Friday, May 21, 2010

Quotations in Western vs. Indian Culture and Literature

I am attending an interesting seminar on quotations in Western Literature (especially in Giacomo Leopardi's Zibaldone). I especially appreciated some stimuli, such as:
  • the need to create a taxonomy of what is a quotation (in a certain sense, every linguistic usage is a quotation of someone else) –as proposed by Alessandro Grilli
  • the tendency of quotations to degenerate, loose their semantic power and become just antonomastic usages (as with, again, Alessandro Grilli): I strongly disagree with that since Indian cultural history is an evidence (also) of the opposite. Basic texts are quoted and semantically enriched every time they are quoted and reused.
  • Japanese has several words for "quotation", and this proves that this was a basic tenet in Japanese culture (so Matilde Mastrangelo). This is an interesting hint, insofar as there is nothing like the word "quotation" neither in Classical Latin nor in Sanskrit. Does this mean that quotation were not important? No, I believe. It rather means that quotations (and, most of all, re-usage of previous textual material) were so much part of the normal intellectual praxis that they were not felt as a "device" in need to be thematized.
  • in the West, there is a recurring metaphor of poets as bees, taking honey out of flowers. Authors disagree as far as the work of bees is concerned: do they just collect something which is already honey or do they elaborate it? Whatever the case, to be bees implies that one uses someone else's material and that one selects it (a history of this metaphor has been sketched by Stefano Jossa).

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