Trajectories of treasured texts: laments as narratives

Giaxoglou, Korina (2019). Trajectories of treasured texts: laments as narratives. In: Falconi, Elizabeth and Graber, Kate eds. Storytelling as Narrative Practice: Ethnographic Approaches to the Tales We Tell. Studies in Pragmatics (19). Brill, pp. 136–162.


The present chapter examines lament as a lens on the intersections between narrative, affect, and culture. Laments form an integral part of mourning rituals, and they are also attested in a range of ordinary contexts associated with work and leisure (Seremetakis, 1991) or with the recounting of painful life experiences, more broadly (de la Bretèque, 2013). So far, however, little attention has been paid to the discursive forms and norms that make laments amenable to new contexts beyond rituals of mourning. This study seeks to fill this gap by proposing an approach to laments as narrative practices embedded in other social and cultural practices (De Fina and Georgakopoulou, 2012; 2015). This approach is illustrated in the case of a lament performance in the context of ethnographic fieldwork in Inner Mani (South Peloponnese, Greece) and supplemented by relevant findings from the analysis of a corpus of ‘treasured’ lament fragments, included in an unpublished, manuscript collection of laments from the 1930s. The analysis reveals regularized patterning in the lament performance at different levels – the acoustic, ethnopoetic, and narrative - and points to the conventionalized use of discourse devices for creating intertextual chains of stances, performances, and texts. Importantly, this multi-level patterning is revealing of different social practices in which lament performances are embedded, indexing contexts of telling as well as cueing the degree of affective and temporal distance from the recounted events. Regularized patterning and its associated discourse devices are described, here, as markers of entextualization, i.e. as traces of trajectories of lament, revealing of their differential telling and affective positions they make available to (co)tellers and audiences. The proposed approach to laments invites a cross-context and multi-level analysis of verbal art performances and texts as narrative practices connecting past, present, and future affectively. It contributes to the understanding of discourse processes of sharing affect and culture through narrative practices.

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