Before Literature examines storytelling that, whether due to historical, technological, or socio-economic circumstance, is neither shaped nor influenced by alphabetic literacy.
How does a story unfold when carried solely in memory, when it cannot be written down or externally stored? What structural and stylistic pressures are imposed when it must travel through space and time exclusively by word of mouth? In Before Literature, Sheila J. Nayar addresses these very questions, guiding the reader in a lively and accessible manner through the key features of storytelling that's been unaffected by writing. Even more, Nayar shows how the very norms that drove oral epics such as the Mahabharata and Homer’s Odyssey can continue to shape contemporary forms like Bollywood masala films, Hollywood spectaculars, and comic books.
This clear and accessible guide is an ideal starting point for undergraduates approaching the study of orality. It offers a fundamentally different way of thinking about oral narrative, while also disclosing some of the "hows" and "whys" of written literature, leading to a much broader understanding and appreciation of our storytelling tradition.
Table of Contents
- Denaturalizing Literacy 2. The Story Behind Before Literature 3. Existence Without Inscription 4. Myth and the Mythical, Epic and the Epical 5. Why Pre-Lit Matters 6. But There Is Always a But… 7. A Beginning with No Definitive Beginning 8. A Digression on the "Once Upon a Time…" of Star Wars 9. Beginning In Medias Res 10. Ending Anti-In Medias Res—and Pro-Status Quo 11. "And This Happened… And Then This… And Then…" 12. Epic Examples of Episodic Epics 13. [[Boxes] within Boxes] within Boxes 14. Flashbacks, Masala Style 15. Lists, Lists, and More Lists 16. In Defense of Clichés and the Formulaic (Yes, Really!) 17. Repeat, Recycle—and Repeat (and Recycle) 18. Whence the "Traditional"? 19. The Acoustic Landscape 20. Ancestors and Alienation 21. Alienation and Participation 22. The Agon of Audiences—But, Even More, of Actors 23. Blood and Guts 24. Violence + Veneration = A Polarized World 25. When Exteriority Is Not a Bad Thing 26. But, What of Art? What of Aesthetics? 27. Oral Embodiment 28. Superhuman Vessels 29. Is Anti-Psychological Necessarily Unreal? 30. Animating Abstract Knowledge 31. The Absence of Irony, the Pleasure of Parody 32. Is There an Oral Chronosense? 33. Do Intellectuals Suffer from Alphabetically Literate Elitism? 34. Why the Humanities Matter—to All of Us
Sheila J. Nayar is Professor of English, Communication and Media Studies at Greensboro College, North Carolina, USA.