Sunday, October 31, 2004

I have heard that SLU will be holding some sort of Ong conference on April 14-15, 2005. The plan has changed radically from its original idea and my guess is it may be more of a series of featured speakers rather than something people can submit presentations to. I don't really yet know and will try to find out later this week.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Written on the short title page of Stanley Fish's Self-Consuming Artifacts:

"This book, like Plato, undertakes to establish a dialectical pattern in order to change the person interiorly and the world (destorying the 'artifact' as such, for Plato the imitation or imitation of an imatation). Like Plato, antirhetorical, for rhetoric undertakes simply to work on the extant world."

And after a large space on the page, Fr. Ong also wrote:

"Plato's undertaking was made possible by literacy (Havelock). Fish's focuses on the reader as reader."

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Two memory pieces by Ong. Both are divided into sections and share the first section and have some overlap with Orality and Literacy (looking in the files I see that both editors knew this), posted here for future reference:

Ong, Walter. "The Psychodynamics of Oral memory and Narrative: Some Implications for Biblical Studies." The Pedagogy of God's Image: Essays on Symbol and the Religious Imagination. Ed. Robert Mason. Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1982. 55-73.

Ong, Walter. "Oral Remembering and Narrative Structures." Analyzing Discourse: Text and Talk. Ed. Deborah Tannen. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown UP, 1982. 12-24.

I also came across Nyiri, J.C. Tradition and Individuality: Essays., some of the essays which deal with memory and one is a semantic survey of "tradition."

Friday, October 22, 2004

I came across a letter Fr. Ong had written in response to a question and then saved (which he often did). I found the following bit interesting and suitable for sharing:

"Regarding your question as to why with so much of my educational background in Latin and philosophy and theology (and science -- I've always been a biologist at heart, in study and hobbies), I took up with English for my MA and PhD, I might say that English seemed intellectually and culturally roomier and more open than other subjects. It could encompass what they did and more -- could open the way into almost anything."

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Came across an interesting book, which Ong seems to have been an outside reader for and recommended for publication:

Carpo, Mario. Architecture in the Age of Printing: Orality, Writing, Typography, and Printed Images in the History of Architectural Theory. Trans. Sarah Benson. MIT Press, 2001.

Among other things, it has many references to memory.

Some poems from The Enfant Terrible Again: Newly Discovered Notes Edited by Kenneth Hopkins (a limited edition book of poetry written by Kenneth Hopkins who attributes it to S. Butler. The book is signed by Hopkins and was a gift to Fr. Ong):

"Unconscious Memory"

I suppose it is another manifestation of this
when some poet echoes another poet's line by accident.
Rossetti is said to have suppressed a poem because it
contained two lines identical with two by Tennyson
from his latest book, although Rossetti had composed
his poem before Tennyson's was published. This seems
to be another reason why Tennyson would be well
advised to publish less often and less copiously. If
Rossetti could have been encouraged to write more
poetry he might have painted fewer pictures, and with
fewer poems by Tennyson and not so many of Rossetti's
pictures life would be more bearable for us all.

"Proverbial Philosophy"

A stitch in time saves nine, and because the
other eight were unnecessary idle hands were left for
which the Devil had to find employment.

Still working through some literary histories and these two bits of information caught me eye:

William Cartwright, one of the "Tribe of Ben" poets, has a poem which makes reference to or is about Woden. I saw a snippet of the poem quoted as an epigraph and want to follow up on it.

Emerson's Self-Reliance makes reference to both Thor and Odin.

While I knew that the 18th and 19th-Century interest in Scandinavian is much greater than usually acknowledged (see most literary histories treatment of Thomas Gray's Old Norse poems, for instance. If they're even mentioned, they're usually written off as "an interest in the exotic" when, really, Gray was quite interested in the Northern influence on English through both the Anglo-Saxons and the Danelaw). But now that I've finally gotten around to reading Andrew Wawn's The Victorians and the Vikings, I've realized just how extensive this interest was and just how much contemporary scholars don't understand or know what to make of it (usually, they seem to ignore it).

