"The Proof of the Proverb Is in the Probing": Alan Dundes as Pioneering Paremiologist

By Mieder, Wolfgang | Western Folklore, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

"The Proof of the Proverb Is in the Probing": Alan Dundes as Pioneering Paremiologist


Mieder, Wolfgang, Western Folklore


A tribute to my hero and friend.

There is no doubt that Alan Dundes (1934-2005) was one of the giants of international folkloristics whose voluminous publications and lectures delivered around the world touched thousands of scholars and students of folklore. In addition, he introduced over twenty thousand eager students to folklore studies in his more than four decades of teaching at the University of California at Berkeley. Many of them were so intrigued by this popular "Pied Piper of Folklore" that they earned their M.A. or Ph.D. degrees in folklore either at Berkeley or other universities, the result being that there are "Dundes students" practicing the art of folklore studies at universities or in the public sector throughout the United States and the rest of the world. Under his directorship the Folklore Program at Berkeley became internationally known as the ideal place to pursue serious folklore studies, with the Berkeley Folklore Archives serving as a model for gathering various folklore materials from modern oral and written sources. Little wonder that many folklorists traveled to Berkeley to spend time with the master teacher and scholar, who always gave freely of his time and expertise to help others with their important work. While Alan Dundes was obviously busy with his own projects, he always had the time to welcome visitors from near and far, thereby practicing what he preached throughout his productive and fruitful life, namely that folkloristics is the key to a better understanding of the human condition and that its practitioners should conduct their work on a comparative and international basis.

The following paremiological tribute to Alan Dundes has been divided into eight sections, a conclusion, and a list of references cited, i.e., 1. Honoring Alan Dundes with Three Festschriften; 2. Proverbs as Exemplifications of Folklore Theory; 3. Major Paremiological Contributions; 4. Proverbs as Expressions of Worldview; 5. The Darker Side of Proverbs: Ethnic Slurs and National Character; 6. Proverbs as Collateral Folklore References; 7. Major Monographs Based in Part on Proverbial Matters; and 8. The Interplay of Paremiology and Paremiography.

1. HONORING ALAN DUNDES WITH THREE FESTSCHRIFTEN

When Alan Dundes celebrated his sixtieth birthday on September 8, 1994, he was honored with three Festschrifien, a perfect number of honorific publications for the scholar who early in his illustrious career had published an intriguing paper on "The Number Three in American Culture" (1968). Naturally he was particularly touched by the volume Folklore Interpreted: Essays in Honor of Alan Dundes (1995) edited by Regina Bendix and Rosemary Levy Zumwalt and comprised of celebratory essays by numerous former students who by now for the most part are major players on the folkloristic stage in many corners of the world. These scholars knew Alan Dundes the best, with Rosemary Lévy Zumwalt speaking for all of them by characterizing Dundes' research approach as follows: "No matter the paths that Dundes was to explore, his work was always grounded in the search for meaning" (ibid.:6), "For Dundes, the comparative approach for the study of folklore is crucial" (13), "To Dundes the psychoanalytical theory is necessary for the analysis of folklore" (ibid.:18), and, quoting the master himself, "The study of folklore is nothing if it is not an international discipline" (ibid.:26). The love and appreciation that these former students have for their "hero" is summed up in Regina Bendix's collectanea of "Dundesiana" that contains heartwarming campus lore, anecdotes, and memorates of Dundes as teacher and mentor, whom they affectionately called "The big D," "Uncle Alan" or even "Papa Dundes" (ibid.:51) among themselves.

Obviously Alan Dundes was also very pleased with the volume The Psychoanalytic Study of Society: Essays in Honor of Alan Dundes (1993) that L. Bryce Boyer, Ruth M. Boyer, and Stephen M. Sonnenberg edited in recognition of his Freudian approach to folklore interpretation. …

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