back to the future 12.28.2006, 12:14 PM
posted by bob stein
John Walter, a graduate student at St. Louis University wrote to the TechRet list the other day to announce the launch of the Walter Ong Collection, a digital archive based at the SLU. I went to the site and downloaded a PDF of an early version of one of Ong's more famous essays, "The Writer's Audience Is Always a Fiction." In this particular essay, Ong who made his name analyzing the difference between oral and written communication, explores how this shift changed the role of the reader. Ong makes the case that the role of the reader is quite different than the role of the "listener" in oral communication.
"The orator has before him an audience which is a true audience, a collectivity. 'Audience" is a collective noun. There is no such collective noun for readers, nor so far as I am able to puzzle out, can there be. "Readers" is a plural. For readers do not form a collectivity acting here and now on one another, and on the one speaking to them, as members of an audience do."
What's so interesting here, is that it seems that the age of networked reading and writing promises to get us much closer to one of the crucial aspects of oral culture -- the sense that the story teller/author and the audience/reader are joined together in a collective enterprise where the actions of each will have a direct and noticeable impact on the other.
Gary Frost on December 28, 2006 4:33 PM:
Ong's precept of Orality could only emerge from the background of narrative and symbolic presentation as it was influenced by the advents of writing and print. Likewise he defines further secondary oralities with the advents of telephone and television that feature remote and anomalous audiences. He wished to absorb screen readers into context with secondary orality.
A different tertiary orality would require a different paradigm of audience reception in context with all the precursor modes. I don't believe he observed that. A regressive path to tertiary orality could involve the dissolution of audience in the context of screen based reading. In this scenario there would be tons of traffic but disappearing readership and impaired comprehension . Obviously measures would be needed. More likely on-line communication compiles all reading modes to a single screen presentation...confirming Ong's position
The option of reversion to a primary orality is, by definition, impossible. This leaves us with Ong's relegation of on-line communication to an ecology of writing, broadcast media and print. Some other positioning of on-line communication as a tertiary orality may be possible if the paradigm shift can be described in progressive, positive terms.
bowerbird on December 28, 2006 4:46 PM:
> it seems that the age of
> networked reading and writing
> promises to get us much closer to
> one of the crucial aspects of oral culture
much closer, maybe, but still no cigar.
this difference between audience and readership is
_key_ to us performance poets, our raison d'etre,
and the fact remains that a networked book is still
spelled-out-words (or what i call "spellow") which
are experienced in a solitary fashion, and _not_
sound-waves vibrating listeners' (plural) eardrums.
those sound-waves are why performance poetry is
_music_, and not _literature_.
Georgia Harper on December 28, 2006 5:39 PM:
Indeed, Carla Hesse predicted something similar in her article, Books in Time, published in the UC Press volume, The Future of the Book (1997) --- "What appears to be emerging ... is ... a new mode of temporality ... in which public exchange through the written word can occur without the deferral, in a continuously immediate present." Continuing, "... the possibility for writing to operate in a temporal mode hitherto exclusively possible for speech, as parole rather than langue." This aspect was the main thing she saw as revolutionary about networked technology. The rest of it she suggests is simply a set of tools among which society must choose those it wants to implement its vision of a new literary system. But this particular aspect, she seemed to think, entailed the most profound of consequences.
John Walter on December 29, 2006 11:15 AM:
The problem with using tertiary orality to discuss text-based online communication and digital texts is that here is taht they're not oral but written. What we're reacting to, I think, is the foregrounding of immediacy and the presence that we associate with oral communication, but even so, it's not oral/aural. Ong started using the terms secondary literacy and secondary visualism in this context. With the unpublished lectures we've put online is "Secondary Orality and Secondary Visualism." It's worth a look.
Ashton Applewhite on January 9, 2007 2:25 PM:
voice recognition technology shall set us free:
in the NYT Book Review novelist Richard Powers, who apparently stopped typing decades ago, has an essay about how "writing by voice" taps into ancient storytelling and primordial neural circuitry. a non-intuitive path back towards the oral tradition.