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Dejan Ajdačić

Genre Transformations in Balkan

Slav Folk Literature
Genre Transformations in Balkan Slav Folk
Dejan Ajdačić
The transformations of oral literary genres arise from: the changes of national
culture and oral tradition through history, the imbuing of specific traditions
with certain different lingual tribal and regional traits and the individual
alterations of set genre forms. In individual works, it is possible to determine
transformations made in a relatively fixed genre model; in a series of works,
whose systematic changes of genre traits have been adopted by the collective,
however, the nature and meaning of transformation are typical. In the
relationship between two or more oral genres, the genre poetics appears in
relation to the historical poetics of genres as a poly-genre contamination in
relation to the transformative process. The imbuing of genres is inseparably
linked to their transformations and vice versa. By expanding the tasks of
historical poetics as a search for genetic links, Gacak writes that the chief
problem lies in distinguishing signs of artistic swerves, marginal
transformations, various evolutional stages and sequences, the creation of
new traits and configuration of artistic genre systems. In its essence, historical
poetics is not only succession, continuity but a field of new principles as well.

The approach to the transformation of oral genres is hindered by the

unresolved questions of classification. It is not possible to draw a reliable
model of genre transformation on the basis of clear but theoretically
insufficiently consistent divisions in which the criteria of context, subject,
formal traits of the text, methods of performance, musical traits of songs, etc,
are intertwined. Classifications, with numerous and sometimes
disproportionate criteria of division which have not been or hardly can be
fully elaborated, imply numerous types of transformations. Although the
theoretical foundations of these classifications are stronger, their
dispersiveness renders the narrowing down of transformation models
impossible and they impose their other shortcomings upon them as well.

There are genres in the oral tradition which are more open to inter-genre
influences and inclusion of other genres; on the other hand, some genres are
less open and liable to changes. A genre's valence or openness, as its ability to
interweave with other genres, depends on the volume, structure, presence of
the improvisatorial principle of creation, the level of the obligatory meaning
of context, the contents of the genre in regard to the genre in which it is
included or with which it coalesces. The valence of simple genres is greater
than that of complex genres, but the former change less. When speaking of
simple genres, I do not refer to "simple forms", elaborated in literary theory
by Joles and Ranke, but to simple and complex genres Bakhtin wrote about in
his text "Problem of oral genres" ("Problema rechevyh zhanrov").

The inclusion of simple genres in complex oral and narrative fictional genres
is frequent, while the detachment of simple genres from complex ones is
relatively infrequent.

A relationship between two genres depends on how thoroughly their genre

elements are intertwined or imbued, the realisation of their valence, inferior
or superior position, completeness or fragmentariness, similarity
(correspondence) or dissimilarity. In a poly-genre text in which the intentions
and functions of the two genres are similar, the transformations of meaning
and expression that take place do not deny the essence of either genre. In
confronting contrasting genres for example, the curse and the blessing
complex changes occur and one genre's prevalence over the other.

Simple oral genres, or appellative, since they directly express stands and
needs and are addressed to the listener, can be magic such as malediction,
blessing, oath, incantation, and non magic such as praise, reproach, pardon,
prayer, riddle. Instances of their interweaving are more frequent in complex
fictional and appellative genres, but the relationships between these genres
can be noted in certain cases. Blessing, prayer and praise, on the one hand,
and malediction, reproach and curse on the other, represent correspondent
statements because of their similar relationship toward the recipient.
Malediction and oath are frequently based on the same formulas of invoking
evil; the wish for evil to visit is real in the former, while, in the case of the
latter, the necessity that misfortune be avoided guarantees truthfulness or the
accomplishment of an action. Other modalities of the temporal realisation of
the wished and unwished for in the malediction and the oath enable the
varying of their expressive traits on the same bases.

Simple oral genres rarely interweave because of their succinctness and clarity.
There are hardly any verbal transformations of them, except in parodic
genres. More frequent are transformations of appellative statements in a
context giving additional purport to the statement. Admiration of courage,
capability or beauty can be expressed by a feigned curse which has the
function of praise.

