Untying the Knot: On Riddles and Other Enigmatic Modes

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This book collects eighteen previously unpublished essays on the riddle—a genre of discourse found in virtually every human culture. Hasan-Rokem and Shulman have drawn these essays from a variety of cultural perspectives and disciplines; linguists, anthropologists, folklorists, and religion and literature scholars consider riddling practices in Hebrew, Finnish, Indian languages, Chinese, and classical Greek. The authors seek to understand the peculiar expressive power of the riddle, and the cultural logic of its particular uses; they scrutinize the riddle's logical structure and linguistic strategies, as well as its affinity to neighboring genres such as enigmas, puzzles, oracular prophecy, proverbs, and dreams. In this way, they begin to answer how riddles relate to the conceptual structures of a particular culture, and how they come to represent a culture's cosmology or cognitive map of the world. More importantly, these essays reveal the human need for symbolic ordering—riddles being one such form of cultural ritual.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A big plus is that these well-written essays are generally accessible to upper-level college students, as well as to graduate students and researchers."—Choice

"...the issue of existential expressivity has been wonderfully illuminated in these essays, and for that scholars and curious lay readers will be grateful."—Magill's Literary Annual 1997

"...the intellectual "edge" of the volume and of the individual studies remains as sharp as ever. Untying the Knot is a significant contribution to the scholarship of riddles and related enigmas."—Anthropological Linguistics

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195101867
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 11/28/1996
  • Pages: 344
  • Lexile: 1350L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Poet and Essayist, Galit Hasan-Rokem is Professor of Folklore at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. David Shulman is Professor of Indian Studies and Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction 3
2 Riddles and Their Use 10
3 Traps of Trans-formation: Theoretical Covergences between Riddle and Ritual 37
4 "I'll Give You Three Guesses": The Dynamics of Genre in the Riddle Tale 62
5 Toward a Theory of the Literary Riddle 81
6 "Spinning Threads of Sand": Riddles as Images of Loss in the Midrash on Lamentations 109
7 A King, a Queen, and the Riddle Between: Riddles and Interpretation in a Late Midrashic Text 125
8 The Yaksa's Questions 151
9 When Is a Riddle Not a Riddle? Some Comments on Riddling and Related Poetic Devices in Classical Sanskrit 168
10 Why an Allama Poem Is Not a Riddle: An Anthological Essay 179
11 Texture and Authority: Telugu Riddles and Enigmas 191
12 Enigmas of Sexual Masquerade in Hindu Myths and Tales 208
13 Riddle and Enigma in Chinese Civilization 227
14 Riddles in The Dream of the Red Chamber 237
15 One Voice and Many Legs: Oedipus and the Riddle of the Sphinx 255
16 Myth as Enigma: Cultural Hermeneutics in Late Antiquity 271
17 Squaring the Circle 284
18 Connecting through Riddles, or The Riddle of Connecting 294
Afterword 316
Author Index 321
Subject Index 325
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