Bertsolari, the art of verse improvisation

To date, and almost without exception, bertsolaritza has been considered as a sub-genre of Basque popular literature. Basque literature, as such, also referred to as written or Basque literary culture, is, or at least has been until the beginnings of the XX century, scant and seen as anachronistic and purely secondary. …On the other hand, […]

redazione • 4/11/2011 • Talking Peace • 267 Viste

To date, and almost without exception, bertsolaritza has been considered as a sub-genre of Basque popular literature. Basque literature, as such, also referred to as written or Basque literary culture, is, or at least has been until the beginnings of the XX century, scant and seen as anachronistic and purely secondary.
…On the other hand, as Luis Michelena well points out, Basque popular literature, essentially oral, is probably as rich and varied as that of any other people(1).

Nevertheless, the title “Basque popular literature” is a form of pigeon-holing of anything that has not fitted into the classification of written literature(2). Basque popular literature is thus identified by the heterogeneity of genres and expressions which it manifests.
In the first place, heterogeneity of genres, the popular literature taking in poetry, theatre, narrative and other, not so easily classifiable genres such as refrains and idioms.
Secondly, hetereogeneity regarding artistic work. Specifically, the level of oracy in Basque popular literature varies greatly from one manifestation thereof to another. The fact that Basque popular literature is “essentially oral” clearly does not mean that only oral literature is popular literature although, in colloquial use, both meanings are often interchangeable. Even Juan Mari Lekuona, on presenting his work, called it “Classification of Basque oral literature”. It is clear, however, given that their production and reception are in written form, genres such as popular novels or autobiographies are only oral in as much as the communicative strategies used, that is, in their structure. There are written manifestations which are produced orally (street theatre, pastorales, probably many pieces of ornamental poetry and, of course, nearly all the anthology of songs, both traditional and modern)(3).

Finally, there is great heterogeneity in the aesthetic (literary, artistic) meaning amongst all the manifestations of Basque popular literature. Idioms —and, to a great extent, proverbs, too— derive only and exclusively from the linguistic competence of the speakers, without any conscious awareness of their aesthetic value.

Given such a heterogeneous panorama, it is clear that it is almost impossible to establish a single valid method of analysis for all the manifestations of Basque popular literature. As is well known, research proceeds in a manner which increasingly fragments its targets of analysis, and it would be no bad thing to take this into account when taking on the research into Basque popular literature. Not to proceed in this way would result in difficulties in a full understanding of the meaning and the value of each one of the various manifestations which make up Basque popular literature.

This book attempts to be nothing other than a thorough exposition of improvised bertsolaritza and a first step in the drawing up of a suitable method for its analysis, given the fact that current models are inadequate for the understanding of the specific complexity of this extempore artistic activity. This is precisely why we expressly do not analyse non-improvised bertsolaritza, not because we consider this unimportant but, as we believe it to be a radically different genre and, as such, requiring another method for analysis.

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