Thursday, August 28, 2008

ENG_6801 Notes on Orality and Literacy

Ok, so typing in the passages I underlined while reading is a waste of time when there is probably an online version of the text to copy and paste .. but the act of retyping Ong's text, does it have something to do with memory, remembering, just as the act of underlining and making marginal notes enhances the experience of reading?


(1) Many of the features we have taken for granted in thought and expression in literature, philosophy and science, and even in oral discourse among literates, are not directly native to human existence as such but have come into being because of the resources which the technology of writing makes available to human consciousness.

(1) since readers of this or any book by definition are acquainted with literate culture from the inside, the subject is, first, thought and its verbal expression in oral culture .. second, literate thought and expression in terms of their emergence from a relation to orality.

(2) It is useful to approach orality and literacy synchronically, by comparing oral cultures and chirographic (i.e., writing) cultures that coexist at a given period of time. But it is absolutely essential to approach them also diachronically or historically, by comparing successive periods with one another. .. Diachronic study of orality and literacy and of the various stages in the evolution from one to the other sets up a frame of reference in which it is possible to understand better not only pristine oral culture and subsequent writing culture, but also the print culture that brings writing to a new peak and the electronic culture which builds on both writing and print. In this diachronic framework, past and present, Homer and television, can illuminate one another.

(2) Not only are the issues deep and complex, but they also engage our own biases. We--readers of books such as this--are so literate that it is very difficult for us to conceive of an oral universe of communication or thought except as a variant of a literate universe.

(2-3) Our understanding of the differences between orality and literacy developed only in the electronic age, not earlier. Contrasts between electronic media and print have sensitized us to the earlier contrast between writing and orality. The electronic age is also an age of 'secondary orality', the orality of telephones, radio, and television, which depends on writing and print for its existence.

(3) Almost all the work thus far contrasting oral cultures and chirographic cultures has contrasted orality with alphabetic writing rather than with other writing systems .. and has been concerned with the alphabet as used in the West.

Ong's Argument

Premise: Many features of thought and expression, i.e., human consciousness, are not natural, but rather influenced by technology, in particular writing, print, and electronic culture.

Premise: Writing technologize radically transfers sound to vision.

Premise: This realization has only become apparent in the contrasts of electronic media and print.

Premise: Human consciousness evolves.

Conclusion/Hypothesis: Evaluation of oral cultures are biased by consciousness shaped by literacy and print.

Conclusion/Hypothesis: Many social, religious, and intellectual differences may be better attributed to oral/literacy differences.

Chapter 1



(5) Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913), the father of modern linguistics, had called attention to the primacy of oral speech, which underpins all verbal communication, as well as to the persistent tendency, even among scholars, to think of writing as the basic form of language.

(6) The greatest awakening to the contrast between oral modes of thought and expression and written modes took place not in linguistics, descriptive or cultural, but in literary studies, beginning clearly with the work of Milman Parry (1902-35) on the text of the Iliad and Odyssey, brought to completion after Parry's untimely death by Albert B. Lord, and supplemented by later work of Eric A. Havelock and others.

(7) Wherever human beings exist they have a language, and in every instance a language that exists basically as spoken and heard, in the world of sound.

(7) We are not here concerned with so-called computer 'languages', which resemble human langauges (English, Sanskrit, Malayalam, Mandarin Chinese, Twi or Shoshone etc.) in some ways but are forever totally unlike human languages in that they do not grow out of the unconscious but directly out of consciousness. Computer language rules ('grammar') are stated first and thereafter used. The 'rules' of grammar in natural human languages are used first and can be abstracted from usage and stated explicitly in words only with difficulty and never completely.

An interesting dismissal of computer programming langauges as Ong understood them. Yet when compared to how most late twentieth century Americans learned foreign languages (Latin, French, Spanish, German), they have much in common with other learned languages, especially for those who only aquire the ability to read and write them. Humans do not experience machine computer languages the way machines do when they 'speak' them natively in operating systems running programs on TCP/IP networks.

(8) Language study in all but recent decades has focused on written texts rather than on orality for a readily assignable reason: the relationship of study itself to writing. All thought, including that in primary oral cultures, is to some degree analytic: it breaks its materials into various components. But abstractly sequential, classificatory, explanatory examination of phenomena or of stated truths is impossible without writing and reading.

Primary orality lacks the tools for extended study of itself, and members of a primary oral cutlure will not have the kind of consciousness amenable to extended sequential analysis, conceptual definition, and abstraction.

(9) When study in the strict sense of extended sequential analysis becomes possible with the interiorization of writing, one of the first things that literates often study is language itself and its uses.

(9) Rhetorike, or rhetoric, basically meant public speaking or oratory, which for centuries even in literate and typographic cultures remained unreflexively pretty much the paradigm of all discourse, including that of writing.


