Electric Rhetoric – An Isocratic Literacy Theory

October 27th, 2010

I contend that we do not now know Isocrates’ rhetorical theories well enough, because we have not understood classical Greek rhetoric and writing practices for our electrified time. (33)

Welch, Kathleen E. Electric Rhetoric: Classical Rhetoric, Oralism, and a New Literacy. The MIT Press, 1999.

In this Chapter 2 of Electric Rhetoric, Welch argues that the classical rhetoric set forth by interpretations of Aristotle and Plato is “categorical and highly ordered” (p. 33) and does not account for our “electrified time.” While it may be categorical and ordered, that helps for classification. She also contends that Isocrates’ rhetoric is by nature misogynistic and exclusionist. While this may be true, that was an unfortunate condition of the period. Applied today, Aristotelian and Platonic rhetorical theory need not be exclusionist or misogynist. This is a point Welch understands well, as she goes to great lengths to vindicate Isocrates’ rhetoric and find application for it in the “next rhetoric” (Chapter 4) that she proposes.

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Presence of the Word – Word as Sound

October 24th, 2010

[C]ultures which do not reduce words to space but know them only as oral-aural phenomena, in actuality or in the imagination, naturally regard words as more powerful than do literate cultures” (112).

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

That words are powerful is a common idea, meaning that words can hurt, words bring knowledge, words bring action, etc. However, for early man and oral cultures, words actually bring physical power.

It is a commonplace that early man, strongly if by no means exclusively oral-aural, experiences words–which for him typically are spoken words–as powerful, effective, of a piece with other actuality far more than later visualist man is likely to do. A word is a real happening, indeed a happening par excellence. (111).

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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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