Presence of the Word – Plato’s Take

October 23rd, 2010

Spoken words are events, engaged in time and indeed in the present. Plato’s ideas were the polar opposite: not events at all, but motionless “objective” existence, impersonal, and out of time. (34).

Ong, Walter J. The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History. The Terry Lectures. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967.

While I have written in the past on Plato’s view and detailed various arguments from The Phaedrus, it is worth again addressing here, since Ong discusses it in this text. What we get from Plato is, essentially, a solid commitment to the spoken word and a strong aversion to the written word, believing it an approximation of the spoken word, which is actually an approximation of thought. He did write down certain things, such as some of Socrates’ teachings. However, the style was very unlike that of oral, and he strongly affirmed that “one cannot not put what is really essential to wisdom in writing, for this is to falsify it, and noting in The Phaedrus (274) that writing serves merely recall, not memory or wisdom” (55). Read the rest of this entry »

Presence of the Word – Back to Oral (Not)

October 21st, 2010

Ong, Walter J. The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History. The Terry Lectures. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967.

As I’ve noted many times through this blog, I am not suggesting through my focus on this unique form of aural/visual communication that we are on some track to return to the oral. This could never happen; we cannot unknown what we know. (Actually, the OVC does not even suggest that, since it uses text as well as audio/video.) Ong also notes that there is no way we are returning to an earlier oral-aural world. “There is no return to the past. The successive verbal media do not abolish one another but overlie one another” (9). This point relates to remediation (see Bolter and Grusin) and the discussion of new media finding origins in earlier media. Additionally, oral-aural cultures had very different thought processes and relations to communication, time, and memory to which we could not return having the innumerable recorded artifacts and the recording mindset that we do in this era. Read the rest of this entry »

Presence of the Word – Electronic Era

October 20th, 2010

Ong, Walter J. The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History. The Terry Lectures. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967.

Ong discusses the third stage of verbalization and notes that the process is sequential:

The past century has seen the world enter into a new stage beyond orality and script and print, a stage characterized by the use of electronics for verbal communication. There has been a sequence within this stage, too: telegraph (electronic processing of the alphabetized word), telephone (electronic processing of the oral word), radio (first for telegraphy, then for voice; an extension first of telegraph and then of telephone), sound pictures (electronic sound added to electrically projected vision), television (electronic vision added to electronic sound), and computers (word silenced once more, and thought processes pretty completely reorganized by extreme quantification). (87-88).

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Presence of the Word

October 19th, 2010

Man communicates with his whole body, and yet the word is his primary medium. Communication, like knowledge itself, flowers in speech (1).

Ong, Walter J. The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History. The Terry Lectures. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967.

This work, published in 1967, reveals many of the origins of Ong’s more popular Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. Routledge, 2002. Here, he discusses the history of language and communication from purely oral cultures to the chirographic era to print, and on to the electronic era. He states that, in terms of communication media, cultures can be divided into three successive stages, which are essentially stages of verbalization:

  1. Oral or oral-aural;
  2. Script, which reaches critical breakthroughs with the invention first of the alphabet and then later of alphabetic movable type; and
  3. Electronic.

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The End of the Book and the Beginning of Writing

October 9th, 2010

Derrida, Jacques, and Barry Stocker. Jacques Derrida: Basic Writings. London ; New York: Routledge, 2007.

In this chapter, “The End of the Book and the Beginning of Writing” from Of Grammatology, Derrida looks at what he considers to be the problem of language. This problem has to do with how we now (Note: this was published in 1967) use the term too loosely. “This crisis is also a symptom. It indicates, as if in spite of itself, that a historic-metaphysical epoch must finally determine as language the totality of its problematic horizon” (6).

As the chapter title suggests, Derrida is looking at the end of writing in reference to the book, since the book is a finite, limited, set collection of words and pages. Conversely, language has no boundaries, nor does the larger idea of writing. Writing itself can be altered, redirected, repurposed, resent, etc. To put it in context of the idea of the signified, spoken language (langue) signifies the thought and writing signifies the spoken language. Therefore, writing is the signifier of the signifier.

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