(11) I style orality of a culture totally untouched by any knowledge of writing or print, 'primary orality'. It is 'primary' by contrast with the 'secondary orality' of present-day high-technology culture, in which a new orality is sustained by telephone, radio, television, and other electronic devices that depend for their existence and functioning on writing and print.

(13) Oral discourse has commonly been thought of even in oral milieus as weaving or stitching – rhapsoidein, to 'rhapsodize', basically means in Greek 'to stitch songs together'. But in fact, when literates today use the term 'text' to refer to oral performance, they are thinking of it by analogy with writing.

Literate bias has reinterpreted rhapsodize as stitching together letters and words. What about Xenophon's Socrates?

Chapter 2



(17) Earlier linguists had resisted the idea of the distinctiveness of spoken and written languages.


(19) [Robert] Wood [(c. 1717-71)] strikingly suggests that memory played a quite different role in oral culture from which it played in literate culture.


(20) The fundamental axiom governing his thought from the early 1920s on, 'the dependence of the choice of words and word-forms on the shape of the [orally composed] hexameter line' in the Homeric poems, had been anticipated in the work of J. E. Ellendt and H. Duntzer.

(21) Parry's discovery might be put this way: virtually every distinctive feature of Homeric poetry is due to the economy enforced on it by oral methods of composition.

(22) The meaning of the Greek term 'rhapsodize', rhapsoidein, 'to stitch song together' (rhaptein, to stitech; oide, song), became ominous: Homer stitched together prefabricated parts. Instead of a creator, you had an assembly-line worker.

(23) Moreover, the standardized formulas were grouped around equally standardized themes, such as the council, the gathering of the army, the challenge, the despoiling of the vanquished, the hero's shield, and so on and on.

Parry's discovery in literary studies really concerns human learning and its relationship to communication techniques, in this case, speech as the primary resource. The hexameter style, epiphets, themes is a byproduct of oral methods of composition.

(23-24) Certain of these wider implications remained to be worked out later in great detail by Eric A. Havelock (1963). .. In an oral culture, knowledge, once acquired, had to be constantly repeated or it would be lost: fixed, formulaic thought patterns were essential for wisdom and effective administrator. .. Havelock shows that Plato excluded poets from his ideal republic essentially (if not quite consciously) because he found himself in a new chirographically styled poetic world in which the formula or cliche, beloved of all traditional poets, was outmoded and counterproductive.

As Ong says later, Plato's position is thoroughly ambiguous.

(25) This stratum [of deeper meaning of Parry's formula] has been explored most intensively by David E. Bynum in The Daemon in the Wood.


(27) For understanding orality as contrasted with literacy, however, the most significant developments following upon Parry have been worked out by Albert B. Lord and Eric A. Havelock.

(28) in his magisterial and judicious work on The Epic in Africa (1979), Isidor Okpewho brings Parry's insights and analyses (in this case as elaborated in Lord's work) to bear on the oral art forms of cultures quite different from the European, so that the African epic and the ancient Greek epic throw reciprocal light on one another.

Example of synchronic analysis.

(28-29) Anthropologists have gone more directly into the matter of orality. .. many of the contrasts often made between 'western' and other views seem reducible to contrasts between deeply interiorized literacy and more or less residually oral states of consciousness. The late Marshall McLuhan's well-known work has also made much of ear-eye, oral-textual contrasts.

One of Ong's conclusions/hypotheses.

Chapter 3



(32) Sound exists only when it is going out of existence.

(32) the Hebrew term dabar means 'word' and 'event'. .. all sound, especially oral utterance, which comes from inside living organisms, is 'dynamic'.


(34) Think memorable thoughts. In a primary oral culture, to solve effectively the problem of retaining and retrieving carefully articulated thought, you have to do your thinking in mnemonic patterns, shaped for ready oral recurrence.


(i) Additive rather than subordinative

(37-38) Oral structures often look to pragmatics (the convenience of the speaker). Chirographic structures look more to syntactics (organization of the discourse itself).

(ii) Aggregative rather than analytic

(39) As Levi-Strauss has well put it in a summary statement 'the savage [i.e. Oral] mind totalizes'.

(iii) Redundant or 'copious'

(iv) Conservative or traditionalist

(v) Close to the human lifeworld

(vi) Agonistically toned

(44) Standard in oral societies across the world, reciprocal name-calling has been fitted with a specific name in linguistics: flyting (or fliting).

(vii) Empathetic and participatory rather than objectively distanced

(45) For an oral culture learning or knowing means achieving close, empathetic, communal identification with the known.

(viii) Homeostatic

(46) oral societies live very much in a present which keeps itself in equilibrium or homeostasis by sloughing off memories which no longer have present relevance.

