Sunday, September 26, 2004

While working through the issues of Oral Tradition, I took the time to read Lauri Hanko's "Epics Along the Silk Roads: Mental Text, Performance, and Written Codification" (Oral Tradition 11.1 (1996): 1-17), which seems to intersect with a number of issues I'm trying to work on regarding memory and composition.

In this first passage, I see echoes of Flower and Hayes work with memory, composition, and composing. I need to go back and look at those essays.

"To accept memorization as the key to epic composition would be tantamount to saying that excellent singers are poor memorizers. On the other hand, memory is their world and instrument at the same time. They are capable of displaying great accuracy of memory, if need arises. Singers of oral poetry may easily master a store of tradition much larger than is usual in a culture dominated by literacy. Thus the aim in their work of composing epics cannot be a word-for-word reproduction of something. Such a verbatim reproduction may occur in sacred texts, for example in charms, incantations, and prayers, but even there objective accuracy may prove an illusion. On the other hand, the singer may claim the 'sameness' of renditions that are far from identical.

"To be able to understand the production of a text in an actual performance, it seems necessary to postulate a kind of 'pre-narrative,' a pre-textual frame, that is, an organized collection of relevant consciousness and unconscious material present in the singer's mind. This material consists of (1) textual elements and (2) generic rules for reproduction; we may call it a 'mental text.' It is not as fixed as its documented manifestations may suggest, but it is only through its fixed manifestations that we can try to construct components of a particular mental text.

"The apparent fixity of verbalizations proves to be transparent and fluid when we analyze their variation at the levels of texture (language), text (content), and structure. The concept of textual similarity is different from the textual one, since similar content may be conveyed by linguistically dissimilar expressions. The same relation may be observed between content and structure: different structures may reside behind similar contents and dissimilar textual contents may reveal the same structure. The singer's concept of 'sameness' may reside on the content level, whereas our observation of 'differences' between two texts may be based on textual or linguistic criteria" (4-5).

And in this next passage, especially the second paragraph, I'm interested in the idea of composing with images and the need to practice mediating between the image and the verbal:

"As we try to conceptualize a 'mental text' it may be useful, at least in the beginning of our analysis, to avoid the textural level of 'textual elements' evident in the available renditions of the story in question. Since fixed verbalization is the final result of epic composition, we should not start there but look for more basic elements, which we may discern through a variety of manifestations of the same narrative. In other words, we may try to proceed in the same order as the singer and begin with what he seems to consider first when preparing a performance.

"Let us assume that memory works by mental images and units of meaning rather than by verbal expressions. The images may be lucid and powerful regardless of what their verbal description will be in actual performance. It is the power of mental images that translates into word power. Image power cannot be exhausted by particular words. Hence the variation of linguistic means becomes a method of reaching toward maximal expression, a goal that can be reached only momentarily. The force of an image may be pressed into a particular function for a moment, but when the actual intact to its original and polyvalent form of existence in the human consciousness.

"Mental images may, just like verbal expressions or for that matter models of mime and gesture, coexist in fairly free and loose order in the human mind. As such they need not 'mean' much. Units of meaning are created only when images are related to each other, combined in a particular way or put in a sequence. If we read an epic text from this point of view, what we find are sequences of traditional images. If one does not wish to postulate repeatable verbal expressions or 'formulas' as the basic units of epic composition, another possibility for the traditional 'basis' is prearranged sets of units of meaning. What Paul Ricoeur calls 'emplotment' (1991): 21) may come close to the sequencing of traditional images by the performers or oral epics" (5-6). [Ricoeur, Paul. "Life in Quest of Narrative" in On Paul Ricoeur]

James Fentress and Chris Wickham discuss image based social memory in chapter 4 (?) of Social Memory. Tibetan paper singers (John Miles Foley's How to Read an Oral Poem) and the Scottish storyteller described in MacDonald, Donald A. "A Visual Memory." Scottish Studies 22 (1978): 1-26, both see the action of their oral performances. The Scottish storyteller relies upon it to such a degree that if his focus is interrupted, he can loose the 'movie' and therefore the ability to continue with that performance. All this intersects with Kristie Fleckentein's work on imagery and imageword, and, of course medieval memory practice.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Working through Fr. Ong's issues of Oral Tradition. I want to go back and read (most, but not all, for my dissertation):

-Doane, A.N. "The Ethnography of Scribal Writing and Anglo-Saxon Poetry: Scribe as Performer." Oral Tradition 9.2 (1994): 420-439.

-Niles, John D. "Editing Beowulf: What Can Study of the Ballads Tell Us?" Oral Tradition 9.2 (1994): 440-467.

-Schaefer, Ursula. "Alterities: On Methodology in Medieval Literary Studies." Oral Tradition 8.1 (1993): 187-214.

-Sorrell, Paul: "Oral Poetry and the World of Beowulf." Oral Tradition 7.1 (1992): 28-65.

