- Apr 2022
Ann Bergin writes (in her diary with respect to [[Zoom Session 1 for The Extended Mind]]):
She [Mary Douglas] argues that ring composition is an enabling constraint, both for storytelling and interpretation. Douglas mentions a form of parallelism in divination in ancient China based upon the symmetrical markings on either side of a turtle shell.
This sounds quite similar to me to the work in Bascom's Sixteen Cowries which Lynne Kelly summarizes in The Memory Code when talking about West African divination systems (particularly the Yoruba) using seeds, nuts, and cowrie shells and songs which memorized songs are sung based on the outcomes of tossing these objects.
Is there in fact a link between these storytelling/song systems? Are they functioning roughly the same way? Is there a level of recombination or statistical chance in the ring composition systems Douglas is describing? Are they similar without the combinatorial portions?
W.R. Bascom, Sixteen Cowries: Yoruba divination from Africa to the New World, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1980.
Many famous antique texts are misunderstood and many others have been completely dismissed, all because the literary style in which they were written is unfamiliar today. So argues Mary Douglas in this controversial study of ring composition, a technique which places the meaning of a text in the middle, framed by a beginning and ending in parallel. To read a ring composition in the modern linear fashion is to misinterpret it, Douglas contends, and today’s scholars must reevaluate important antique texts from around the world.Found in the Bible and in writings from as far afield as Egypt, China, Indonesia, Greece, and Russia, ring composition is too widespread to have come from a single source. Does it perhaps derive from the way the brain works? What is its function in social contexts? The author examines ring composition, its principles and functions, in a cross-cultural way. She focuses on ring composition in Homer’s Iliad, the Bible’s book of Numbers, and, for a challenging modern example, Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, developing a persuasive argument for reconstruing famous books and rereading neglected ones.
Mary Douglas has a fascinating looking text on ring composition, a literary style which puts the meaning of the text in the middle and frames it with the beginning and end which are in parallel.
Texts like the Bible, Homer, and even Tristram Shandy might be looked at from a different perspective with this lens.
Suggested to me by Ann Bergin within the context of The Extended Mind
- want to read
- symmetrical markings
- ring composition
- experimental fiction
- Yoruba diviners
- Ifá divination
- tools for thought
- Mary Douglas
- Tristram Shandy
- William R. Bascom