(ix) Situational rather than abstract

(49) No work on operational thinking is richer for the present purpose than A. R. Luria's Cognitive Development: Its Cultural and Social Foundations.

(54-55) an oral culture simply does not deal in such items as geometrical figures, abstract categorization, formally logical reasoning processes, definitions, or even comprehensive descriptions, or articulated self-analysis, all of which derive not simply from thought itself but from text-formed thought.

These characteristics of oral culture should not be viewed as deficiencies, although they may appear so from the perspective of members of deeply literate cultures.


(57-58) the way verbal memory works in oral art forms is quite different from what literates in the past commonly imagined. .. Literates were happy simply to assume that the prodigious oral memory functioned somehow according to their own verbatim textual model.

In assessing more realistically the nature of verbal memory in primary oral cultures, the work of Milman Parry and Albert Lord again proved revolutionary. .. With his hexameterized vocabulary, he [Homer] could fabricate correct metrical lines without end, so long as he was dealing with traditional materials.

(59) Basically the same formulas and themes recurred, but they were stitched together or 'rhapsodized' differently in each rendition even by the same poet, depending on audience reaction, the mood of the poet or of the occasion, and other social and psychological factors.

Important point: oral memory not typically verbatim reproduction of past speech but more stitching together of a basic theme using a toolkit of stock expressions.

(60) In memorizing a written text, postponing its recitation generally weakens recall. An oral poet is not working with texts or in a textual framework. He needs time to let the story sink into his own store of themes and formulas, time to 'get with' the story.

See recent story in Wired magazine about the timing of memory exercises.

(63) verbatim memorization apparently does not at all free the oral noetic processes from dependence on formulas, but if anything increases the dependence.

(66) oral memory has a high somatic component.

The body is involved. Example of dancers in Gurdjieff.


(67) Much of the foregoing account of orality can be used to identify what can be called 'verbomotor' cultures, that is, cultures in which, by contrast with high-technology cultures, courses of action and attitudes toward issues depend significantly more on effective use of words, and thus on human interaction, and significantly less on non-verbal, often largely visual input from the 'objective' world of things.

(68) Oral communication unites people in groups. Writing and reading are solitary activities that throw the psyche back on itself.


(69) Oral memory works effectively with 'heavy' characters, persons whose deeds are monumental, memorable and commonly public.


(70) the unique relationship of sound to interiority when sound is compared to the rest of the senses. .. I have treated the matter in greater fullness and depth in The Presence of the Word.

(71) Sounds all register the interior structure of whatever it is that produces them. .. Vision comes to a human being from one direction at a time: to look at a room or a landscape, I must move my eyes from one part to another. When I hear, however, I gather sound simultaneously from every direction at once: I am at the center of my auditory world, which envelopes me, establishing me at a kind of core of sensation and existence.

(71) A typical visual ideal is clarity and distinctness, a taking apart. The auditory ideal, by contrast, is harmony, a putting together.

The phenomenological experience of sound is vasty different from vision, at least vision trained to read discreet things in the visual field.

(72) For oral cultures, the cosmos is an ongoing event with man at its center.


(73) There is no collective noun or concept for readers corresponding to 'audience'.

(74) 'Faith comes through hearing', we read in the Letter to the Romans (10:17). 'The letter kills, the spirit [breath, on which rides the spoken word] gives life' (2 Corinthians 3:6).


(74-75) What the reader is seeing on this page are not real words but coded symbols whereby a properly informed human being can evoke in his or her consciousness real words, in actual or imagined sound. It is impossible for script to be more than marks on a surface unless it is used by a conscious human being as a cue to sounded words, real or imagined, directly or indirectly.

It is important to distinguish the encoding of one form of expression in another (sound in sight) from representation (signs). The point is driven home by the contemporary example of digital communications protocols, where there is no semblance of signification of the originally encoded data at all, and the latter can only be retrieved by a "properly informed" decoding mechanism.

(75) Though the Romans knew the alphabet, this signum was not a lettered word but some kind of pictorial design or image, such as an eagle, for example.

(75) Our complacency in thinking of words as signs is due to the tendency, perhaps incipient in oral cultures but clearly marked in chirographic cultures and for more marked in typographic and electronic cultures, to reduce all sensation and indeed all human experience to visual analogues.

(76) Freeing ourselves of chirographic and typographic bias in our understanding of language is probably more difficult than any of us can imagine, far more difficult, it would seem, than the 'deconstruction' of literature, for this 'deconstruction' remains a literary activity.

Another of Ong's conclusions/hypotheses.

Chapter 4



(77) Writing establishes what has been called 'context-free' language or 'autonomous' discourse, discourse which cannot be directly questioned or contested as oral speech can be because written discourse has been detached from its author.

See Plato's Phaedrus for critique of writing.

(78) Texts are inherently contumacious [willfully and obstinately disobedient].


