One vivid description of folktale research, still applicable although more than a half century old, reads, “Folktale study is like a desert journey, where the only landmarks are the bleached bones of earlier theories.” Because theories have proven to be so ephemeral in comparison with the tales themselves , it might seem prudent to place more stock in the tales and less in the theories or at least to take an eclectic approach toward theorizing so as to hedge bets; but (...) not all scholars of folktales exercise more circumspection now than their predecessors did fifty years ago. For example, in Little Red Riding Hood: A Casebook Alan Dundes — one of the most prominent American folklorists of our day — adduces no material dated from before 1697 that is related to the tale “Little Red Riding Hood” but manages nonetheless to question sharply the very notion of valuing early written evidence. By scrutinizing a short Latin poem written in the first quarter of the eleventh century, I hope to refute Dundes's dismissal of literary evidence and to underscore the pertinence of studying medieval literature in coming to grips with that beautiful and elusive phenomenon to which English-speakers give the name “fairy tale.”. (shrink)
Since its founding in 1943, Medievalia et Humanistica has won worldwide recognition as the first scholarly publication in America to devote itself entirely to medieval and Renaissance studies. Since 1970, a new series, sponsored by the Modern Language Association of America and edited by an international board of distinguished scholars and critics, has published interdisciplinary articles. In yearly hardbound volumes, the new series publishes significant scholarship, criticism, and reviews treating all facets of medieval and Renaissance culture: history, art, literature, music, (...) science, law, economics, and philosophy. (shrink)
As the Byzantinist Ihor Ševčenko once observed, "Philology is constituting and interpreting the texts that have come down to us. It is a narrow thing, but without it nothing else is possible." This definition accords with Saussure's succinct description of the mission of philology: "especially to correct, interpret, and comment upon the texts." Philology is not just a grand etymological or lexicographical enterprise. It also involves restoring to works as much of their original life and nuances as we can manage. (...) To read the written records of bygone civilizations correctly requires knowledge of cultural history in a broad sense: of folklore, legends, laws, and customs. Philology also encompasses the forms in which texts express their messages, and thus it includes stylistics, metrics, and similar studies. _On Philology _brings together the papers delivered at a 1988 conference at Harvard University's Center for Literary and Cultural Studies. The topic "What is Philology?" drew an interdisciplinary audience whose main fields of research ran the gamut from ancient Indo-European languages to African-American literature, signaling a certain sense of urgency about a seemingly narrow subject. These papers reveal that the role of philology is more important than ever. At a time when literature in printed form has taken a back seat to television, film, and music, it is crucial that scholars be able to articulate why students and colleagues should care about the books with which they work. Just as knowledge will be lost if philological standards decline, so too will fields of study die if their representatives cannot find meaning for today's readers. _On Philology _will be of interest not only to students of philology but also to anyone working in the fields of hermeneutics, literature, and communication. (shrink)
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