Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

On orality and literacy

Jeet Heer writes a nice little note on Walter Ong for Books and Culture: A Christian Review. I have always thought Ong very interesting, and the more I have read him, the more I like him. Many important things are mentioned in this piece, from Marshall McLuhan to Hugh Kenner and Neil Postman, and then language, always words, the oral and the written, the warm and the cold, from Homer to Plato, from ears to eyes. Interesting stuff. Dip into Ong sometime if you think you are interested in "communication." Here is a passage from Ong:

"Because we have by today so deeply interiorized writing, made it so much a part of ourselves, as Plato’s age had not yet made it fully a part of itself, we find it difficult to consider writing to be a technology as we commonly assume printing and the computer to be. Yet writing (and especially alphabetic writing) is a technology, calling for the use of tools and other equipment: styli or brushes or pens, carefully prepared surfaces such as paper, animal skins, strips of wood, as well as inks or paints, and much more. … Writing is in a way the most drastic of the three technologies. It initiated what print and computers only continue, the reduction of dynamic sound to quiescent space, the separation of the word from the living present, where alone spoken words can exist." Or this (both from Orality and Literacy):

"Writing, in this ordinary sense, was and is, the most momentous of all human technological inventions. It is not a mere appendage to speech. Because it moves speech from the oral-aural to a new sensory world, that of vision, it transforms speech and thought as well. Notches on sticks and other aides-memoire lead up to writing, but they do not restructure the human life world as true writing does."

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