Reviews 2016

O pričama i pričanju danas [Of Stories and Storytelling Today]

O pričama i pričanju danas [Of Stories and Storytelling Today]. Ed. Jelena Marković and Ljiljana Marks. Zagreb: Institut za etnologiju i folkloristiku, 2015. 477 pages. 150 HRK (paperback).

Dedicated to different types of stories and modes of storytelling, the edited collection O pričama i pričanju danas (Of Stories and Storytelling Today) fittingly begins with a story. The tale of the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research in Zagreb and its long-standing tradition of (oral) narrative research serves as an introduction to this latest addition to the Institute’s "New Ethnology" publishing series. Based on select papers delivered at the conference of the same name (held in 2013 in Zagreb), O pričama i pričanju danas brings together 27 contributors, who examine a variety of genres, media and other issues related to storytelling and its many forms and functions, from a wide range of disciplines such as literary and Slavic studies, ethnology, history, folklore and gender studies, etc. The fact that each of the 23 articles that constitute this interesting and stimulating collection represents a different research area, theoretical stance, and in some cases even media, is in itself a testament to the richness and diversity of the field of narrative research. This extreme diversity (of topics, approaches, interpretations, methodologies, disciplines, etc.) is possibly the most valuable (although certainly not the only) asset of this book.

The collection opens with a text by Lada Čale Feldman, who uses the example of Chekhov’s play On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco to discuss genre classification and the relationship between story(telling) and drama/performance. Contributions by Renata Jambrešić Kirin and Boris Beck are both concerned with history and historical narratives, be they museological (Jambrešić Kirin’s analysis of the House of European History in Brussels and the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo) or biographical (Beck’s exploration of political biographies written by Croatian historian Josip Horvat). Ivana Perica discusses the political potential of narrative as described by Hannah Arendt, while Suzana Marjanić is concerned with Natko Nodilo’s interpretation of mythic stories (fairy tales) and epic poetry within the wider context of what he refers to as the "old faith" of the Croats and Serbs.

Jovan Ljuštanović and Ljiljana Pešikan-Ljuštanović analyse narratives collected in the southwestern part of Serbia, with a special focus on the ways in which personal information and details from the everyday lives of informants become intertwined with elements pertaining to the social and political history of the area. The starting point for Julijana Matanović’s text is the notion that an invitation for coffee is really an invitation to share stories. Barbara Ivančić Kutin examines what she terms the storytelling folklore encounter which encompasses a series of stories or folklore events, while Mojca Ramšak provides an overview of the 22-year long tradition of gathering life stories within Slovenian ethnology. Lidija Dujić and Luwig Bauer study the dream motif in select, generically diverse writings by Bauer. Gordana Laco and Siniša Ninčević provide a linguistic analysis of folktales included in the collection Usmene pripovijetke i predaje (Oral Folk Tales and Legends, 1997), edited by Maja Bošković-Stulli, with a special focus on demonstratives pertaining to time, place and narrator.

Marija Raguž turns to folk medicine in her exploration of death narratives told among Catholic members of the so-called Šokci community in Slavonia. Željko Predojević’s article is concerned with the etymology of settlements in southern parts of the Baranja region (in Croatia), which typically have three or four names (Croatian, Hungarian, German and folk name). Jasenka Maslek and Zrinka Režić Tolj study tales of buried treasure from the Pelješac peninsula, while Renata Hansens-Kokoruš focuses on narrative strategies used in the retelling of childhood/adolescent memories in select examples from contemporary Croatian literature. The subject of Krystyna Pieniążek-Marković’s contribution is the Kuharski kanconijer (Culinary Canzoniere, 2002), part childhood reminiscence, part ethnographic study of the tastes and smells of the Mediterranean. This intriguing blend of autobiography/memoir and ethnography was penned by the well know Croatian gastronomic expert and writer Veljko Barbieri.

Ivana Kukić Rukavina’s text on a little known publication series edited by the famous Croatian children’s writer Grigor Vitez is perhaps of most interest to the children’s literature scholar. Natka Badurina tackles the issue of postmodernism as the supposed end of (grand) narratives through an analysis of contemporary Croatian novels dealing with trauma, particularly Igor Štiks’s Elijahova stolica (Elijah’s Chair, 2006). The discussion of contemporary Croatian prose is continued by Ewa Szperlik, who is interested in multiple, hybrid identities, especially in narratives dealing with exile and homoeroticism. Based on a series of semi-structured interviews, the paper by Lovro Škopljanac explores the uses of retelling literature as a means of remembering and relaying personal experiences. Petra Belc and Ivana Katarinčić show us that stories are not limited to verbal media: Belc analyses Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1986) as an example of photographic storytelling, while Katarinčić explores how dancing bodies are used to tell stories, and how words are used to talk about dancing. The collection ends with a more activistically intoned contribution by Elena Skoko, dedicated to narratives of childbirth – more specifically dominant (hospital) narratives which are being challenged by alternative tales of actual women’s experiences. The text thus juxtaposes official and unofficial, medical and personal narratives, discovering emancipatory power in personal female stories.

Although it certainly has much to offer, the collection, unfortunately, is plagued by several problems, most notably the absence of scholarly back matter such as an index of key terms (sorely missed in a volume as diverse and wide-ranging as this one) and notes on the contributors. Other (minor) complaints which somewhat diminish the overall good impression include spelling errors and the absence of some of the cited texts from the bibliography lists. Furthermore, due to the lack of a clear organizing principle (which would facilitate the reader’s navigation among the large number of diverse topics), the synergy between individual contributions is fairly loose.

Despite being somewhat uneven and slightly haphazard, this eclectic compendium successfully represents (part of) the richness and plurality of contemporary narrative studies and as such presents a welcome contribution to a number of fields within (Croatian) humanities and social sciences.

Nada Kujundžić
University of Turku, Finland
University of Zagreb, Croatia
Wirth Institute for Austrian and Central European Studies, Canada