, science, politics, and public media channels. …

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