Thursday, February 10, 2005

from "Reading, Technology, and the Nature of Man." The Yearbook of English Studies 10 (1980): 132-149:

"Technology thus shows itself as something profoundly interior. The human word is at its origin on oral phenomenon and it remains, despite the grammatologies of antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the twentieth century, irrevocably oral at root. All real words are spoken words. The marks on pages which we call words are of themselves verbal nothings that become real words only in the consciousness of real readers who process them, in however complexly coded fashions, through the world of sound. Yet the evolution of consciousness demands that the originally oral human world be distanced from orality, technologized, reduced to writing and print and ultimately to computers, whence it must be fed back into the oral world again.
     "A dialectic is at work here in this technologizing of the word. As has been noted earlier, a primary oral culture cannot describe the features of orality or reflect on itself as a culture; the very concept of 'culture' is a typographically formed concept, dependent on the feel for a mass knowledge which cannot be accumulated eve with writing, but which demands print. There is no way sort of a massive descriptive circumlocution even to speak or think of 'culture' in classical Latin. Only those advantaged by the interiorization of writing and print, and living at the opening of the electronic age, have been able to discover what primary oral culture was or is and to reflect on it and understand it, and thereby to reflect on manuscript cultures and typographic cultures and their own electronic culture itself. Locked in a primary oral culture, consciousness has not the kind of self-knowledge and hence not the freedom which only technology can confer when consciousness makes technology its own. Like human beings themselves, as they pass through the successive phases of life and through their physical death, the oral world in a way must die, too, if it is to bear fruit; that is, must loose itself in writing and print and now in electronics and in the interaction of all these technologies, if it is to realize its promise" (148-149).

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