The study makes original contributions to the study of gender, daina-songs and singing, Baltic mythology, challenge performances, invective, humor, ritual, and folk cognition. Informed by performance, it applies a dialogic and cognitive science perspective to neo-structural textual analysis of archived materials, particularly the corpus of Latvian folksongs called dainas. Its interest is in contemporary polysemic usage of archived materials seen as core national traditions.
Since Herder vernacular tradition has been seen as ancestral, prior to and more basic than styles and creations of cultural, artistic activity perceived as international. The Latvian people have seen the latter alternatively as superior, to be emulated as well as foreign, exploitative, hegemonic and to be resisted. Without engaging in the vernacular international dialogic that continues to this day, my interest is in fostering greater understanding of the dainas that form a unique corpus of materials that once shaped a pre-industrial world rich in diversity of colors, sounds and meanings yet clearly integrated in a whole discernable to a person "in the know." My practical objective is to enable access to that broader whole that is in the dainas, to open its relevance to living in this globally interconnected world of the 21st century.
Latvia offers a rare case where the two primary sources of national identity were both traditionally dominated by women: weaving of textiles with geometric patterns and vocal music and related folk dance. Both are synchronically related through their rhythms and patterns. Latvia also offers one of few cases where the aggressive responsorial musical challenge genre is dominantly composed and performed by women. It is not just a womans genre or a special case of inverse practice in carnival. Performances are not only public and highly visible, but they represent a party, group, or clan including both genders involved in the most important celebrations for the community and the individual. Furthermore, female participation in this aggressive genre is not a recent development as in female performance of Afro-American dozens or soundings, but goes back to earliest known centuries old sources.
Consistent with the realities of the research situation where the interest is in performance, but the materials are archived texts, neo-structural and semiotic approaches naturally lead to a cognitive science approach concerned with relations of analog reality to digital representation and in expansion of meaning through analogy, such as is present in metaphor and humor. Form and structure are seen as constructivist systems of coherence within an epistemology that is more phenomenological than positivist, fully participant in a way of seeing consistent with discourse analysis and ethnography of speaking. There are cross-cultural inherent gross organizing pre-linguistic predispositions in a human brain, such as the ability to learn language with minimum stimulation. Within a culture shared information is unevenly distributed across the brains of the members. Deep, basic structure that appears recurrently and redundantly across regions and recoverable historical periods throughout different cultural modalities is seen to be especially persistent. Sometimes this deep structure in Latvian folklore is on the level of a verbal object, an information packet, meme, or even a kind of "virus" level oftentimes tied to long-lasting physical markers in the geography and ecology shaping the community that created the folklore.
In addition to redundancy as a key of structure, the study recognizes that much of culture and society is a self-organizing system in the sense of complexity and chaos theories, including mandelbrot sets. Information is recovered and created holographically utilizing parts to recreate wholes. Thus culture is in a constant process of dynamic transformation, with waves of stability shaped by the winds of change providing structure to flux. As a heuristic this study derives practical usefulness from the morphological analysis of formalized structure, as in the work of Alan Dudes with the attendant necessity for typology and classification as orienting frameworks.
The specific area of interest is the Latvian version of a dialogic of opposing partners as a Yin Yang of two opposites within a safe third, in-between, ambiguous space framed within the context of potentially sharable culture. Within this space where the edges of roughly egalitarian entities with responsorial capability meet, an exchange, of information occurs that is sometimes rapid, framed as an agonistic ludic musical contest. Maximum creativity is at the borders of such a system. When two roughly egalitarian parties meet at a crossroad, at the very least, tension is released. There is also adjustment of what is normative and expected between the parties, even to the point of ritual contract.
Etymologically and conceptually dialogic ultimately is a part of One reality as expressed in the terms apdziedāšanās (challenge, confrontation) as an aspect of the inclusive apdziedāšana (to sing about in celebration of I Thou presencing). This union of the One and many is conveyed in the image of the sea or world contained in a raindrop that is both a specific daina image, and one found across other cultures. The agon of apdziedāšanās is an important way, to use Far Eastern terminology, in the sense of "the way of the Tao", "the way of the sword." However, the agon of apdziedāšanās is an aggressive dominantly female way.
The concept daina world is used variously: text, text with commentary, a semantic field composed of nodes in a network, shared mental schemata including rules of composition, an ideal collapsed historical period, which approximates a real historical period between the 13th and 16th centuries, as well as a contemporary world dependent on users for activating it. The prototypical corpus of collected folk song texts in the archives continue to receive new oral material. Together with commentaries dainas form a central cultural reference crossing time and space, in effect, analogous to Biblical scriptures and their study. The daina world is potentially accessible to all Latvians, as needed who speak the language. It becomes meaningful in social usage. One notes how variant clusters relate to each other in slight changes and how each daina relates to others in a dynamic web whose different nodes are activated.
During song warring, song leaders entrusted as being not only top musical performers, but also having mature rhetoric skills and political sense, initially utilize more formulaic material known to everyone and recorded historically in the archives. This frames the performance and allows for a period of warming up to the maximum improvisatory and emotional next stage. The challenges, though by women or mixed groups, can be very aggressive leading to highly emotional and bawdy singing. However, a successful performance does not escalate to serious verbal injury, cursing recognizable in the older sense of negative magic or incantations (lamāšanās), out-of-control invective, or physical aggression. Women have been the song leaders from the earliest historical documentation in this challenge genre apdziedāšanās, taking place not only at weddings but seasonal holidays, most notably Midsummer, and at work party responsorial contests. Certainly they have been historically entrusted with transforming tension, which could lead to actual violence, in contrast to heroic flytings known throughout Europe as a male genre in a militant society, and with the purpose of destroying the other side, taking its resources for itself. In the ludic performance dominated by women, it is a win-win rather than I win - you loose model, since no side is permanently defeated. The song contest takes up the next time and place with the possibility of another side winning.
The apdziedāšanās ritual relates to vernacular concepts and practice of constructive magic. The process of weaving, the making of a honeycomb, and other oscillating or swinging movements are related to old styles of polyphonic vocal drone responsive music common in ritual. These are informed by mythology about bees, the sun, the goddess Laima, women as sisters in a working band, as well as vernacular kinship known as the bee brotherhood, and female magic users. Perhaps polyphonic vocal drone chanting can be related to overtone singing where a low sustained fundamental pitch is elaborated with harmonics supplied by the lead singer and the modulator, except that in the Latvian case the effect requires many voices rather than one. Overtone singing seems to often be involved with religion, magic, and healing by resonating with or imitating sounds of nature. Reflexive dainas suggest Latvian singing included such awareness. If so, it is possible to see the magic function of apdziedāšanās ritual to be a social healing process.