(78) essentially the same objections commonly urged today against computers were urged by Plato in the Phaedrus (274-7) and in the Seventh Letter against writing. .. inhuman .. destroys memory .. Calculators weaken the mind, relieve it of the work that keeps it strong. .. unresponsive .. 'Garbage in, garbage out'. .. cannot defend itself.

(79) Those who are disturbed by Plato's misgivings about writing will be even more disturbed to find that print created similar misgivings when it was first introduced.

(79) Once the word is technologized, there is no effective way to criticize what technology has done with it without the aid of the highest technology available. Moreover, the new technology is not merely used to convey the critique: in fact, it brought the critique into existence. Plato's philosophically analytic thought, as has been seen (Havelock 1963), including his critique of writing, was possible only because of the effects that writing was beginning to have on mental proceses.

Hard to criticize computer technology without using computer technology, etc.

(80) intelligence is relentlessly reflexive, so that even the external tools that it uses to implement its workings become 'internalized', that is, part of its own reflexive process.

One of the most startling paradoxes inherent in writing is its close association with death. .. the deadness of the text, its removal from the living human lifeworld, its rigid visual fixity, assures its endurance and its potential for being resurrected into limitless living contexts by a potentially infinite number of living readers.

Take on the complexion of the dead.


(81) 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.

(81) Writing or script differs as such from speech in that it does not inevitably well up out of the unconscious. The process of putting spoken language into writing is governed by consciously contrived, articulable rules.

(82) Technology, properly interiorized, does not degrade human life but on the contrary enhances it. .. Such shaping of a tool to oneself, learning a technological skill, is hardly dehumanizing. .. to understand what it is, which means to understand it in relation to its past, to orality, the fact that it is a technology must be honestly faced.


(82) a very late development in human history.

(83) A script in the sense of true writing, as understood here, does not consist of mere pictures, of representations of things, but is a representation of an utterance, of words that someone says or is imagined to say.

(83) Using the term 'writing' in this extended sense to include any semiotic marking trivializes its meaning. The critical and unique breakthrough into new worlds of knowledge was achieved within human consciousness not when simple semiotic marking was devised but when a coded system of visible marks was invented whereby a writer could determine the exact words that the reader would generate from the text.

(84) 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 lifeworld as true writing does.

One of Ong's major premises. Arbitrary relationship between speech and visual encoding.


(86) All pictographic systems, even with ideographs and rebuses, require a dismaying number of symbols.

(87) Many writing systems are in fact hybrid systems, mixing two or more principles. .. And even alphabetic writing becomes hybrid when it writes 1 instead of one.

(88) The most remarkable fact about the alphabet no doubt is that it was invented only once. It was worked up by a Semitic people or Semitic peoples around the year 1500 BC in the same general geographic area where the first of all scripts appeared, the cuneiform, but two millennia later than the cuneiform. .. Every alphabet in the world – Hebrew, Ugaritic, Greek, Roman, Cyrillic, Arabic, Tamil, Malayam, Korean – derives in one way of another from the original Semitic development.

(89) For an understanding of the development of writing out of orality, it appears at least unobjectionable to think of the Semitic script simply as an alphabet of consonants (and semivowels) for which readers, as they read, simply and easily supply the appropriate vowels.

(89) the Greeks did something of major psychological importance when they developed the first alphabet complete with vowels. Havelock (1976) believes that this crucial, more nearly total transformation of the word from sound to sight gave ancient Greek culture its intellectual ascendancy over other ancient cultures. .. Semitic writing was still very much immersed in the non-textual human lifeworld. The vocalic Greek alphabet was more remote from that world (as Plato's ideas were to be). It analyzed sound more abstractly into purely spatial components. It could be used to write or read words even from languages one did not know. .. The Greek alphabet was democratizing in the sense that it was easy for everyone to learn. It was also internationalizing in that it provided a way of processing even foreign tongues.

Greek alphabet superior technology for lossless encoding, although most of the context and somatic aspect is lost. See dynamics of textuality.

(90) All script represents words as in some way things, quiescent objects, immobile marks for assimilation by vision.

(91) Perhaps the most remarkable single achievement in the history of the alphabet was in Korea, where in AD 1443 King Sejong of the Yi Dynasty decreed that an alphabet should be devised for Korean. .. Sejong's assembly of scholars had the Korean alphabet ready in three years, a masterful achievement, virtually perfect in its accommodation to Korean phonemics and aesthetically designed to produce an alphabetic script with something of the appearance of a text in Chinese characters.


(93) shortly after the introduction of writing a 'craft literacy' develops.

(93) The physical properties of early writing materials encouraged the continuance of scribal culture.

(94) Longstanding oral mental habits of thinking one's thoughts aloud encourage dictation, but so did the state of writing technology.

