Walter Ong - Notes

Father Walter Ong - Wikipedia

(my ideas, thoughts, blurbs in italics).
-11.30.12 - 8.12.03
-American Jesuit priest.
-professor Eng lit, cultural/religious historian, philosopher.
-major interest - exploring how transition from orality to literacy influenced culture & changed human consciousness.
-1978 - elected as president of Modern Language Assoc of America.
-Biography -
-born Kansas City, MO to Protestant father & Rom Catholic mother.
-raised Rom Cath.
-'33 - BA from Rockhurst College - majored in Latin.
-here he founds Alpha Delta Gamma.
-worked printing/publishing.
-'35 - enters Society of Jesus
-'46 -ordained as Rom Cath priest
-'41 - Masters in English from St. Louis Univ.
-thesis on sprung rhythm in poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.
-supervised by Marshall McLuhan.
-also degrees:
-Licentiate of Philosophy
-Licentiate of Sacred Theology
-'54 -dissertation on French logician/educational reformer Peter Ramus and Ramism.
-supervised by Perry Miller.

-returned St. Louis U and taught for 30-years.

-'55 -Ph.D. in Eng - Harvard U.

-'63 - dubbed knight by French cuz work on Ramus.

-'66-'67 - serves on 14-member White House Task Force on Education.
-reported to Lyndon Johnson.
-'67 -president of Milton Society of America.
-'71 - elected as Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.
-'74 - Lincoln Lecturer
-'78 - president of Modern Lang Assoc of America.
-Summary works/interests -
-how shift from orality to literacy impacts culture/education.

-writing is a technology.
-just like other technologies, when introduced to "primary oral culture", has extremely wide-ranging impacts on all areas of life:
-even small amount of education in writing transforms people's mentality:
-from holistic immersion of orality.
-to interiorization and individuation.

[I am curious as to whether this phenomenon is paralleled or evident as kids are educated or begin to learn during their development. Was it Piaget who had the diff stages of development such as concrete, abstract, etc? Whomever it was - does this development have anything to do with learning about letters/words? Or, is a child too young for this to factor in? Or, is a child so immersed in a literate/visual culture that there couldn't possibly be a parallel process going on?]

-many effects of intro'ing writing due to fact that oral cultures have stragegies of preserving info w/out writing.
-strategies include:
-reliance on proverbs (condensed wisdom) for making decisions.
-epic poetry
-stylized culture heroes - (wise Nestor, crafty Odysseus)

-writing makes these unnecessary.
-introduces new strategies of remembering cultural material.
-cultural material, itself, changes.

-at any given time, cultures fall along continuum between full orality and full literacy.
-Ong distinguishes:
1-primary oral cultures
2-cultures w/ craft literacy (scribes)
3-cultures in transition phase from orality to literacy.
-some people know of writing but are illiterate.
-'residual orality'

1. historical developmnt of visualist tendencies in Western philosophic thought.
2. mathematical transformation of thought in medieval and early modern logic & beyond.
3. oral cyclic thought.
-characteristic of primary oral cultures.
-this vs. linear or historical or evolutionary thought (depends on writing).
4. movement from oral heroic poetry to mock-heroic poetry in print culture.
-then movement to realist tradition in literature.
-then to modern antihero.
5. historical development of individuality (personalized ego-consciousness) in manuscript culture and print culture.
6. secondary orality - new dimensions of orality from modern communication media that use sound.
-is secondary orality cuz:
-succeeds cuz of writing.
-relies on writing.
-coexists w/ writing.
7. origins/development of Western educational system.
8. role/effects of Learned Latin in Western culture.

-Major works -
1. Ramus, Method and the Decay of Dialogue (58)
-McLuhan (mentor) makes him change topic of research to Ramus.
-drew on his work to write own pivotal, 'The Gutenburg Galaxy.'
-spatialization and quantification of thought in dialectic and logic during Mddle Ages enable "new state of mind" 2 emerge in print culture.
-is assoc w/ emergence of modern science.
2. book hx - notable work that contribrutes to this field.

(Ramus - nothing accessible for 'use', for active intussusception by human until first put thru curriculum. Schoolroom only doorway to reality).

