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Orality and Literacy (New Accents) New edition Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0415027960
ISBN-10: 0415027969
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The Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe
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The maestro storyteller and reporter provocatively argues that what we think we know about speech and human evolution is wrong. Learn more
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Lynne Pearce is Professor in Literary Theory and Women's Writing at the University of Lancaster. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: New Accents
  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; New edition edition (October 1, 1982)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415027969
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415027960
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.2 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #417,106 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I recently became interested in media in their own right. I tried reading McLuhan, but found him to be dazzling and frustrating - he would drop these little sound bites and then move on. I wanted a more in depth exploration of media.
McLuhan brought to my attention how media are not just passive carriers of content, but powerfully shape and influence it. Even more startling, he stated that media shape consciousness itself - they change the very people who use it. The tail wags the dog.
McLuhan's probes have their strength in galvanizing thought, not in the patient, careful arguing of a point. It's in this context I found Ong exactly what I was hoping/looking for. He tries to evoke an understanding of what is what like to live in a culture that had never known writing. He discusses how this affects each aspect of life, how it structures personality and identity, community, etc. (Not surprisingly, Ong was a student of McLuhan.)Then he discusses the shift to literacy, and how it affected identity as well.
I am used to academics writing in such a dense, convoluted style. Happily, this was completely absent from Ong's style. He manages to drop little insights about without belaboring them.
The great thing about a book like this for me - a layman - is that he manages to comment on apparently trivial, mundane features of daily life like calendars, lists, clocks, title pages in books - and show how they really manifest these huge, typically invisible trends in the changing of how we think about life and ourselves.
I loved this book - I will certainly read his earlier articles, since Orality and Literacy is mostly a summing of all prior research (as of 1982).
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"Orality and Literacy" is a scholarly work, which is the author's intent. Because of this, it requires a college level reading ability. With those warnings in mind, it is also a fascinating book on a somewhat remote subject: the way that our ability to write has changed our ways of thinking about ourselves and the world, our ways of remembering, and the progress of human development. It is a good introduction to this academic area as the author surveys the existing research and catalogs his sources very thoroughly. He gives particular attention to how oral cultures deal with thinking, remembering, and relating to the community in fundamentally different ways than literate cultures do. As a teacher, I found myself wondering if we could learn from oral cultures some of the old ways of relating to and remembering what we hear. Our literacy has allowed us to abandon these narrative and remembering techniques- to our impoverishment, I suspect.
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Format: Paperback
This book represents a very concise, easy to read summary of much of Ong's work in the area of human communications and technology. The depth of scholarship evident can easily be followed upon by using the wide-ranging bibliography. Ong masterfully takes the idea of the power of the alphabet, and points to the impact this has on human understanding, an impact which has not fully been accepted in philosophy, history, anthropology, sociology, etc. The student and scholar would do well to creatively interact with Ong's work.
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I wish I hadn't read this book... but heard it, for this is a book that deserves the delight that comes from the immediate business of listening to sounds in the air rather than the abstracted business of reading marks on a page (or dulled spots on a screen).

In it, Walter Ong makes a valiant attempt to take us back to a time before text, to a place where we might imagine language as something heard and existing only in its moment, language as something without thee concept of words and letters to chop it up, language as something we hear without imagined structures learned from print, language as something replete with revealing repetitions to aid memory and understanding, something that values the familiar over the novel. He then slowly winds us forward, textual innovation by [con]textual innovation, to the edge of the cyber age, the next unwritten chapter along this vast track.

If you're a reader of books, I'm sure you'll be transported by this adventure beyond your cultural assumptions of what language is and can be. You may find yourself yearning for some of the human experience our world of convenient published accessible text may be denying us, or even hoping some of that experience is still available in specialist forms such as live performance, as I do.

Either way, you'll never hear a book like it.
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We type, we print. This is technology. We speak, we write, we read. This is human nature. Or is it?

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.
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