10. Ethnographies of dialogical singing, dialogical ethnography


Narrating a story that draws on ethnographic experience does not necessarily make the narrative an ethnographic account of the experience in question. The modality of relating a story does not coincide with the story’s modality of content. So far, my story on the dialogic has touched upon two distinct realities; one is theoretical and the other cultural. Both realities were examined through the symbolic mediation of the ethnographic modality. This means that these two realities were transformed in the process of the narration to ethnographic realities and that the modality of ethnographic transformation was, by necessity, sought in the modality of narrating itself. As a symbolic element, the modality of narrating is a constitutive process, that is it both constitutes the narration as a particular expression of ethnographic relating and is, at the same time, constituted by other narrations of similar or different kind. One of the two ethnographic realities involved in the process of narrating concerns the referent of the story: two particular expressions of dialogical culture in the form of dialogical singing. The other ethnographic reality, which is also constructed in the course of relating the present story on the dialogic, is the reality of the modality of ethnographic narrating as such.

Ethnographic writing produces multiple realities. Such writing realities are conducive to the emergence of juxtaposition and interplay among various cultural and theoretical ontologies. Hence, any ethnographic discussion of the dialogical principle on the level of culture, as, for instance, the two forms of dialogical singing already examined, should not be fused and, eventually, confused with an ethnographic discussion of the dialogic on the level of theory, i.e., the poetics of writing and its reflexive rhetorics. The dialogics of culture is one thing and the dialogics of ethnography quite another. By the term “dialogics” I mean literally a dialogue of logics. Dialogical singing is reckoned as a dialogical practice insofar as it involves exchanges of sung utterances among several singers. But this is not sufficient. To call a particular kind of dialogical singing dialogical there has to be a dialogue of logics, not just a dialogue of verses. This reality of dialogue remains to be demonstrated. The most potent manifestation of such a dialogical modality in juxtaposition with conversation in singing is encountered in the ghlendi of Olymbos and is locally identified by the notion of paroussia. The performance of paroussia in the context of the performance of the ghlendi constitutes a paradigmatic expression of the dialogical modality in particular cultural terms.

Ethnography is a symbolic bridge uniting two distinct entities: culture and story-telling --story-telling focused on culture [26]. Ethnographic mediation is often reduced to the problem of expressing the reality of a particular culture through narrating an authoritative story about it in the form of writing. Such a reduction is the product of a two-fold transformation. One dimension of this transformation concerns the reality of culture itself, which is replaced by the reality of “cultural experience,” the ethnographer’s field-experience. The other side of the transformation involves considering writing or story-telling as an act of representation. Thus, the problem of establishing a dialogue between the distinct entities of culture and story-telling becomes a problem of representing an experience; and this problem, in turn, concerns exclusively the ethnographer’s subjectivity in regards with both the act of representing and the experience to be represented. George Marcus and Michael Fischer (1986:7-16), along with many other anthropologists writing in the context of the “new ethnography” movement in anthropology since the mid 1980s, have argued against what they perceived as a crisis of representation in the human sciences in general and in anthropology in particular.  I align myself with these critical theorists in considering ethnography as a process that defies representation. If culture and story-telling focused on culture are not to be ethnographically united through representation, then another symbolic modality should be employed instead for this purpose. I suggest using the dialogical principle as a methodological alternative to define a new genre of telling stories about culture: dialogical ethnography. When approached from this perspective, the main orientation of dialogical ethnography is to be dialogical whether it deals with dialogical phenomena or not. The primacy of the dialogical element as a defining quality of the ethnographic modality helps to shift the focus of ethnographic attention from representation to presentation. Dialogical ethnography cannot be an authoritative representation of a previously acquired cultural experience. This is obviously the result of the dismissal of the idea of ethnography as representation, as the authoritative component of all ethnographic writing, be it dialogical or not, is not possible to discard anyway. As a particular kind of writing, ethnographic writing implies authoring the reality it helps to create [27]. With its emphasis on story-telling and writing in particular, dialogical ethnography presents itself to the reader of the ethnographic text as a reality to be transformed through reading to other, multiple, new and emergent realities.

