Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In Short: Belly Dancing and Oral Narrative

Here are some insanely obvious observations: The above is a video. It is not a short story. But the content of this video is a man telling a story. A short story. Right, then. Moving on to less obvious observations...

While this isn't a short story in the traditional sense (a published piece of writing made available for the independent enjoyment of a reader), I have decided to consider it a short story for several reasons which I will now explain. Ahem. 

The act of reading a text is markedly different from the experience of hearing a story performed aloud: the former is a solitary act that requires the reader to consume and process content separated from external influences, while in the latter, an audience is expected to laugh or cry at the same junctures during a story’s oral performance. So how can I say that this oral narrative (the video above) can be considered the same as a short story if the impact on the audience is so different for textually and orally constructed stories? 

The critic, B.W. Ife, comments on the impacts of a story's medium on its audience in his book Reading and fiction in Golden-Age Spain (1985): 
What an orator is to an assembled audience, an author is to a dispersed one. ... It is likely that a reading public consuming literature in an atmosphere of contemplative solitude will be much more individualistic in its response than a hearing public moved perhaps more readily by mass emotion.

This has all kinds of important implications for critics, readers, writers, storytellers, and audiences everywhere-- especially as a new medium emerges: the Internet offers a hybrid medium that allows for both oral dissemination of a story as well as private consumption of that story. I listen to the storyteller and watch him perform, but I do so alone in my reader's studio. In a way, what we have here is the possibility for both oral and textual markers to coexist, and thus balance the semblance of a living, participatory dialogue (oral narrative) with an official, resolved permanence (texts). Do you see why I want to call Shlomo Bellydancer a short story now?

Socrates gives the stank eye
to the practice of writing.
A debate over the efficacy and reliability of either texts or oration began in antiquity with the advent of systems of writing (alphabets) and a particular philosopher (Socrates) who gave the stank eye to the practice of writing. Walter Ong has summarized Plato’s Socrates’ position on the debate (Socrates favored orality, viewing writing as an intrusive technology that dulled man’s mind) in his book Orality and Literacy (1982), emphasizing one of the main arguments offered in orality’s favor: the unresponsiveness of a text. "…Plato’s Socrates also holds it against writing that the written word cannot defend itself as the natural spoken word can."

But here again, the Internet has resolved the the conflict that Socrates points out-- once the video is posted, the audience consumes it privately and can begin to argue with it or praise it via the comments section... and the storyteller can respond there, too, speaking on behalf of his message or performance

So. We have just placed this short story squarely in the interstices of textuality and orality-- in a place called Internet. No one can stop me from calling it a short story because in many ways this video is like a text. By the same token, its distinctly participatory qualities and, well, oral presentation make it inseparable from its connection to oral narrative.

I've been thinking a lot about this intersection of writing and performing as made possible by modern technology. Expect to see more of it as I develop dissertation ideas!

Oh! And by the way, don't you just absolutely love this guy's story?!?!?!?

Until next time, fair petticoat rustlers-- keep rustling!

1 comment:

  1. Oh I so love this!! great half way through the Walter Ong and digging that too. Remind me to show you a prose/poem your grandfather wrote of an evening at his Tante Renee's house has some of the same sensibilities of Shlomo's terrific piece. Would that it could have been performed/read on the internet too!