Reading and Writing the Primitive: Written Oralities and Fairy-Tale Studies
by Dr Yuko Ashitagawa
After her graduation in 2005, Yuko set up a branch of CIRCL in Japan. If you are interested in joining CIRCL-Japan’s meetings, do e-mail Yuko at: firstname.lastname@example.org or see the CIRCL-Japan web-page on this site for further information.
Abstract PhD Thesis Dr Yuko Ashitagawa
Congratulations to CIRCL PhD student Yuko Ashitagawa for completing her PhD and viva on 23-09-2005 with her thesis on ‘Reading and Writing the Primitive: Written Oralities and Fairy-Tale Studies’. Supervisor: Professor Karin Lesnik-Oberstein. Viva External examiner: Dr Daniela Caselli, Manchester University, Internal examiner: Dr Sue Walsh.
Abstract of thesis
This thesis takes as its starting point a questioning of ideas of “the oral” in fairy-tale and folklore studies as being about an obvious, spontaneous, “voice” or “speech” which precedes writing. The thesis traces how the notion of “the oral” functions in fairy-tale studies, paying attention to the way the oral is constructed through the interaction with various ideas. I begin with a mapping of the field of the orality-writing debate, which I see as ranging from such a dichotomous determinism as exemplified by Walter J. Ong’s Orality and Literacy to Jacques Derrida’s questioning of the separation of speech from writing in Of Grammatology. The analyses that are carried out through the rest of the thesis show how fairy-tale criticism constantly differentiates between the oral and the written, which means that most fairy-tale studies are on the side of Ong rather than of Derrida.
Focusing on fairy-tale criticism, I first examine what critics read as orality in written fairy tales. This enables me to pick up some aspects of the oral, which appear prominently as the child, the folk, and the fantastic and which function to establish fairy tales as children’s literature, folklore, and fantasy literature. My reading of the construction of these ideas finds that they tell narratives of the primitive and the civilised, in which the primitive is associated with non-language. These narratives and associations, I go on to argue, are closely related with the way fairy tales have been read or interpreted, as the tales are seen to allow access to something beyond language. My thesis is thus not a narrative of progression in which problems move towards their solution but about a thematic grouping of texts: the entire thesis demonstrates what it is to take a particular theoretical position, which assumes that everything is text.
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