-Finnegan, Ruth. "Tradition, but What Tradition and For Whom?" Oral Tradition 6.1 91991): 104-24.

-Carrier, James and Achsah Carrier. "Every Picture Tells a Story: Visual Alternatives to Oral Tradition in Ponam Society." Oral Tradition 5.2-3 (1990): 354-375.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Still working through the "Rhetoric/Hermeneutics/Linguistic" boxes. Some titles that caught my attention as I flipped through them (caught my attention enough that I'm writing them down here for future reading):

-Daniel Chandler. The Art of Writing: A Media Theory Approach
-Michael Heim. Electronic Language: A Philosophical Study of Word Processing
-Language and Communication: An Interdisciplinary Journal 9.2/3 (1989)
-John DeFrancis. Visible Speech: The Diverse Oneness of Writing Systems
-Balz Engler. Reading and Listening: The Modes of Communication and their Influence on the Texts

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

I'm working through the five boxes marked "Rhetoric/Hermeneutics/Linguistics" which I have reclassified as "Rhetoric, Literary Criticism, Media Studies, Linguistics, Philosophy." Some fun stuff here. From Eric Havelock's The Muse Learns to Write which I first read much too quickly in a whirlwind of pre-comprehensive exam reading marathons:

"But otherwise, the introduction of print has had an opposite effect. The term 'book' is commonly used by scholars to describe the papyrus roll and the parchment codex, as well as the contents of a modern library. Both script and print are 'texts,' but in print we see historically a gradual alteration in style and content. To what extent must it be viewed as 'revolutionary'? Commonly, the printed text had been accepted as exemplifying simply a superior, that is, more fluent method of transcription. That something new had arrived in print was noted forty year ago by Chaytor (1945), followed thirteen years later by Febvre and Martin (1958). McLuhan (1962) dramatized what he thought this new thing was -- the introduction of 'linear thinking.' Eisenstein (1979) has followed him by exploring in two magisterial volumes, the social-political effects of print but without giving much attention to 'the subtler effects of print on consciousness' (Ong 1982, p. 118). Harold Innis on the other hand, had perceived that the problem had both a social-political and an ideological dimension (Innis 1951; see also chapter 1, above). Was the text as printed and multiplied, in whatever form, being robbed of any residual ability to 'speak'?" (49-50).

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Took a break from flipping and scanning pages by reading Julie Stone Peter's essay "Orality, Literacy, and Print Revisited" which is published in Dennis L. Weeks and Jane Hoogestraat's collection Time, Memory, and the Verbal Arts: Essays on the Thought of Walter Ong. A good article. In it she writes:

"By combining the study of traditions considered 'Western' and other traditions, Ong brought to more conventional work in literature and culture the recognition that orality/literacy studies need not be regulated to 'peoples without writing.' Indeed, as he recognized, to do so was unconsciously to perpetuate the artificial split between the 'primitive' and the 'civilized' by casting that split anew as the 'oral' and the 'literate.' That division masked the interaction of modes, as Ong demonstrated, for instance, in his analysis of Renaissance copia, of the visualist oral-literate interface in mass media, or the use of formulae in written poetry (whether that of Tudor courtier or that of Xhosa poets). As the theorist of ethnography James Clifford has observed, Ong's work shares with Derrida's 'an overarching rejection of the institutionalized ways one large group of humanity has for millennia constructed its world' (Clifford 10). Cross-cultural work, as Ong showed, could be the basis of resisting the residual bifurcation of the 'savage' and the 'civilized' in the bifurcation of the 'oral' and the 'literate,' the 'Western' and the 'non-Western.' " [forgot to write down page number]

Friday, September 17, 2004

From Paulson, William R. The Noise of Culture: Literary Texts in a World of Information [underlinging if Fr. Ong's]:

"He [Michael Serres] does so not nostalgically, in the manner of Barthes and his longing for the cosmograhic unity of the Greeks, but with an eye to scientific modernity and to a kind of inquiry consisting of local and multiple passages rathe rthan general or totalizing knowledge" (35).

In the margin next to this, Fr. Ong has written: "This is me."

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

On page 15 of Brian Vicker' s Classical Rhetoric in English Poetry, Fr. Ong has an annotation that takes issue with Vicker's understanding of rhetoric and notes that Vickers doesn't consider rhetoric's relationship to culture or psyche.

I also see that Ong has extensively marked up the memory section of Stephen Tyler's The Unspeakable: Discourse, Dialogue, and Rhetoric in the Postmodern World. I've found this to be a thought provoking discussion of memory and it's somewhat heart warming to see that Fr. Ong did as well. I can't wait until I can actually spend time looking at these annotations rather than just noting their existence.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

In gift inscription in a book McLuhan gave to Fr. Ong, McLuhan wrote:

Greetings Walter old horse,

'Some of my best friends are Jesuits but I wouldn't want my daughter to marry one.'

