Vol 2 No 1 Fall/Winter 2004
Kuri Journal Helps for Readers
Readers who are new to Dom studies will find here a brief guide to some of the English
language literature that has been published. Material is drawn from scholarly journals,
popular magazines, and newspapers. The descriptions are content oriented as opposed to
Reynolds, Dwight Fletcher. Heroic Poets, Poetic Heroes: The Ethnography of Performance in
an Arabic Oral Epic Tradition, New York: Cornell University Press, 1995
Although the purpose of this book was not an ethnographic study of the performers, the
second chapter does delve into the origins and customs of these Gypsy poets. The author’s
study of the mysterious relationship that develops between the poet and his audience with
the characters of the epic poem becomes even more fascinating when the exalted status of
the poetic hero and the marginalized status of the Gypsy poet are fully realized.
This work introduces an important new perspective into the Myth and Poetics series. An
intensive study of heroic poetry (the Sirat Bani Hilal epic) in al-Bakatush, the Nile Delta
“village of the poets,” this book concretely illustrates the centrality of performance in
the very process of composition or recomposition in oral traditions. Or, to put it in
Saussure’s terms, we see how the element of parole is key to understanding the langue of
the poetic process. Reynolds’s emphasis on the performative dimension of oral poetics
gives the reader a chance to observe how an oral tradition works in its own social
framework. The author explains the tradition itself, not just a given text sample of
Another highlight of the book is its emphasis on a poetic mentality that assumes a
dialogue linking poet and audience with the characters in the story being told. Such
a mentality has been investigated in the case of Homeric poetry by classicists such as
Joseph Russo and Bennett Simon, but here we see, for the very first time, a detailed
demonstration on the basis of a living tradition, and the result is a quantum leap in
our understanding of oral epic. Reynolds isolates those tenuous moments of performance
when poets and audience members alike expect to find reflections, or interactions,
between their reality and the reality of the epic heroes. The poetic tradition of Sirat
Bani Hilal struggles to reconcile and even unite the worlds of poets and heroes, men of
words and men of deeds. The heroes may be long dead, but they become ever-present each
time the epic performance gets under way.
This book brings another new perspective to the Myth and Poetics series. Unlike most
ethnographers of today, Reynolds has taken with him into his fieldwork the questions
classicists and other literary critics ask about the very nature of epic as genre.
His research in a living oral epic tradition corroborates, and has in fact been strongly
influenced by, Richard Martin’s work on speech acts in Homer, The language of Heroes
(1989), the very first book in this series.
Heroic Poets, Poetic Heroes addresses the performative realities of a living epic
tradition. It accounts for the economic forces that shape the dynamics of performance,
the individual poet’s personal ambition to be popular, and the artistic choices
necessitated by the immediacy of interaction with the audience. It demonstrates that
epic can represent very different things to audiences of different social and educational
backgrounds. Refuting the stereotypical image of a static “folk” poem, supposedly
immutable from time immemorial, Reynolds’s book reveals an epic tradition open to constant
reshaping and reinterpretation, even within its conservative rural setting. In its
performative context, epic is revealed as an ongoing interaction of poet, audience,
and the heroes that it glorifies.
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