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Apr. 1st, 2007 | 11:01 pm

Enough about Ron's post as such. My point about stories, though...

Start here with this link and read several pages of this stuff. This is quite raw data, direct from the Kwakiutl when they still existed in a fairly solid way. A word of advice: don't allegorize -- this material is a great deal more difficult to interpret than it looks, and as you'll see, that's saying something.

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Comments {12}

Raven Daegmorgan

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from: greyorm
date: Apr. 22nd, 2007 06:50 am (UTC)
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I believe we are miscommunicating, Chris.

First, I think you are confusing my description of the linguistic traits of a language and the cultural knowledge necessary to interpret meaning with something else entirely.

My only point regarding the cultural knowledge issue was that approaching the idea of communication was that it is certainly possible for the myths and cultures I have studied to be made clearer or more understandable by including the pertinent cultural subtext in a story (either directly, or as footnotes).

For example, take idioms in our own language, such as "Time Flies" or references to "The Old Ball and Chain". Non-native speakers coming across these phrases (particularly if interpreted straight into their own languages) will usually not be able to comprehend the actual meanings of these phrases, even though they are entirely clear to the native speaker (even to 50 different native speakers). Including appropriate translations and cultural notes in the text itself can make such sub-textual ideas clear to non-native speakers.

There are a number of places I can point to in the Eddas where just such happens, and cloudy meaning becomes very clear when you understand the cultural significance or meaning of the word/phrase/idea to the native speaker.

As a specific example, if in one culture the idea of two people paddling up a river together is a sign of friendship or familial bonding, and the non-native reader does not know that, the story's purpose/meaning/form becomes clouded and unreadable and the story seems strange and foreign.

I had exactly this problem with the Norse myths when I started reading them seriously ten or more years ago: I lacked a cultural basis on which to approach what the words and stories meant (or even could mean, in cases where it is more interpretive than exact).

This was my point about the snake-belt (et al.), and why your response doesn't win me over completely: given the vast amount of data argued necessary to understand one myth/story, we wouldn't even be able to understand the stories of our own culture. They would be a ridiculous mess of meaninglessly juxtaposed words.

But as I can grasp the meanings and purpose of my culture's own stories, and more significantly, the meanings and purpose of the ancient Norse myth-stories, once I have a little knowledge of the culture and the way it used its language (or the same for the Ojibwe), and given I can read Buddhist doctrine and Zen stories, and grasp their meanings and purpose, and so on and so forth with cultures similarly nowhere near related to my own (either with more or less difficulty depending), even when it takes a bit of specialized cultural knowledge normally outside my experience -- it tells me your statement, as it applies to what I was commenting on, is an incomplete assessment, or discussing a facet of the subject I wasn't.

I do agree in general that there are some ideas or certain meanings lost or obfuscated through time (there are a number of statements in the Norse myths we are not certain of the precise meaning or purpose of, as well, and some which may not have been clear even when the oral tradition was finally written down for preservation), and of the mutability of the overall interpretation of a story by numerous individuals in a culture.

Obviously interpretations of a story's larger context, or the meaning of the behavior, may differ from one person to the next, even within a tribe, and I have experienced that (tangent: in one specific instance, though, I sadly doubt I could even find 50 medicine men of the Ojibwe to have posed my questions to), and sometimes now-meaningless cultural artifacts remain in myths and oral traditions by habit (the Bible is an excellent example of this at work), but those are the behaviors of story given human nature even in stories we tell one another as a culture.

But I'm not talking about that sort of thing when I state I wonder how much of the stories I am missing by lacking the cultural knowledge necessary to read them as they were told.

All that is really besides the point, and I think, getting in the way of the main question I've been trying to ask. Or perhaps I simply have not phrased the question clearly enough.

(...more...)

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