chapter  11
6 Pages

The Folk Riddle as a Figure of Concealment

This chapter explains that before discovering how the folk riddle actually works in oral tradition, ethnologists had an inkling that the nature of its earliest function might have been esoteric. Ethnographic and anthropological studies have a short history, contaminated by modernity, yet some pages of this history have greater penetrating power than others. James George Frazer, in his voluminous study of primitive mythologies, offered, in a footnote, a survey of ethnographic testimonies concerning the place of riddles in so-called primitive societies. Actually, it is a paradoxical figure of concealment through expression, but the function of expression is generally speaking implied by any symbolic figuration, such is the nature of symbol. A figure of concealment conceals what it expresses by substituting for it something different which can be expressed manifestly, while at the same time obliquely testifying to the odd nature of this expression and thus implicating something that is left out, doing two contradictory things at the same time.