Some simple genres can expand to become complex genres by stringing

statements. A number of successive praises meaningfully and aesthetically
form a lyric song or speech of praise. A number of successive reproaches,
prayers, blessings, curses similarly form complete poetical or oral complex
genres. Laments and prayers are the most expressive examples of the
formation of a complex genre from appellative genres. A complex genre may
contain other types of appellative statements. Such statements enrich the basic
feeling or stand with other feelings, needs or intentions. A feigned curse as a
blessing and a feigned blessing as a curse use formulas of the contrasting
genre in a transformed manner, by denying the former, the latter expresses to
the recipient of the message a stand contrary to the one indicated in the initial

When simple and complex appellative genres are incorporated in narrative

texts, their function no longer adapts to the real context, but to the situation in
the narrated reality. In a fictional-narrative text, the poetical interest of the
genre and the narrator fictionalises the context and traits of language
communication, subjecting them to the organisation of the whole. The
transformation of appellative genres depends on the nature of the fictional
qualities of the narrative genre they are being included in, and their meaning
is not lost but becomes more prominent in the process. The appellative genre
in the fictional genre acquires new functions arising from its dramaturgic-
narrative role, from shedding light on the relationships between the
protagonists in the narrated situation or on the narrator's comment most
frequently in the final part of the poem or story. Latent-multi-connotations of
the adage "Woe to those who lack without their own" (Teshko svome bez
svojega) at the end of the epic poem about the marriage of King Dushan in
the Vuk Karadzhich collection becomes the conclusive meaning and moral of
the whole plot. In the process of dual understanding, the audience or readers
simultaneously comprehend its meaning both in the narrative situation and in

Stories of the battle of wits, the ingenuity of a clever girl, Solomon or the
comical Serbian hero Era is described through the solving of riddles or the
resolution of tasks based on the logic of riddles. The laments of mothers or
fiances in some epic poems often express the collective feeling of sorrow
because of the common loss through aesthetic and emotionally tense
expressions of grief. Inclusion of laments in ballads is not typical, but, in
some versions, descriptions of ill fate are accompanied by the laments of
protagonists close to the unfortunate hero. Nikolai and Dimitrina Kaufman
underlined the textual and musical elements of songs showing they derived
from laments (oplakvaniya). Some theoreticians supposed that the epic genres
arose from laments. Bogatyrev notes that peoples whose epic genres are more
developed have a rich tradition of laments and vice versa. There is a certain
similarity in the Serbian and Croatian traditions between laments and
bugarsticas (13- and 14-syllabic poems). The maledictive invocation of evil to
visit the traitor, a cruel or hated ruler in epic poems or the blessing of a hero
or ruler whom the people love sometimes have the function of presaging
collective victories or defeats ascribed to an individual. Curses of a deceitful
wife, girl or beau are incorporated in lyric and epically intoned poems with a
prominent moral vein.

Reproach and malediction as genres complement each other by their

differences although they are directed at different temporal planes. It is
precisely in this fashion that they link segments of a dynamic psychological
relationship. Praise and prayer are frequently interwoven in expressing
respect, on the one hand, and requests prayed for, on the other.

In speeches or poems in which the genre of reproach expresses praise or the

genre of praise reproves someone or something, the ironical spirit of reversal
in a humorous manner turns the duality of content into expression, so that
there can be no doubt why something, which should not be commended, is
praised or why a praiseworthy being is reproved. Not only do texts on
opposite genre poles mock shortcomings by their unambiguous evaluations;
by describing the diversity of human wishes and needs in a carnivalesque-
humorous manner, they also toy with the genres themselves.

The ambivalence of feelings, wishes or needs reflects itself in alterations of

expressions, ie, genres (for example, laments and praises, laments and
maledictions). These alterations reflect the equivocality of man's perception
of himself or of other people.

Transformations of complex genres are conditioned by changes in the

context, text and not-textual elements of expression.

The circumstances in which one genre of oral literature is performed can also
determine its genre status. The song sung by Lazaricas (girls singing ritual
songs on St. Lazarus Day) in the home of a recently deceased girl also has the
function a lamentable reminiscence, which is absent if the song is performed
as part of a free repertoire. The weakening, absence or alteration of the ritual
function of a poem most often brings about changes in the text or meaning of
the poem. Thus, a poem put down in older texts as part of the family ritual
appears in more recent writings as part of the wedding ceremony. With the
dying out of processions as ritual behaviour, procession songs have become
love or family songs. In some cases, ritual songs have become children's

Genre transformations on the textual plane cause the inclusion in the basic
genre of atypical segments of the plot, the inclusion of atypical ideas,
motives, formulas, chronotopes, protagonists and their attributes, or
motivation, structures, etc. The presence of one genre in another may be
merely indicated by a temporary genre denotation. The genre denotation is
abandoned if the initial formula of the text is not confirmed later. Also, a text
may end with a final formula whose genre denotation is not completely
correspondent to the text that preceded the end. Genre swerves are also made
in cases when heroes atypical and secondary in such a plot appear in the same
genre. The change in or omission of the three point structure unsettles the
poetics of the fairy tale. The change in the type of verse is reflected also on
the transformation of the very poems, although their topics are retained. The
set of ideas about the narrated reality and the fabulous resolution of the story
or a poem as the expression of the interest of the narrated text of various
genres bring about their transformations.