3. The Presence of the Word -
4. Fighting for Life -
5. Orality and Literacy - best known work.
-ID's distinguishing characteristics of orality: thought and verbal expression in soci. where technologies of literacy are unfamiliar to most pop.
-Havelock - idea of fundamental shift in form of thought coincides w/ change from orality to literacy in Ancnt Greece.
-Ong - writing is technology requires LOTS work/effort to learn.
-effects the first trnsformation of human thought from world of sound to world of sight.
[Relatively, our sense of hearing is not as acute as our sense of sight. We are not a species that is known for keen hearing. Our sight, however, is much more developed. The fact that we have the ability to see colors when many other species cannot, along with the proportion of our brain that is dedicated to processing visual info might suggest that our sight is the stronger of the two senses. Of course, we may have lost some of our hearing accuity along the way. Still, I would assume that somewhere along the line we were more likely to be prey as well as predator. Wouldn't we humans have been able to SEE a threat before hearing it?? Maybe the point here is that when regarding communication, receiving info, and 'learning'the shift from hearing to sight had its biggest impact. And, maybe not. Presently, it is the musician who quickly and successfully 'plays by ear' who is seen as the exception when compared to other musicians. We even have classes that teach 'sight-singing,' looking at a printed piece of music and singing what is shown. There obviously was a time when all music was 'played by ear.]
-impacts TONS.

Art Bingham - Review of Orality and Literacy

-Art Bingham - review of Orality and Literacy.
-shift from primary orality to literacy dramatically changes way humans think.
[As stated above….parallel between intellectual development in kids and introduction/teaching of letters, words, reading, writing. Any correlation to that idea that slaves were NEVER supposed to learn to read???]
-comments on current emergency in Western society of SECOND ORALITY: [Why second 'orality'??? Fowler calls it a secondary orality, and I believe this is more accurate. I have often heard of the 'laziness'(both intellectual and otherwise) of the average American who is spoonfed the news and important info. Does this account for the passive audiences of mass media?) I agree with Redman's idea that it is very telling, when considering orality vs. literacy, that how a culture records important info is an important measure of whether that culture is oral vs. literate].
-dominated by electronic modes communication
-elements from both chirographic mode (writing) and orality mode (subordinate for some time).
-looks at "thought and its verbal expressio in oral culture"
-will seem strange/bizarre. [Wish there were some examples given!]
-this cuz we're so immersed in our literate culture.

-in future, knowledge of diff between orality/literacy could produce new/interesting insights into interpretation on various kinds of lit.

-Chapter One: The orality of language

-oral culture - one where people totally unfamiliar w/ writing
-are the MAJORITY
-writing is relatively recent development -
-among the 3000 languages existing - only 78 have literature.
[only 2.6%!?!?! All the rest are either primarily oral or somewhere on the spectrum at a point where they don't have the writing technology to produce literature. Wow. How many of those languages are still alive and used??]
-we're so immersed in literate culture, we cannot conceive of heritage of verbally organized materials except as some variant of writing.
-although have nothing to do w/ writing.
[so Ong has to use terms like 'oral literature' which cannot possibly exist]
-Chapter Two: The modern discovery of primary oral cultures
-looks @ noetic (?) characteristics of oral cultures.
-oral epic - Homeric poetry.
-argues Milman Parry/Eric Havelock - Parry says Homeric poems valued what later readers trained to disvalue:
-set phrase
-Ong says Greeks of Homer’s age relied on these to help w/ retention of knowledge.
-was no writing, so thoughts had to be expressd in easy-to-remember forms and constantly repeated.
-as per Ong, Havelock shows:
-Plato exludes poets from his republic.
-this is rejection of the oral-style thinking (like that in Homer)
-favors keen analysis or dissection of the world and thought itself that's made possible by the ineriorization of the alphabet in the Greek psyche.