Kind of like the difficulty using the first electronic computers, a craft culture of geeks but later tailored for mass consumpution and use.


(96) Before writing was deeply interiorized by print, people did not feel themselves situated every moment of their lives in abstract computed time of any sort.

Consciousness changes: sense of time.

(97) Goody has examined in detail the poetic significance of tables and lists, of which the calendar is one example.

(98) Texts are thing-like, immobilized in visual space, subject to what Goody calls 'backward scanning'.

(99) The significance of the vertical and the horizontal in texts deserves serious study.

(99) The extensive use of lists and particularly of charts so commonplace in our high-technology cultures is a result not simply of writing, but of the deep interiorization of print.


(100) Spoken words are always modifications of a total situation which is more than verbal. They never occur alone, in a context simply of words.

(100) Extratextual context is missing not only for readers but also for the writer.

(101) The ways in which readers are fictionalized is the underside of literary history, of which the topside is the history of genres and the handling of character and plot.

Another interesting hypothesis.


(102-103) To make yourself clear without gesture, without facial expression, without intonation, without a real hearer, you have to forsee circumspectly all possible meanings a statement may have for any possible reader in any possible situation, and you have to make your language work so as to come clear all by itself, with no existential context.

(103) With writing, words once 'uttered', outered, put down on the surface, can be eliminated, erased, changed. There is no equivalent for this in an oral performance, no way to erase a spoken word: corrections do not remove an infelicity or an error, they merely supplement it with denial and patchwork. The bricolage or patchwork that Levi-Strauss finds characteristic of 'primitive' or 'savage' thought patterns can be seen here to be due to the oral noetic situation.

(105) Bernstein's 'restricted' and 'elaborated' linguistic codes could be relabeled 'oral-based' and 'text-based' codes respectively.

(105) As Guxman has pointed out, a national written language has had to be isolated from its original dialect base, has discarded certain dialectal forms, has developed various layers of vocabulary from sources not dialectal at all, and has developed also certain syntactical peculiarities. This kind of established written language Haugen has aptly styled a 'grapholect'.

(106) The lexical richness of grapholects begins with writing, but its fullness is due to print. For the resources of a modern grapholect are available largely through dictionaries.

Grapholect arises from print; what arises from electronic culture?


(107) Two special major developments in the West derive from and affect the interaction of writing and orality. These are academic rhetoric and Learned Latin.

(108) The 'art' or rhetoric, though concerned with oral speech, was, like other 'arts', the product of writing.

(108) But for its first discoverers or inventors, the Sophists of fifth-century Greece, rhetoric was a marvelous thing. It provided a rationale for what was dearest to their hearts, effective and often showy oral performance, something which had been a distinctively human part of human existence for ages but which, before writing, could never have been so reflectively prepared for or accounted for.

(109-110) From Greek antiquity on, the dominance of rhetoric in the academic background produced throughout the literate world an impression, real if often vague, that oratory was the paradigm of all verbal expression, and kept the agonistic path of discourse exceedingly high by present-day standards.

(110) Into the nineteenth century most literary style throughout the West was formed by academic rhetoric, in one way or another, with one notable exception: the literary style of female authors.


(110) Learned Latin was a direct result of writing.

(111) By prescription of school statutes Latin had become Learned Latin, a language completely controlled by writing, whereas the new Romance vernaculars had developed out of Latin as languages had always developed, orally Latin had undergone a sound-sight split.

(111) It had no direct connection with anyone's unconscious of the sort that mother tongues, learned in infancy, always have.

(111-112) There were no purely oral users. But chirographic control of Learned Latin did not preclude its alliance with orality. Paradoxically, the textuality that kept Latin rooted in classical antiquity thereby kept it rooted also in orality, for the classical ideal of education had been to produce not the effective writer but the rhetor, the orator, the public speaker. The grammar of Learned Latin came from this old oral world.

(112) It has been suggested that Learned Latin effects even greater objectivity by establishing knowledge in a medium insulated from the emotion-charged depths of one's mother tongue, thus reducing interference from the human lifeworld and making possible the exquisitely abstract world of medieval scholasticism and of the new mathematical modern science which followed on the scholastic experience.

(113) Such languages are no more, and it is difficult today to sense their earlier power. All languages used for learned discourse today are also mother tongues. Nothing shows more convincingly than this disappearance of chirographically controlled language how writing is losing its earlier power monopoly (though not its importance) in today's world.


(114) By the sixteenth century rhetoric textbooks were commonly omitting from the traditional five parts of rhetoric (invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery) the fourth part, memory, which was not applicable to writing. They were also minimizing the last part, delivery. .. Today, when curricula list rhetoric as a subject, it usually means simply the study of how to write effectively. But no one ever consciously launched a program to give this new direction to rhetoric: the 'art' simply followed the drift of consciousness away from an oral to a writing economy. .. The three Rs – reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic – representing an essentially nonrhetorical, bookish, commercial and domestic education, gradually took over from the traditional orally grounded, heroic, agonistic education that had generally prepared young men in the past for teaching and professional, ecclesiastical, or political public service. In the processes, as rhetoric and Latin went out, women entered more and more into academia, which also became more and more commercially oriented.

