Faint praise in pain(t)ed phrases: a narratological reading of the Laudatio Murdiae

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The explicit multivocality of any text argues for the possibility of magnifying the details from which information on the lives of marginal populations can be inferred. An approach which reduces the sociocultural and ideological 'static' of pre-established ('dominant') 'readings', and proposes alternative (re)constructions, is narratology. The questions posed by narratology afford access to the actions and experiences of 'speakers','observers', and 'actors'. At the same time, a narratological interrogation pays due regard to the discursive fields of gender, ethnicity, class, belief system, or any of the discursive regimes which otherwise determine knowledge in textual (re)presentations. In a similar light, 'reading the terms of the excluded requires critical examination of the terms of the included in order to make room for "other meanings"' (La Capra 1985: 36). Such an analytical perspective also registers the likelihood that the community or individuals marginal to the dominant mindset already did so. For instance, ancient women may well have been (re)presented within the prevailing paternalistic discourse; but this does not automatically entail a similar reading of conventional significations. Further, what if women identified themselves by the elements of discursive practice so important to masculinist interests and so much within the patriarch's control? Using the sociolinguistic tools of alienation and repression to (re)present oneself might suggest an awareness of denigrating cultural values and the commemoration of cultural attitudes and material needs beyond the normative and the superordinate. In short, authentic female voices may be (re)constituted through 'textualised remainders'. It is a short methodological step to apply this mode of analysis to an instance of the 'memory residue' of ancient oral performance(s): the commemorative inscription. To the modern observer, the world of this (indeed, every) category of epitaph would seem intrinsically patriarchal; in consequence, its sociolinguistic template should radically delimit any alternative 'reading' of the extant text. What better material than this by which to gauge the usefulness of an alternative approach (in this case, narratological analysis) as a touchstone for 'reading' gender? If a plausible reconstruction of marginalised female interests can be rendered from such an un(com)promising discursive field, I would suggest that the methodological underpinnings of this investigation are anchored firmly and encourage some optimism for less conventional epigraphic material.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2002


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