Non-textual elements the language of gesture, of presents, of music contribute

to the genre dimension of oral literary works. A text has different genre
meanings depending on whether it is sung to a sorrowful or a cheerful

The collection of beliefs and cognizance of the world form the common basis
of thematically topical material, the specific elements of which can be used in
different functions and in different genres. Motives and topics can be
genetically similar and simultaneously to have different genre intentions,
functions, strategies. Researchers have established the similarities and
differences in peoples' perceptions of hajduks (Balkan Slav insurgents who
had fought the Turks), heroes, rulers and army leaders in epic poems and
historical legends. Beliefs about the all-Balkan hero Marko Kraljevich, the
various stages of his life, the various traces of his actions, are particularly
widespread. When national heroes are in question, one can discern alterations
of functions and greater or lesser popularity of poems in different ethnic and
regional communities. Kmetova and Afanasjeva Koleva have shown the
transformations of motives and heroes of the Kosovo Battle in Bulgarian
tradition. The similarities and differences in poems about national heroes of
oral traditions and other relatively popular Balkan Slav heroes Ljutica
Bogdan, Stari Debeli Baba Novak, Hajduk Veljko, Jankula vojvoda, Kuzman
kapidan, vojvoda Momchilo and others should also be researched.

In her study of prosaic and versified fairy tales with similar or identical plots,
Maja Boshkovic-Stulli has pointed out the differences in motivation, in the
narrator's attitude towards the fantastic elements and narrative finalisation.
Nada Miloshevich-Djordjevich has determined the similarity between the
material of non-historical legends and the corresponding poetical tradition.
Instances of the imbuing and interweaving of only prose or only poetic genres
and their transitional forms are even more frequent: of stories and humorous
stories, fables and etymological legends about the creation of animals, epic
lyric genres, etc.

In his study "Transformations of fairy tales", Vladimir Prop has singled out
types which can be applied to the transformations of other genres:
transformation of basis (reduction, amplification, damage, conversion,
intensification and weakening), ex-changes, assimilations.

Since we cannot encompass all versions of an oral tradition in the actual and
evolutionally ordered sequence, what we can do from the viewpoint of
historical poetics of genres and genre system is to establish the phenomenon
of transformation in a sequence of merely a number of texts that have
survived to this day on the basis of the analysis of changes in the formal,
topical, contextual and communicative characteristics of the genre, and their
complex inter relationships.

Genre transformations can be the fruit of the evolution of oral tradition, of the
mechanical contamination of different genres, the interweaving of subject
matter and expression of an oral tradition. Evolutionistic transformations arise
from the changes of culture and its oral expression. The tradition of Balkan
Slavs has suffered the most changes when clashing and meeting non Slav
indigents, the Christian and, subsequently, Islamic faiths, the adoption and
adaptations of written sources. More recent acculturations brought about the
final withdrawal and deterioration of national culture, receding before the
onslaught of the values of the urban and consumer media society, Mechanistic
transformations appear in contaminations of texts, the stringing of formulary
motive and topical fragments.

If one is to research the direction of the transformation of oral literary genres,

one must base one's research on the original genres.

In the process of DEMYTHOLOGISATION, a fantastic historical epic with

clashes between dragons and heroes turns into a heroic-historical epic.
Supernatural beings in demonological legends and ballads and mythological
poems acquire human traits. In some versions of poems in which a woman's
features are psychologically likened to those of a nymph, the heroine is a
supernatural being, while in other versions she is a real woman (nymph
seductress/woman seductress). The fantastic perception of the world of fairy
tales is likened to the real world by the introduction of everyday motivation
and attributes of the protagonists, and it is completely destroyed, as Parpulova
shows, by replacing magic objects and actions with hoax and slyness. The
introduction of psychological motivation, rational explanations of the magic
likens fairy tales to novellas. Failure to perform a task, an unhappy ending, an
inclusion of elements of a moralistic and tragic interpretation of the world in
the utopical world of fairy tales give rise to the fairy tales' transformations
into legends. A specific type of demythologisation is linked to the aesthetic
development of motives arising from myth and magic.

Religious RE-MYTHOLOGISATION represents a transformation of folk

poems and stories in which the Christian and Islamic orthodox and
apocryphal beliefs are included in the oral tradition. Saints and Virgin Mary
replace the pagan demons and gods in a number of works, while in others,
they overpower them. Advocates of religion, dervishes and priests (more
frequently in Catholic than in Orthodox folk literatures), also overpower
demonic forces. Even a minor change can transform the genre meaning of the
entire narrative course; in Vrchevich's fairy tale, the fleeing hero throws two
magic objects, which turn into insuperable obstacles, but he lacks the third
necessary object to escape the demon, and his appeal to God and God's help,
in turn, conclude this story with a Christian moral.

