Monday, June 7, 2010

Zombie Text!

With this year's Media Ecology Association's annual convention just days away, it seems appropriate to put up a post relating to last year's MEA meeting, hosted by Saint Louis University.  At that time, I met Abigail Lambke, a doctoral student in their English Department, who was doing much of the heavy lifting in regard to local arrangements for our event.  I was therefore quite pleased to see that she published an article about Walter Ong, Saint Louis University's favorite son and one of the central figures in the field of media ecology.  It appeared in an online journal called FlowTV, or just plain Flow, and her piece was entitled A Walter Ong Artifact Travels Through Media, Time, and Meaning.

Be sure to click on the title and go read her article, but first, let me note that I was delighted to see her include a couple of short excerpts of a talk by Walter Ong in her article, courtesy of YouTube, and to see that she also has the a third video over on her YouTube channel that the two shorter segments were divided from.  So I'm please to be able to include it here, it's a short statement in Ong's own voice about the distinction between oral utterance and written text:

Thanks to Abigail for making this available to us!  The point Ong makes is incredibly resonant, I might add.  Speech is associated with the breath of life, text is a dead thing that only seems alive.  In other words, oh my goodness, text is a...   ZOMBIE!!!!!


chad calease said...

so this would explain why so many thinkers never wrote anything down - they let their students/disciples do that. makes me wonder why we write much of anything down. at least when we are talking we have a fighting chance at truly communicating.

always interesting stuff here, Lance.


Bruce I. Kodish said...

Ong has said something important here, but seems to make too sharp a distinction, too either/or, where I see fuzzy boundaries. Text can be re-oralized it seems to me and in many cases must be if whatever value it originally had is to be carried forward. At any rate a very intriguing snippet. I'm glad to have gotten a sense of Ong's voice. By the way, since Ong is dead now, a recording of his voice could also be considered, 'Zombie'.

Lance Strate said...

Thanks, Chad, and yes, writing turns a flexible tradition into a rigid doctrine.

Bruce, Ong's method is dialectical, drawing sharp distinctions at first so as to get at the basic characteristics of what he's talking about, for example by positing primary orality as a pristine orality where there isn't even the concept of writing, let along the actually adoption of that technology. But he also discusses the interactions and interfaces between the oral and literate, such as what you mention, which includes rhetoric, and what he terms residual orality, that is oral residue in the written text. That's the problem with only getting a snippet of the full discussion--too much abstracting from the whole. And he also did get into that zombie effect of electronic media, which he deemed secondary orality, orality mediated by electronic devices, often shaped by literacy (e.g., scripts and schedules), and in some ways extending the effects of writing through further technologization.