Text and Context: The “Mobility” of Slavic Medieval Works

Tania Ivanova, Ohio State University

A typical feature of certain Slavic medieval works is their ability to “move” from one functional context to another one which facilitates the construction of a textual reality in reply to certain institutional needs such as those of the Church or State. As a result of such “mobility”, texts may loose their initial integrity as works in some cases but continue functioning as segments or quotations; while in other cases they are able to preserve their integrity and their initial structure. Two principles have been proposed to interpret this peculiarity—the principle of “segmentability” with reference to texts (W. R. Veder) and the principle of “portability” with reference to works (N. Ingham). These principles elucidate to a certain extent the problem of genre flexibility which in all respects refers to the categories of social need, Sitz im Leben, and the convention of usage (cf. the ideas of the Berlin School, and particularly of K. Seemann). The adaptation of a work to the liturgical and extra-liturgical needs of a given Slavic Orthodox society accomplishes certain ideological needs and semantically “maps” reality (in Halliday’s terms), which in turn reinforces some changes in generic models. The communicative nature of Slavic medieval works, which were meant to praise, to instruct, to persuade, etc., secured the “correct” functioning of a canonical literature but at the same time left room for scribes to experiment with segments and parts of works, “adjusting” them to various contexts.

This paper reflects recent tendencies in the genre analysis of Slavic medieval literature, considering it in the light of functional theory. An attempt is made, however, to elaborate the theoretical framework outlined above focusing on the role of the audience in “recognizing” (after J. Swales) the initial function and genre structure of a work. What follows is the implementation of the principles of “segmentability” and “portability” in South Slavic texts found in Russian sources from the sixteenth–seventeenth centuries. The final step is the utilization of the theoretical observations by their application in a more detailed catalogue description.

The works analyzed here are later copies of the Laudatory Homily to Ilarion of M″glen (a fourteenth-century Bulgarian text) and discourses on reading which originally appeared in a tenth-century South Slavic milieu. These texts were taken from their initial functional context and “transplanted” to a new one with different social and cultural dimensions. Examination of such “movement” has a solid textological basis which allows speculation about the raison d’[ecirc]tre and the cultural setting of the later copies. Attention is drawn also to the placement of these texts in the manuscripts with regard to their “convoy.”