Monday, August 02, 2004

Another quote found while doing the inventory:

Ong, Walter J. "A Comment by Walter J. Ong, S.J." College English 40 (1979): 871-73 [Fr. Ong was responding to Diana Hume George's "The Miltonic Ideal: A Paradigm fore the Structure of Relations Between Men and Women in Academia." College English 40 (1979): 864-870, in which George argues Ong wanted a return to the good old days before women were a part of academia]:

"[…] in my experience mere description of the successive stages of consciousness with their different psychic structures brings many readers or hearers to decide that you have adjudicated one of the stages as better than the other. When I have described and differentiated primary (preliterate) oral culture and subsequent literate culture, in reacting to the same text of mine some persons have accused me of being pro-oral and others of being pro-literate [….] There was the old agonistic world. It is no more. The fact that I do not condemn its existence in the past does not mean that I would want its continuance" (872-73).

As Ong notes in that short piece, to discuss something such as primary orality or literacy or the old agonistic world "positively" is not the same thing as advocating it as a model for contemporary life or to argue that it was a better system than our present one. Ong's term "positively" in this article does not mean to write of something to praise it, but to study it on its own terms, i.e. to study primary orality as a system with its own affordances and constraints rather than study it through the lens of literacy and think of it as primitive or savage or impoverished. A major part of this is the understanding that a while Ong's study of the technologizing of the word and the cognitive shifts that occur with it is the study of the stages of consciousness, these stages are not hierarchal in the sense of bad to good but rather hierarchal in the sense that it is a one-way movement through time. As explained in my post of June 22, once you have cognitively interiorized literacy, you can't unlearn that cognitive shift. (However, if we were to take a newborn child or group of newborn children and were to somehow raise them to an entirely non-cognitively literate environment, they would probably develop a primarily oral consciousness.

One might ask whether we, as individuals, move through primary orality to literacy to secondary orality (or straight to secondary orality) in our own cognitive development. I'm not a cognitive psychologist, so I can't say for sure, but what I do know is that our memories consist of three codes: the semantic, the verbal, and the visual. Our semantic code is “the key to the whole operation of memory," that it is a “mental map” which governs how our minds work. Studies have found that our semantic code is largely fixed in early childhood and that it is based upon our immediate environment, meaning that if we are raised within an environment of literacy or secondary orality, then those cognitive structures are encoded into us well before we learn how to read.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home