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Still working through boxes. I think I'm going to be flipping through books forever. The 10 volume complete prose works of Milton (really 8 volumes, but 2 have a part 1 and part 2) had 6 pages with annotations. To put this into context, each book has something between 300 - 900 pages. The impulse at times like this is to go fast, but one needs to go slow because it's so easy to look over a page without really taking anything in.

So, I'll leave you with a quote from Jack Goody's Power of the Written Tradition which I've been rereading for my dissertation:

"Not only do the genres differ, but even some of these that are universal change their characteristics over time. A written work necessarily has a beginning, a middle, and an end. An oral composition may be added to at any time and by different people. The notion of unity, so central to a feature of post-Aristotelian literary criticism, is much less useful in examining an oral product. What one hears on a particular occasion is less likely to be the product of a single human mind at a single point in time than it would be with a literary work. The notion of the individual signature at the bottom of the canvas is out of place when the mural has been touched and retouched by numerous hands in the course of its preparation" (13).

Thursday, September 09, 2004

A number of people, including Nick Carbone and Clancy Ratliff have sent me a link to the article "From Homer to Hip Hop", a good introduction and summary of Fr. Ong's work that was published in the July/August 2004 issue of Christianity Today International. If you haven't yet read it, it's most definately worth a few minutes of your time.

This might also be a good time to mention the link to the homily at Fr. Ong's memorial mass, which was given by Fr. Padberg who was then rector of the SLU Jesuit community.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

I came across a letter to Fr. Ong from the famous New Critic Bill Wimsatt. Well, actually, there are a number of letters both to and from Wimsatt, but I found one in particular worth noting. It's part of an exchange of letters between the two while Fr. Ong is doing his dissertation research in France. (Wimsatt was putting together a pannel for the 1952 English Instutute at Columbia University and Ong agreed to present. Ong's paper, which someone delivered for him as Ong was able to extend his time in France, was titled "Ramus: the Clunch Fist of Method"* and was eventually published as "Ramus: Rhetoric and the Pre-Newtonian Mind.) In this letter Wimsatt refers to the fallout over William F. Buckley's book God and Man at Yale in which Buckley more or less accuses Yale of being populated by atheists and socialists.

*At one point, Fr. Ong intended to use the title The Clunch Fist of Method: Ramus, Topical Logic, and the Hollows of the Mind for what became Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue.

I guess I could note here that there is a letter to Ong from McLuhan in which McLuhan suggests Ong consider attending Yale for his Ph.D. in order to study under Wimsatt. While at Saint Louis University, McLuhan wasn't doing media studies. Rather, he infused life into the program by bringing New Criticism/Practical Criticism with him from Cambridge.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

I'm working through a number of off-prints Fr. Ong has, looking for annotations. While skimming his essay "Recent Studies in the English Renaissance" in Studies in English Literature: 1500-1900 4.1 (1964): 163-194, I notice the subheading "Interpretations of Literary History: The Long View." This immediately caught my eye because I've been using the phrase "the long view" to describe what I believe is one of Fr. Ong's greatest contributions to scholarship, his historicizing contemporary culture. I presented on this for a Ong colloquium in the fall of 2003 in a presentation titled "Taking the Long View: Digital Culture and the Legacy of Walter J. Ong and Marshall McLuhan." And here, at the end of this essay by Fr. Ong, I find him using Marshall McLuhan to advocate the same theme:

"I venture to close this account of recent Renaissance studies with The Gutenberg Galaxy because the new perspective which it opens regarding the relationship of literature to the whole of human culture are badly needed. Literary scholarship, necessarily involved in more and more detail, as is this year's harvest of English Renaissance material alone makes clear, must of course justify this involvement by continued return to the literary works themselves on which the detail bears. But this return is not enough. If scholarship cannot rest on a limitless sequence of details, neither can it rest on a limitless sequence of great aesthetic moments. It calls for some kind of overall wisdom, if not as prerequisite at least as outcome.

"Wisdom is reflective, and the state of affairs today intensifies reflection in two ways, among others. First, there is more to reflect on, immeasurably more than earlier ages have known, because of unprecedented accumulation of information and scholarship to which we are heir and which we are augmenting at always accelerating speeds. Secondly, there is our awareness of the historical dimension of the accumulation. Because we know what we do of the history of literature and scholarship, we not only savor the knowledge which we have but we also sense the existence of a trajectory along which we are moving. We thus need an account not only of literature in a static sense, but also of literature in its patterned, evolutionary movements: where has it been and where is it going? The development of scholarship is influenced by the development of literature, but does not parallel it: there has always been contemporary literature, but no previous culture has been so deeply involved with its own contemporary literature on reflective, scholarly grounds as is our own. Under these circumstances, we need more efforts like The Gutenberg Galaxy, enabling us to see both literature and the study of literature, together with a great many other things, in terms of the total venture which is mankind" (194).

I also came across a letter to Fr. Ong from Francis Yates.