Monday, October 10, 2005

From Fr. Ong's MLA 1984 presentation on literacy studies, given in the panel "What is Literacy Theory," which exists as a 5 page double-spaced typescript (handwritten revisions are blue):
It is certainly crucial that the study of literacy, and of orality-literacy contrasts, be familiar to those working in the history and theories of education, cognitive-development psychology, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, rhetoric and--most especially--logic and metaphysics, theology and biblical studies, general semantics, communications, and political socialization, not to mention technological development in Third World countries as well as marketing in these countries (James Hauf has recently delivered an important paper at an international convention on the misapprehensions all too evident in the high-technology marketing in oral cultures.). But, perhaps most urgently of all, teachers of basic writing need knowledge of literacy or orality-literacy studies. They need them to understand many of their students' present difficulties but also to understand themselves and the work that they are [page break] engaged in." (2-3)
For a while now, I've been working under the assumption that literacy studies and orality-literacy studies are not the same thing, and that the "orality-literacy" wars of the mid-1980s were the result of assuming that these two closely related and overlapping fields were in fact one field.

It seems, from the handwritten revisions, that Ong wanted to make this point too, though as the orality-literacy wars weren't in full swing yet, it's not a point that gets foregrounded. Maybe he would have foregrounded it more if he'd known what was on the horizon. Maybe he was too much in the mix and its the 20 years of distance that lets me make this observation. Either way, he appears not to be comfortable with just literacy or just orality-literacy contrasts but seems to suggest that both exist together but separate from each other. Something I'll want to come back to when I work on my "The Orality-Literacy Debate and Academic Error" project.

Also worth pointing out in this short paper is this comment on how writing restructures thought. I'm fairly certain that most people who object to this notion don't understand what Ong means by it:
The ultimate depth at which writing affects thought has been suggested by Eric A. Havelock's recent monograph, "The Linguistic Task of the Presocratics," in Language and Thought in Early Greek Philosophy, edited by Kevin Robb (LaSalle, Ill.: Monist Library of Philosophy for the Hegeler Institute, 1983), 3-89. Although he does not put it in exactly these terms, Havelock here shows that writing separated being from time in human consciousness, providing metaphysic not only its strategic instrument--writing is the strategic instrument of all formal science--but also its quarry, being itself, isolated from the knower and purportedly from time. Heidegger's rejoining of being and time in his Sein und Zeit is one more indication that we are beyond the old-style textuality, although Heideggar remains a writer, so that, as has been said, his efforts are less than fully successful. (4)


The typescript is in Scholarship: Personal Bibliography: Texts of Talks: Folder 22.

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