Chapter 5



(115-116) Even a cursory glance at Elizabeth Eisenstein's two volumes, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (1979), makes abundantly evident how diversified and vast the particular effects of print have been. Eisenstein spells out in detail how print made the Italian Renaissance a permanent European Renaissance, how it implemented the Protestant Reformation and reoriented Catholic religious practice, how it affected the development of modern capitalism, implemented western European exploration of the globe, changed family life and politics, diffused knowledge as never before, made universal literacy a serious objective, made possible the rise of modern sciences, and otherwise altered social and intellectual life. .. These subtler effects of print [by McLuhan and Steiner] on consciousness, rather than readily observable social effects, concern us particularly here.

(116) For thousands of years, human beings have been printing designs from variously carved surfaces. .. But the crucial development in the global history of printing was the invention of alphabetic letterpress print in fifteenth century Europe. .. Words are made out of units (types) which pre-exist as units before the words which they will constitute. Print suggests that words are things for more than writing ever did.

This is an important point in the diachronic timeline of the evolution of consciousness.

(116-117) It embedded the word itself deeply in the manufacturing process and made it into a kind of commodity. The first assembly line, a technique of manufacture which in a series of set steps produces identical complex objects made up of replaceable parts, was not one which produced stoves or shoes or weaponry but one which produced the printed book. .. Despite the assumptions of many semiotic structuralists, it was print, not writing, that effectively reified the word, and, with it, poetic activity.

(117-119) Auditory dominance can be seen strikingly in such things as early printed title pages, which often seem to us crazily erratic in their inattention to visual word units. .. Evidently, in processing for meaning, the sixteenth century was concentrating less on sight of the word and more on its sound than we do.

(119) Writing moves words from the sound world to a world of visual space, but print locks words into position in this space.

(120) The effects of the greater legibility of print are massive. The greater legibility ultimately makes for rapid, silent reading. Such reading in turn makes for a different relationship between the reader and the authorial voice in the text and calls for different styles of writing.

With large-scale adoption of print technologies, literacy is transformed from largely oral bias to develop its own unique characteristics. Consciousness evolves.


(i) Indexes

(121) Lists begin with writing. Goody has discussed the use of lists in the Ugaritic script of around 1300 BC. .. the information in the lists is abstracted from the social situation in which it had been embedded .. and also from linguistic context. .. lists as such have 'no oral equivalent'

(122) Alphabetic indexes show strikingly the disengagement of words from discourse and their embedding in typographic space.

Computer data is a great example of words embedded in typographic space in a manner that is completely disengaged from any kind of overall context (discourse).

(123) Lacking title pages and often titles, a book from pre-print, manuscript culture is normally catalogued by its 'incipit', or the first words of its text. .. Title pages are labels. They attest a feeling for the book as a kind of thing or object.

(ii) Books, contents and labels

(124) Now, with print, two copies of a given work did not merely say the same thing, they were duplicates of one another as objects.

(iii) Meaningful surface

(125) What is distinctive of modern science is the conjuncture of exact observation and exact verbalization: exactly worded descriptions of carefully observed complex objects and processes. The availability of carefully made, technical prints (first woodcuts, and later even more exactly detailed metal engravings) implemented such exactly worded descriptions. .. Eisenstein suggests how difficult it is today to imagine earlier cultures where relatively few persons had ever seen a physically accurate picture of anything.

Or how difficult to imagine earlier cultures incapable of on demand reproduction of audio and visual phenomena such as we have today with electronic technology.

(iv) Typographic space

(127) Deconstruction is tied to typography rather than, as its advocates seem often to assume, merely to writing.


(128-129) Print created a new sense of the private ownership of words. .. print encouraged human beings to think of their own interior conscious and unconscious resources as more and more thing-like, impersonal and religiously neutral. Print encouraged the mind to sense that its possessions were held in some sort of inert mental space.


(130) The printed text is supposed to represent the words of an author in definitive or 'final' form. .. By contrast, manuscripts, with their glosses or marginal comments (which often got worked into the text in subsequent copies) were in dialogue with the world outside their own borders.

(131) Intertextuality refers to a literary and psychological commonplace: a text cannot be created simply out of lived experience. A novelist writes a novel because he or she is familiar with this kind of textual organization of experience.

(131) Print creates a sense of closure not only in literary works but also in analytic philosophical and scientific works.