The HEROISING of the image of the world suits the transformation of poetic
genres into epics. Heroism and heroic moral are accompanied by the
elevation and development of songs and narrations of duels, abductions,
battles. The epic perception and recollection of past events as the
interpretation of the past and epic confirmation of the feeling of collective
identity influence the form of the epic topic, epic values and styles of the
poems. A broad narrative course, developed descriptions of details,
catalogues of heroes, the possibility of including and expanding episodes, the
clear polarization into allied and rival, male and female roles and values are
importants traits in the transformation of non epic genres into epic ones.
Poems without historical content can also acquire epic qualities.

The transformation of poems in the LYRICAL direction is based on reducing

a multi episodal action to one situation in which the temporally compressed
and summarized plot is subjected to the expression of emotions and
descriptions of emotional relationships between the protagonists. The
importance of dialogue and monologue as forms of a number of lyric poems
is increased in the transformation of poems into transitional or pure forms of
lyricism. Parallelism between the world of nature and the world of people
creates a poetically significant trace of lyrical presence. Although this
parallelism arises from the foundations of traditional culture, it is the most
prominent in lyric poetry. Thus, symbols and lyric formulas become
extremely important in lyricising as a type of transformation of poetical
genres. Lyricising appears in versions losing their dimension of epic and lyric
epic poems. German Slavicist Alois Schmaus underlined there were areas in
which the epic dominant is prominent and that there were regions in which
the lyric dominant is characteristic. In regions in which the lyric dominant
prevails, poetic works are transformed, acquiring more lyricism. The regional
characteristics or oral tradition to an extent correspond to ethno psychological
types and Gavazzi's range of culture in the Balkans.

Genre transformations directed at the HUMOROUS could be termed

"carnivalisation" in the Bakhtin manner. It It comprises ridiculing and
parodying of the broadest possible range of genres from simple, appellative to
complex pose and poetical, fictional and narrative genres. Derisory praise
corresponds to praise, a humorous wedding song to a wedding song, a parody
of an epic poem or fairy tale to an epic poem or fairy tale. The parodic comic
of character is based on the reversal of respectable traits, while the statements
no longer befitting them remain. A hero of a genre is countered by a comical
anti hero in the opposite genre: a courageous hero by a coward, a young
groom by an old man aspiring to marry a young girl, a hero in a fairy tale by a
swindler. The moral of parodical poems and stories simultaneously reveals
the moralism of the parody and the model values of the initial genre. Prop
writes that a parody is funny only when it reveals the internal weakness of
what is parodied. Parodies also deride typical genre situations, but the comic
of the situations as well as the comic based on the ambivalence of words or
expressions is more characteristic of pure humorous stories than parodies.

I would like to conclude that, in my belief, developed typological and

historical studies of individual genres and their inter relationships and genre
systems are essential for a detailed study of genre transformations.


Antonina AFANAS'EVA-KOLEVA: Kosovski junaci u bugarskoj narodnoj

epskoj pesmi, Naučni sastanak slavista u Vukove dane, 19, 1991, 1, str. 533-
Dejan AJDAČIĆ: Apelativni žanrovi usmene lirike, Narodna umjetnost, 28,
1991, 207-212.
Mihail BATHIN: Problema rečevyh žanrov, Moskva, 1986.
Petr G. BOGATYREV: Nekotorye zadači sravnitel'nogo izučenija eposa
slavjanskih narodov, Moskva, 1958.
Maja BOŠKOVIĆ-STULLI: Sižei narodnih bajki u hrvatskosrpskim epskim
pjesmama, Narodna umjetnost, 1, 1962, 15-36.
B.M. GACAK: Sistema žanrov balkanskogo fol'klora v istoriko poetičeskom
aspekte, Makedonski folklor, 22, 1989, 43, str. 13-17.
Milovan GAVAZZI: Areali tradicijske kulture jugoistočne Evrope, Vrela i
sudbine narodnih tradicija, Zagreb, 1978, str. 184-194.
Nikolaj i Dimitrina KAUFMAN: Pogrebalni i drugi oplakvanija v B'lgarija,
Sofija, 1988.
Nada MILOŠEVIĆ-DJORDJEVIĆ: Zajednička tematsko-sižejna osnova
srpskohrvatskih neistorijskih epskih pesama i prozne tradicije, Beograd,
* Njakoi problemi na b'lgarski junaški epos s ogled na negovoto s'vremeno
s'stojanije, SbNU, 53, 1971, 39-181.
Blaže PETROVSKI: Transformiranjeto na makedonskiot junački epos,
Skopje, 1992.
Vladimir Jakovlevič PROPP: Fol'klor i dejstvitel'nost', Moskva.
Alois SCHMAUS: Gattung und Stil in der Volksdichtung, Gesammelte
slavistiche und balkanologische Abhandlungen, I, Muenchen, 1971
На Растку објављено: 2007-03-16
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