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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Talking through the text : Rakugo and the oral/literal interface Tanaka, Sakurako


The students of 'oral literatures' traditionally viewed 'orality,' the spoken mode of communication, as inferior to 'literacy,' the written mode. They depicted 'oral literatures' as legacies from the past, and the products of socially, economically and geographically marginalized, illiterate populations, and are hence doomed to disappear in a literate society. Many also assumed that 'oral literatures' are characterized by little structural complexity and individual creativity, and thus they possess an insignificant esthetic value. This study attempts to re-examine the validity of such traditional claims by examining the coexistence and interaction between orality and literacy in a Japanese traditional narrative art known as rakugo. Rakugo is a highly stylized form of narrative delivered by urban professional storytellers in Japan. The study will reveal rakugo's structural features, which are derived from both oral and literate traditions, as well as its generic relation to Japanese literary genres. The study will also examine the esthetic dynamics of live performance where the performer’s creativity is brought into parity with tradition and social norms; and hence it will highlight the significance of oral tradition in a highly literate, modern society.

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