(132) Peter Ramus (1515-1572) produced the paradigms of the textbook genre: textbooks for virtually all arts subjects (dialectic or logic, rhetoric, grammar, artithmetic, etc.) that proceeded by cold-blooded definitions and divisions leading to still further definitions and more divisions, until every last particle of the subject had been dissected and disposed of.

(132) A correlative of the sense of closure fostered by print was the fixed point of view, which as Marshall McLuhan pointed out, came into being with print.


(133-134) the sequential processing and spatializing of the word, initiated by writing and raised to a new order of intensity by print, is further intensified by the computer, which maximizes commitment of the word to space and to (electronic) local motion and optimizes analytic sequentiality by making it virtually instantaneous.

At the same time, with telephone, radio, television and various kinds of sound tape, electronic technology has brought us into the age of 'secondary orality'. This new orality has striking resemblances to the old in its participatory mystique, its fostering of a communal sense, its concentration on the present moment, and even its use of formulas. But it is essentially a more deliberate and self-conscious orality, based permanently on the use of writing and print, which are essential for the manufacture and operation of the equipment and for its use as well.

(134) secondary orality generates a sense for groups immeasurably larger than those of primary oral culture -- McLuhan's 'global village'. .. Unlike members of a primary oral culture, who are turned outward because they have had little occasion to turn inward, we are turned outward because we have turned inward. .. We plan our happenings carefully to be sure that they are thoroughly spontaneous.

(135) Electronic media do not tolerate a show of open antagonism. Despite their cultivated air of spontaneity, these media are totally dominated by a sense of closure which is the heritage of print: a show of hostility might break open the closure, the tight control.

Ong does not offer an initial electronic text. He also does not consider the development of technologies for the reproduction and transmission of sound, from which secondary orality arises through radio, television, and recording devices. See Morse code.

Chapter 6



(137) In a sense narrative is paramount among all verbal art forms because of the way it underlies so many other art forms, even the most abstract. Human knowledge comes out of time. .. knowledge and discourse come out of human experience and that the elemental way to process human experience verbally is to give an account of it more or less as it really comes into being and exists, embedded in the flow of time.


(138) In primary oral cultures, where there is no text, the narrative serves to bond thought more massively and permanently than other genres.


(139) In his Ars Poetica, Horace writes that the epic poet 'hastens into the action and precipitates the hearer into the middle of things' (lines 148-9). .. literate poets eventually interpreted Horace's in medias res as making hysteron proteron obligatory in the epic.

(140) an oral culture has no experience of a lengthy, epic-size or novel-size climactic linear plot.

(141) Whitman's chart of the organization of the Iliad suggests boxes within boxes created by thematic recurrences, not Freytag's pyramid.

(141) Starting in 'the middle of things' is not a consciously contrived ploy but the original, natural, inevitable way to proceed for an oral poet approaching a lengthy narrative. If we take the climactic linear plot as the paradigm of plot, the epic has no plot. Strict plot for lengthy narrative comes from writing.

(141) The climactic linear plot reaches a plenary form in the detective story -- relentlessly rising tension, exquisitely tidy discovery and reversal, prefectly resolved denouement. The detective story is generally considered to have begun in 1841 with Edgar Allen Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

(143) The oral song (or other narrative) is the result of interaction between the singer, the present audience, and the singer's memories of songs sung. In working with this interaction, the bard is original and creative on rather different grounds from those of the writer.


(146) The pyramidally structured narrative, as has been seen, reaches its peak in the detective story.

(146) The oral narrator's protagonist, distinguished typically for his external exploits, has been replaced by the interior consciousness of the typographic protagonist.

(147) Writing, as has been seen, is essentially a consciousness-raising activity.

(148) Avantgarde literature is now obliged to deplot its narratives or to obscure their plots. But deplotted stories of the electronic age are not episodic narratives. They are impressionistic and imagistic variations of the plotted stories that preceded them.


(148) As discourse moves from primary orality to greater and greater chirographic and typographic control, the flat, 'heavy' or type character yields to characters that grow more and more 'round', that is, that perform in ways at first blush unpredictable but ultimately consistent in terms of the complex character structure and complex motivation with which the round character is endowed.

(149-150) Fuller explanation of the emergence of the 'round' character must include an awareness of what writing, and later print, did to the old noetic economy. .. The advent of print intensified the inwardness fostered by script. The age of print was immediately marked in Protestant circles by advocay of private, individual interpretation of the Bible, and in Catholic circles was marked by the growth of frequent private confession of sins, and concomitantly a stress on the examination of conscience. The influence of writing and print on Christian asceticism cries for study.

(150) Late high-technology, electronic cultures still produce type characters in regressive genres such as Westerns or in contexts of self-conscious human. The Jolly Green Giant works well enough in advertising script because the anti-heroic epithet 'jolly' advertises to adults that they are not to take this latterday fertility god seriously. The story of type characters and the complex ways they relate written fiction to oral tradition has not yet been told.