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

I'm still trying to work out the ideas I posted to TechRhet earlier this month. In trying to distill the ideas I posted ot the list on Oct. 5, I've written the following for my own notes:

When we talk about the oral, chirographic/manuscript, print, electric, digital spectrums, I think we can talk about each as four distinct things:

1) the medium (oral, chirographic, print, electronic, digital),
2) the practice or genre (oral poem, epistolary novel, blogging as a practice, abstract, white paper, etc.),
3) the techno-cultural matrix (oral culture, print culture, etc.), and
4) the type/materiality (codex, letter, email, blogging software, video tape)

All too often, I think, we are not careful enough in dealing with these categories, which leads to such problems as discussing email as a genre when, really, an email's genre will depend upon its rhetorical purpose (personal letter, memo, etc.), or the confusion over blog/blogging as software and blog/blogging as a specific practice (which is genre).

Closely related to or part of this is the problem of mistaking surface characteristics for deeper structures such as when we identify digital media's multimodality as what makes it something different from non digital media, when in actuality non digital media can be multimodal as well (film, pop-up books, opera, etc).

While multimodality isn't unique to digital texts, the underlying structures that provide digital texts their potential for being multimodal *is* different from the underlying structures that make a pop-up book or a film multimodal, and that's why digital texts are different from non digital texts.

The above is drawing from a whole host of sources, of course such as Manovich, Ong, Kress and Van Leeuwen, recent discussions of oral poetics (especially but not limited to Foley), textual studies, and other things as well. However, I haven't seen anyone discuss these 4 categories together, nor discuss them across the whole medium spectrum.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

I realized I never posted to TechRhet a follow up email on technology as genre (See Oct. 4 entry below). On Oct. 5, I sent the following long and rambling email, as much to work out the ideas for myself as to argue a position. The following really is an instance of me working out ideas publicly, which I sometimes do on TechRhet. The post:

[Note, this is very long and didactic, even for me. Read at your own peril.]

On Mon, 4 Oct 2004, Peter England wrote:

> > " To bring this home, however, while I absolutely agree there is a
> > category of digital text than is different from other categories of text
> > (oral, chirographic/manuscript, print, electronic), calling it genre
> > doesn't seem to me to be precise enough a term.
> OK, I'll bite: what *should* we call them? Does "digital" do it? I don't
> think so, if only for the fact that a text can be both oral and digital.

I might be insisting on too narrow a definition of genre here, but from my Ongian perspective, I have no problem classifying a digital oral recording as primarily digital and secondarily as oral. In other words, from my perspective, its digital nature far outweighs its oral one. This doesn’t mean that secondary classification descriptors can't be used, so if it really mattered that it was an oral recording, I'd classify it a digital oral recording. Or, I guess, since I've stated here already that we can have an oral poem composed and performed/received in writing, we could call that recording an oral performance digitally recorded. (It seems to me, though, that if you'll balk at calling a digital oral recording digital because it's also oral, then you would seem to be arguing that oral and digital *can't* be genres either for the very same reasons. But then again, The Winter's Tale is a tragicomedy and Beowulf is sometimes classified as an elegiac epic, so an oral-digital recording or digital-oral recording could be a genre if we finally decide that genre is an appropriate term).

Either way, I maintain that a digitally recorded oral performance is fundamentally different from a oral performance performed orally and received aurally, a oral performance recorded in writing or print and received as written/printed text (I'm collapsing the two together here for brevity's sake, but we need to remember that while a chirographic text and a printed text can be lumped together as 'writing,' they are also very different), or an oral performance recorded electronically/in analog and received aurally.

Also, for the sake of argument, I am assuming that when we say 'oral' here, we are referring to the condition of secondary orality (oral performance/discourse performed by people who have interiorized the technology of literacy). If you don't like the distinction between primary/secondary orality, that's okay because in that case oral will just mean oral to you whether it's what I call primary orality or secondary orality. (I note this because when I earlier listed oral, chiographic/mansuscript, print, electronic, and digital, I was using oral to refer to medium rather than a technological/cultural condition.)