            The ethnographic shift from representation to presentation is closely associated with the shift, suggested by Johannes Fabian (1990: 3-6), from informative to performative ethnography. The two shifts emerge from a common theoretical perspective: the primacy of the logic of performance as a modality of presentation against the logic of information as a modality of representation. The logic of performance is built around the two main components of the performing reality: realization and assessment. As a result, the logic of performance involves both the logic of realization and the logic of assessment. Thus, in talking about performative ethnography, it is implied that the main modality of any such ethnography conforms with the logic of performance. This means that ethnography may be conceptualized as a dynamic process involving the symbolic juxtaposition of two distinct yet closely associated forces --realization and assessment. While realizing itself as a story, ethnography encounters its own assessment. These two forces interact with one another throughout the performing process. Endowing the ethnographic modality with the logic of performance, the scope of dialogical ethnography is broadened, as the dialogical principle is itself juxtaposed to the performing modality of ethnography. As a consequence, the dynamics of the dialogic in ethnography acquires a performing quality and thus the performance of ethnography is both realized and assessed through dialogical juxtaposition.

            Dialogical ethnography and performative ethnography are compatible forms of relating a story about culture as presentation of a narrative reality.  Yet there is one fundamental question that calls for investigation. Can there be an interface between ethnographic dialogics and the dialogics of a particular culture? Any such interface should be of symbolic nature. Take, for instance, a dialogical ethnography that focuses on dialogical singing in a particular culture. As already explained, the dialogical modality of such an ethnography should not be reduced to the logic of representing an experience of dialogical singing. How then can ethnographers express their impressions, feelings and ideas concerning the experiences they had in the field? Or elsewhere, prior to conducting field research or after leaving the field? Or equally important: how can ethnographers relate the dialogical modality they experienced in the field as a modality of writing or, for that matter, as a modality of telling a story in general? And do so without employing empirical elements, drawn from the dialogical culture in question, together with theoretical elements from other sources? In other words, how can the dialogical element narrate itself as an independent modality of relating through presenting the cultural particularity of dialogical singing? The shift from representation to presentation leaves performative dialogics in ethnography with only one choice: allegory [28].

Allegory is a technique of literature and, by implication, also a method of criticism. As a technique of literature, allegory is a technique of fiction-writing or story-telling, for there must be some kind of narrative basis for allegory. Allegory works on two or more levels of meaning --one literal and one or more symbolic levels. The events, settings, characters, and objects in an allegory stand for something else, and can be interpreted on a continuously symbolic level. The term is taken from the Greek allegoria, which derives from the verb agorevein (‘to speak publickly’, as in the market-place or agora, or simply ‘to speak’) and the adverbial form of allos (‘other’).  Allegory, as George Whalley (1967: 190-92) notes, in its full poetic development, is a highly specialized symbolic expression. Allegory is not simply speaking about the other on many levels, but about othering speaking itself. As a technique of othering discourse, allegory is most often used as a form of historical or political criticism conveying contested meanings as ironic statements about authority and power.

What does it mean to orient the performative dialogics of ethnography toward allegory? As a symbolic modality, allegory can comply well with the symbolic modalities of both the performative and the dialogical element in ethnography. What is unique though about allegory as a trope and by implication as a symbolic modality is its othering quality. The allegorical faculty of othering can serve well both ethnographic orientations, allowing them to remain distinct in a unified whole. This “unity in multiplicity” framework of allegorical expression leads to the dialogical encountering of the performance of othering as juxtaposition of various logics. The phrase “various logics” implies that, among other logics, the logics of the dialogical culture (and of the dialogical singing in particular),  as well as the logics of the ethnographic reflections associated with such culture and singing are all made to coexist in the allegorical universe of the act of relating as such. The modality of othering is important in this allegorical process, as it helps to transcend the performance of the ethnographic reality of relating and its assessment as a particular and concrete expression of reality. Thus; allegorical othering ensures that the dialogical juxtaposition of various logics can take place without conforming to any single perspective of synthesis and, eventually, hegemony or self-referentiality.

            Allegorical dialogics emerges as a performative alternative to the informative ethnographic practice of representational dialogics. A singing ethnography with full reference to singing but not defined by its referents. The symbolic reality of the allegorical dialogics is in direct communication with the symbolic reality of the Karpathos ghlendi. The ghlendi participants start the ghlendi process by expressing ordinary experience and, without ever losing contact with what they do, they transform the ordinary perceptions of everyday life to the extraordinary reality of the paroussia, and then return to what is their ordinary state of being. Some of the realizations of the ghlendi experience might serve as useful tropes to broaden the symbolic interface between the dialogics of singing and the dialogics of ethnography in allegorical terms.

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