Ring Composition

March 26, 2007

In today’s Times

Rothstein writes about a new book by Mary Douglas, Thinking in Circles: an Essay on Ring Composition. Actually I now find via Amazon that it is “The Terry Lectures Series.” Anyway, it is related to her work on the Book of Numbers in In the Wilderness. The point is that many texts from outside the more-or-less modern Western world seem to be structured in this way called “ring composition,” which we modern Western readers tend to find chaotic and meaningless but which in their context, to the intended readers/hearers, are quite meaningful, just not “linear” the way we are used to. Rather than proceeding from one point to another to a final conclusion or question, they move to a central pivot and then back to the starting point, repeating specific terms and stylistic elements in reverse order.  Things acquire meaning through the very repetition, as well as the reversal of order, with each exposure to an element enriching our understanding of it. Which, Rothstein speculates, implies a kind of society, a kind of audience, which we no longer have.

This may fit with Toorn’s Scribal Culture, blogged Saturday…


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