So, back to what I was saying. An oral performance orally received has no record. You must be within hearing distance of me (and be able to hear) in order to experience my performance. And once I speak a word, it is gone (as I say "whack-a-mole," by the time you hear 'mole,' the audile presence (the sound waves that interact with your ear) of 'whack' no longer exist for you. [I am, of course, lifting straight from Ong here.]

Now, a written record of an oral performance is different. If you transcribe what I say or if I write it down and read exactly what I've written, we have a record of what I've said after I've said it. We can refer to this written text. While my oral performance received aurally is still the same, we also add in this new factor of a physical record that exists outside of sound waves. We can look at it, *see* it rather than *hear* it.

Space and time can be transcended. We can put the transcription in an envelope and mail it to someone 3000 miles away and say, "here, you now know what John said on August 13, 2003." Likewise, 1000 years from now, someone who has no idea of who I am or who you are, who would never have had a chance to hear me or be in the presence of sound waves that emanate from my vocal system, can have access to my spoken words. That is an affordance writing has which spoken words do not.

On the other hand, one constraint of a written transcription is that while those people 1000 years from now may know what I've said, they can't ask me to elaborate. I'm some 950 years dead, give or take. Some one who hears me, who is within my presence as I speak, can ask me what I mean. A written record of my oral performance is something materially different than my oral performance. Writing offers new potentialities but also lacks other potentialities.

And if we made a printed version of this transcription, it would be materially different from both the oral and the written. If we chiographically made 1000 copies of the written transcription, the likelihood of any one of those copies being an exact replica of any other copy is almost nil. A letter will be larger or smaller or the amount of ink or graphite on the paper will be different, or there may be more words per line, etc. And that doesn't even take into consideration the likelihood of transcription error. And since we're likely to have multiple people transcribing (because, you know, I'm not going to want to handwrite 1000 copies by myself), if even just one copy which is used as a master contains just one transcription error. Every copy that can trace its lineage to that corrupt copy has that error. Chances are, with 1000 copies being made, more than one error is going to occur.

With printing, however, this all changes. We can make one master and run 1000 copies exactly alike. So, printing includes all the material changes/potentialities/constraints of writing and adds these new ones. (Printing, one might note, can give us a false sense of identicalness. If we were to run two printings but not tell anyone and made those two printings different by two words or by dropping out a comma, people would assume they had exactly the same text if we were to pass them out saying "here, have a copy of John's speech. Many of us wouldn't be so sure of this assumption if we were given handwritten copies).

Just as writing and print records of my oral performance are materially different than the oral utterance, electric recording/broadcast of that oral performance also has material differences. Radio broadcast, for instance, returns the performance to the oral/aural medium. But, at the same time, it can transcend space and time. My 'voice' can be broadcast 3000 miles away from where I am or 1000 years after I've made the utterance. While we cannot check to *see* what I said as we can with a write/printed text, we can replay the broadcast and *hear* what I said *again*. My words can live on long after I've said them. And TV can broadcast my utterance both aurally and visually so that it can be heard *and* seen.

So, these electronic technologies subsume both the oral and the written, and yet are something materially different as well. (And they have their own constraints too. A book, for instance, is its own delivery system. Unlike film or magnetic tape, once something is recorded in a book, the book is all you need.)

And finally we come to a digital recording of my oral performance. A digital recording of my oral performance is materially different than an analog recording. Why? Let me quote from Bradley Dilger's Kairos review of Lev Manovich's book The Language of New Media, which can be found at :

The bounds for new media are set by five "principles of new media" present in most new media objects, which "should be considered not as absolute laws but rather as general tendencies of a culture undergoing computerization" (27). Many of the characteristics reflect differences of industrial and post-industrial economies, such as the industrial division of manufacturing into discrete tasks for the assembly line (numerical representation), or post-industrial "just in time" inventory control (variability).

1. Numerical representation: new media are "composed of digital code" and thus can be "described using a mathematical function" and can undergo "algorithmic manipulation" (27). Conversion from analog to digital form requires sampling: building a regular pattern of quantified units in space and/or time.

2. Modularity: new media objects are object-oriented, composed of parts made up of smaller parts reminiscent of a "fractal structure" (30). The logic of computer programming and the makeup of new media objects reflect this modularity; both are often made from independent parts which retain a measure of autonomy even if embedded in another new media object.

