- Series: New Accents
- Paperback: 264 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 3 edition (November 3, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0415538386
- ISBN-13: 978-0415538381
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #342,385 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Orality and Literacy: 30th Anniversary Edition (New Accents) 3rd Edition
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About the Author
Walter J. Ong (30 November 1912 – 12 August 2003) was University Professor Emeritus at Saint Louis University, USA, where he was previously Professor of English and Professor of Humanities in Psychiatry. His many publications have been highly influential for studies in the evolution of consciousness.
John Hartley is an educator, author, researcher and commentator on the history and cultural impact of television, journalism, popular media and creative industries. He is Professor of Cultural Science and Director of the Centre for Culture & Technology at Curtin University, Western Australia.
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Top Customer Reviews
For me, Ong's book was an introduction into the way societies accumulate and pass on knowledge. Ong concentrates on the idea that the invention of the alphabet radically re-structured human consciousness and was responsible for the current dominance of the materialistic Western world view. Ong was a member of the Toronto School (which included Goody and McLuhan) and that school favored a strongly deterministic view. Others, including Ruth Finnegan, are more balanced. If you want to be challenged in your views of how human societies work, I highly recommend reading this book. However, I would also encourage you to explore further - oral societies are much more complex than a superficial reading of Ong would lead you to believe. Ong has a tendency to think that Western thought is the pinnacle of human achievement, but don't let that stop you from reading his work. If you hold in your mind, while reading the book, that there are other ways of passing on knowledge than alphabetic writing systems, you will be rewarded by Ong's insights. This book was written in 1982, so in some respects, it is a bit dated - there has been quite a lot of scholarly effort devoted to the field since then. If you are interested in exploring further, I would suggest that you start with Ong's excellent bibliography and look up each author on the Internet and follow those leads. You will soon find yourself in a thicket of semiotics, performance, intersubjectivity, oral tradition, and indigenous memory systems, among other topics. Ong was a brilliant scholar and I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is a rather brief overview, but if you are willing to do some work, it is an excellent starting point for further research.
Printing and computers emerged as technology. But so did writing. Writing is so natural to us that we forget it is a human creation - we can not even name what came before it (oral literature is a revealing oxymoron).
Ong convinces us that writing restructured our consciousness, and so does this little book. This technical, scholarly and at time tedious book is an eye opener. It shows that what seems like a given is possibly the most fundamental reshaping of ourselves in the history of humanity.
Those fond of Homer or Plato will wonder how they could have studied them seriously without the prism of orality vs literacy. The Iliad and Odyssey are oral poems - can we imagine what it takes to compose a tens of thousand words epic without taking a single note, without writing a single verse and without an outline? The Socrates discourses - discourses! - are the first steps of written analytic thoughts in a Society were rhetoric was king.
Beyond antic work the orality perspective is relevant for the full history of thoughts. Literature became less and less influenced by the oral constraints, shifting from the episodic epics to the modern well constructed novel. Teaching evolved from recitation and rhetoric to analytical thoughts.
Grasping orality allows a better understanding of human nature, not only by offering a glimpse of what primitive society's thoughts might be, but by putting the evolution of thoughts in a new light. Differences in today's societies often reflect their degree of literacy, i.e., the maturity of their written thought process. The Flynt effect - the significant increase in IQ in western societies over the last century - is a symptom of this influence. Societies only recently exposed to writing fair much lower on IQ tests. IQ tests that western experts devised to be a-cultural are in fact rooted in an advanced writing-centric culture. So much that the experts themselves are oblivious to that effect (the more a-cultural the test the stronger the Flynnt effect).
Ong wants us to glimpse into what our consciousness was before writing, to feel it if not to adopt it, and to understand how transformative that emergence must have been.