(151) Since Freud, the psychological and especially the psychoanalytic understanding of all personality structure has taken as its model something like the 'round' character of fiction. .. It would appear that the development of modern depth psychology parallels the development of the character in drama and the novel, both depending on the inward turning of the psyche produced by writing and intensified by print.

(152) The present-day phenomenological sense of existence is richer in its conscious and articulate reflection than anything that preceded it. But it is salutary to recognize that this sense depends on the technologies of writing and print, deeply interiorized, made a part of our own psychic resources.

Chapter 7


(153) Most of these schools are treated in Hawkes (1977) [Structuralism and Semiotics].


(154) We have not yet come to full terms with the fact that from antiquity well through the eighteenth century many literary texts, even when composed in writing, were commonly for public recitation; originally by the author himself.

Apply this same thought to the history of software engineering.

(156) Romances are the product of chirographic culture, creations in a new written genre heavily reliant on orla modes of thought and expression, but not consciously imitating earlier oral forms as the 'art' epic did.

(156) A great gap in our understanding of the influence of women on literary genre and style could be bridged or closed through attention to the orality-literacy-print shift.


(159) since any given time is situated in the totality of all time, a text, deposited by its author in a given time, is ipso facto related to all times, having implications which can be unfolded only with the passage of time, inaccessible to the consciousness of the author or author's coevals, though not necessarily absent from their subconsciousness.

(161) Semiotic structuralism and deconstructionism generally take no cognizance at all of the various ways that texts can relate to their oral substratum.


(162) Bricolage is the literate's term for what he himself would be guilty of it he produced an oral-styled poem. But oral organization is not literate organization put together in a makeshift fashion.


(163) At its worst, as textualists see it, this bias can take this form: one assumes that there simply is a one-to-one correspondence between items in an extramental world and spoken words, and a similar one-to-one correspondence between spoken words and written words. .. the naive reader presumes the prior presence of an extramental referent which the word presumably captures and passes on through a kind of pipeline to the psyche.

(163) Writing breaks the pipeline model because it can be shown that writing has an economy of its won so that it cannot simply transmit unchanged what it receives from speech.

(164) Plato's relationship to orality was thoroughly ambiguous.

(165) Plato's phonocentrism is textually contrived and textually defended.

(166) There are no closed systems and never have been. The illusion that logic is a closed system has been encouraged by writing and even more by print.


(166-167) Speech-act theory distinguishes the 'locutionary' act (the act of producing an utterance, of producing a structure of words), the 'illocutionary' act (expressing an interactive setting between utterer and recipient -- e.g. promising, greeting, asserting, boasting, and so on), and the 'perlocutionary' act (one producing intended effects in the hearer such as fright, conviction or courage. .. So far as I know, these different bearings have never been spelt out. If they were, they might well show that promising, responding, greeting, asserting, threatening, commanding, protesting and other illocutionary acts do not mean quite the same thing in an oral culture that they mean in a literate culture.

(167-168) Reader-response criticism is intimately aware that writing and reading differ from oral communication, and in terms of absence: the reader is normally absent when the writer writes and the writer is normally absent when the reader reads, whereas in oral communication speaker and hearer are present to one another. .. Little has thus far been done, however, to understand reader response in terms of what is now known of the evolution of poetic processes from primary orality through residual orality to high literacy.


(169) Philosophy, it seems, should be reflectively aware of itself as a technological product -- which is to say a special kind of very human product. Logic itself emerges from the technology of writing.

(170) One can be aware that texts have oral backgrounds without being entirely aware of what orality really is.


(172) The connection is not a matter of reductionism but of relationism.


(172) Thinking of a 'medium' of communication or of 'media' of communication suggests that communication is a pipeline transfer of units of material called 'information' from one place to another. .. The model obviously has something to do with human communication, but, on close inspection, very little, and it distorts the act of communication beyond recognition. Hence McLuhan's wry book title: The Medium is the Massage (not quite the 'message').

(173) Human communication is never one-way. Always, it not only calls for response but is shaped in its very form and content by anticipated response.

(173) Communication is intersubjective. The media model is not.

(173-174) Willingness to live with the 'media' model of communication shows chirographic conditioning. First, chirographic cultures regard speech as more specifically informational than do oral cultures, where speech is more performance-oriented, more a way of doing something. Second, the written text appears prima facie to be a one-way informational street, for no real recipient (reader, hearer) is present when the texts come into being.


(174) Since at least the time of Hegel, awareness has been growing that human consciousness evolves. .. Modern studies in the shift from orality to literacy and the sequels of literacy, print and the electronic processing of verbalization, make more and more apparent some of the ways in which this evolution has depended on writing.

Ong, Walter J. (1982). Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. New York: Routledge.