Three more complex general tendencies are built on these foundational principles:

3. Automation: numerical coding and modular structure allow much of the "creation, manipulation, and access" (32) of new media to occur without direct human interaction. Filters in graphics programs can color-correct a photograph automatically, or transform it into a work of art. Web pages are generated on the fly from databases, "using generic templates and scripts" (32). More sophisticated automation, "part of a larger project of artificial intelligence (AI)" (33), involves programmed objects which call the clear division of human and computer into question. Workstation and Web-based search engines and filtering tools are also beginning to automate access of data.

4. Variability: "A new media object is not something fixed once and for all, but something that can exist in different, potentially infinite versions" (36). Manovich lists seven examples of variability common in contemporary new media, and also considers more foundational differences variability enables: for example, hypermedia elements and structure need not be "hardwired" as in old media. Variables replace constants, and data separated from algorithms (as in computer programming). But to some extent this variability is radically limited to selection from a group of pre-packaged forms: a concept Manovich will later expand as "selection."

5. Transcoding: the "reconceptualization" which occurs during computerization, the transformation of media into computer data. The mapping of concepts such as plot, sentence, family portrait, or summer blockbuster into the computer's text, packet, pixel, or other data structure, creates a composite "blend of human and computer meanings" (46). (In computer science, the term "transcoding" itself signifies movement of data between formats.)

While a digital recording of an oral performance is oral, while it is delivered orally and received aurally, it has potentialities well beyond anything the earlier four technologies/mediums we've examined. That’s why I'd argue that a digital audio recording is, first and foremost, digital. And that is why I'd argue that a digital audio recording has much more in common with a flash file or dynamic web site or a MOO or even a plain text file than it has with unmediated spoken utterance.

Likewise, while I believe an oral poem can exist entirely in writing from its first written 'utterance' to its last silent reading, it is not just an oral poem (one that meets the conventions of oral poetics), it is an oral poem in writing and therefore is also subject to and defined by the affordances and constraints of writing. But this whole written oral poem is, technically, something of a different beast in that its classification as an oral poem stems from its adherence to oral poetics (again, for the least technical explanation of how this paradox works, see John Miles Foley's How to Read an Oral Poem). Its 'oralness' resides not in its medium but in its poetic conventions. It belongs to the genre of oral poetics which is not the same thing as its technological/cultural matrix (primary and secondary orality), and neither is the same thing as an unmediated oral performance (orally delivered, aurally received, and not a recorded broadcast), and none of these are the same as the oral medium which is characterized by existence as sound waves. All four overlap and interact and in actuality operate simultaneously and in tandem, but they are also distinctly different.

So, a digital oral text is, in the broadest sense, digital, and this digitality is a description of category which does not indicate genre (in the specialized sense which we mean when we say it's a political stump speech or a diatribe or a praise-poem or a homily).

So, if anyone has made it this far, am I making sense? Am I making this all too complicated?

Thursday, October 14, 2004

I came across some syllabi and reading packets for the Psychiatry and Literature seminar Fr. Ong co-taught with faculty in the Psychiatry department. There were syllabi and reading packets for the years 1987-88, 1988-89, and 1989-1990 and syllabi for 1990-91 and 1995-96. By this time the seminar was being run by Stephen L. Past of the Saint Louis University Medical School and Jason Sommer and Jean Wasko of Fontbonne College Department of English and Communication (which is now Fontbonne University). I know that Jason Sommer did his doctorate at SLU and had been one of the English students in the seminar. I need to find out about Jean Wasko.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

I've flipped through literature anthologies and literary histories today looking for annotations and I must say that the Norton anthologies are very time consuming because their pages are so thin. The Oxford anthologies are much easier to deal with.

