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Cultural and Social Anthropology

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Poetry as aesthetic practice. Form, experience, and life-world reference of language - aesthetic articulation in Madagascar and Tanzania

Funding: DFG - German Research Foundation

Duraton: since 2016

Project lead: Clarissa Vierke, Markus Verne

Research associates: Maike Meurer, M.A., Nikitta Adjiraktor


Both in the Madagascan highlands and on the Tanzanian Swahili coast, condensed forms of linguistic expression are omnipresent: At public events, orators inspire their audiences, poetry collections are sold on the streets, cultural centres organise poetry slams, poems are shared and commented on in internet forums, and condensed language is disseminated around the clock by countless radio and television stations in the form of song lyrics. The poetic texts not only describe central dimensions of everyday and social life; by being received and reflected upon, they themselves have a modelling effect and play an active role in shaping life-worlds.

The aim of the proposed project is to conduct empirical research on the relevance of language-aesthetic articulation in everyday life on the Tanzanian coast and in the Malagasy highlands. The initial hypothesis is that the way in which the poetic examination of the world is dealt with differs systematically from more explicit, i.e. less condensed, forms of discourse, and that its exploration therefore requires its own approach tailored to this particular linguistic form. The theoretical core question of the project aims at this special quality of poetry as an aesthetic form of expression: By empirically investigating the ambiguous relationship between work and experience, the project can delve into the impact and relevance of poetic language in the real world in an innovative way. In this way, it differs fundamentally from previous approaches, which derive both interpretatively from the work itself, and methodically neglect the moment of aesthetic experience that is so central to condensed forms of linguistic expression.

To this end, the project investigates both "cultured" and "popular" poetic genres. The focus is on three aspects that simultaneously represent different stages of research: First of all, the special semantic potential of the works, resulting from the genre-specific concatenation of form and content, is to be established (Aspect 1: "shape/content"). Subsequently, we will examine how the works are experienced aesthetically in concrete performative situations (Aspect 2: "aesthetic experience"). And finally, the research will determine how and to what extent these experiences are reflected and used to deal with concrete living environments (aspect 3: "Reflection and Effect"). By combining literary and social anthropological approaches, focusing on specific aesthetic form and empirically questioning the experience of poetically conveyed content, the project fundamentally expands the examination of poetic practice in Africa. Beyond this, its special methodological approach has the potential to contribute critically and constructively to general debate on the nature and effect of aesthetic language and of aesthetic forms in general.

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