Before Literature: The Nature of Narrative Without the Written Word

1st Edition

Sheila J. Nayar

October 28, 2019 Forthcoming
Reference - 224 Pages - 11 B/W Illustrations
ISBN 9780367242800 - CAT# 300631

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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.


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