Probably of more interest is how Fr. Ong's treatment of books. What I mean, actually, is that he seems to have had a manuscript culture like attitude towards books that goes well beyond normal academic glossing of texts. While many books have few or no annotations at all, others are extensively marked up. Fr. Ong will add his own categories in indexes as well as supplement existing index entries. And occasionally he'll add in pages with comments and ideas. The most extensively modified book I've come across so far is a comb-bound Outline-History of English Literature, which, admittedly, is more open to such modification than say a monograph on Milton. Inserted throughout the two volume work are additional pages of notes, quotes and paraphrases from articles and the like typed and given page numbers like 89a-b.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

During a break from searching for annotations in philosophy/religion/hermeneutics books, I browsed the filing cabinets and came across a short piece titled "English A.D. 2000." It was published in The Saint Louis University Magazine 44.2 (1971): 11. The magazine contacted professors in some 40 departments and asked them to write a short statement what they believed their field would be like in the year 2000. Fr. Ong concluded with:

"I suspect that at its best English in the future will continue to develop by reaching out and pulling in around itself as many as possible of the other always burgeoning humanistic subjects (including the sciences in their manifold humanistic dimensions). Many of the other humanistic disciplines will also be engaged in similar fraternization. Born sanguine, I look less for interdisciplinary conflict than for interdisciplinary cooperation.

"Perhaps the end result will be the emergence of a multidisciplinary field of study, which we can hop will not be invincibly chaotic and which we might be styled anthropology in the deepest sense of this term, with various foci, these for English being around the verbally produced artifact. How this will be managed in terms of academic organization, we shall have to see."

Monday, October 04, 2004

Late last month, on the TechRhet discussion list, I responded to a question as regarding whether or not blogs should be considered a genre or not. It's a question we often seem to grapple with when thinking about digital technologies such email, Web pages, blogs, etc. All too often, I think, people are willing to say yes when the technology is new or when they're new to the technology. In part, I wrote:

"I've come to balk at when we talk about digital writing technologies as genres. It's just never panned out. Email isn't a single genre. Email is a delivery system that is put to many rhetorical purposes. The codex/book isn't a genre, it's a delivery system. Likewise, blogging software isn't a genre, it's a delivery system. Genre is a rhetorical function, not a technological one. Technologies can favor particular genres or generic functions, or rhetorical purposes, but technologies don't define them. We, the users of the technologies, do that."

Professional-Lurker blogged my response at

Saturday, October 02, 2004

At this year's M/MLA Conference (Nov. 4-7), Deborah Scaggs of Saint Louis University has organized three sessions on Fr. Ong. I believe they will on be on Saturday, Nov. 6.

Walter J. Ong for the 21st Century

Session 137
12:30-2:00 p.m. (Frisco)
Topic: Ong and Performance
Coordinator: John Paul Walter, Saint Louis Univ.

1. "Words, Signs, and Events," by John Miles Foley, Univ. of Missouri-Columbia
2. "On the 'Original Sayings' of Jesus: Oral and Scribal Dynamics in Late Antiquity," by Werner H. Kelber, Rice Univ.
3. "The Performance of Ong," by Thomas Zlatic, St. Louis College of Pharmacy
4. "Orality and Literacy: Classical and Folk Versions of the Mahabharata," by Nirmala Menon, George Washington Univ.

Session 152
2:15-3:45 p.m. (Knickerbocker)
Topic: Ong and Rhetoric
Coordinator: Gina Merys Mahaffey, Saint Louis Univ.

1. "Rhetoric and Hermeneutics 1250-1650: the Legacy of Walter J. Ong," by C. Jan Swearingen, Texas A&M Univ.
2. "Ong's Histories of Rhetoric," by Terri Palmer, York Univ.
3. "Ong and (or versus) Derrida on Presence: A Case of a Conflict of Traditions," by John D. Schaeffer, Northern Illinois Univ.

Session 170
4:00-5:30 p.m. (New York Central)
Topic: Pedagogy, Practice, Technology and Ong
Coordinator: Deborah M. Scaggs, Saint Louis Univ.

1. "Walter Ong and Secondary Orality: Interpreting the Electronic Paradigm," by Sharon Cumberland, Seattle Univ.
2. "The Walter J. Ong Archive: A Preliminary Report," by John Walter, Saint Louis Univ.
3. "The Paradox of 'Oral Residue,'" by Thomas M. Walsh, Saint Louis Univ.
4. "Walter J. Ong: The Archival Record," by Robert Blaskiewicz, Saint Louis Univ.