-Chapter Three: Some psychodynamics of orality -
-list of charateristics of way people in primary oral culture think and express selves thru narrative:
1. expression is additive instead of subordinate.
2. It is aggregative rather than analytic.
3. Tends to be redundant or "copious." [When reading parts of the Old Testament - as a former student of a 'Bible college' - so many verses would say the same thing twice and slightly vary how the idea was stated. This is especially true of the Psalms and the Proverbs. need to get examples of this.]
4. Tendency for it to be conservative.
5. Out of necessity, thought conceptualized and expressed w/ close reference to human lifeworld.
6. Expression is agnostically toned.
7. Is empathetic and participatory instead of objectively distanced.
8. Is homeostatic.
9. Is situational instead of abstract.
-[see Fowler notes for explanation of above items/concepts]
-all above contribute to saliency (prominence/conspicuous).
-esp important when memorizing. <ex>poem or tale.
-oral society gotta process and memorize bits of spoken info QUICKLY - otherwise, once spoken, it's gone. [as in Fowler's idea that orality is evanescent - spoken word exists only as it fades from existence].
-communications that fit above description leave strong impression and this makes them memorable.

-Chapter Four: Writing restructures consciousness
-discussion shifts from primary orality to development of script.
-how script restructures consciousness.
-one of most important effects
: -way that writing distances originator of thought from receiver. [which pisses off Plato].
-writing enables discourse that can't be directly question or contested like oral speech can.
-written discourse detached from writer.

-more entrenched writing becomes, more humans move from oral-aural based sensory world to one where vision reigns supreme.
-what this does:

1-promotes interiorization of thought.
[Thus, the world-changing concepts that made the Protestant Reformation and a 'liberal' capitalistic democracy possible].
2-we see ourselves situated in time.
[Once again - how about some examples/explanation???]
3-allows for:
-development of extensive vocab.
[This vocabulary…necessary for expressing (and even thinking!) more complex thoughts. This is congruent w/ Benjamin Lee Whorf's priniple of linguistic relativity, (principle of linguistic relativity) which was an important part of Engelbart's personal philosphy. I have, for soooooooooooo long, wondered if the language a culture uses/speaks, in and of itself, plays a part in influencing that culture. Obviously, the culture has much to do with the vocabulary and the development of the language. <Ex>…the dozen or so different specific words the Eskimo people have for 'snow.' We call it 'snow.' They have a specific word for the different varieties of it. This principle, which Ong sees as one of the results of people shifting from an oral/aural based sensory world to a visually based sensory world, would suggest that the language can/does impact the very culture itself. I guess my initial question regarding this stems from my study of music history. Compare the Italian language with (at least in my opinion) its more graceful sound, its many vowels, and the many words ending in vowels to the gutteral and severe sounds of the German language. And, compare the relatively pronunciation of the Italian language to the equally graceful, yet vastly more difficult to pronounce French language. Where did the major, music/world changing intro and development of the opera take place? Not in France, DEFINITELY not in Germany, but in Italy. Language shaping a culture??? Could be.]
-2 major developments in West that illustrate constant interaction of writing and orality:
1. development of complex art of rhetoric
2. development of learned Latin

-Chapter Five: Print, space and closure
-Elizabeth Eisenstein - "The Printing Press"
-print = agent of change:
-Protestant Reformation
-universal literacy a serious objective.
-doesn't just affect West.
-3 more subtle effects:
1. as print develops, Western culture moves farther away from hearing dominated sensory world to one governed by sight.
2. print suggests that words are things
-does this MUCH more than writing.
-writing/printing no longer done w/ intent to recycle knowledge back into spoken world.
-things no longer written so could be read out loud.
[roots of public vs. private spheres? "Individuality." I believe this indicates something bigger and more fundamental change. The motivation/intent has now changed. Print is not an extention of oral traditions or a means to support it. Works are now written (and likely structured), not for communal consumption, but for private consumption. Indicative of a shift rivaling a shift in a continent's foundation/crust. No turning back. Primary orality - people have now outgrown.]
-print embeds the word in space more than writing.
[doesn't this also promote the concept/idea that works are 'owned?' Property of author/composer/creator?]
-words are things can be arranged on page.
-tables of content
3. print encourages closure - feeling of finality not present in oral storytelling.
[thus - novels end where blogs don't - curious about if (and how) this may have had any parallel impact in music. The whole harmonic structure of music creates a growing tension/resolution as it progresses, and this draws the listener. Beginning at a place of rest, the tonic/root of the scale, harmonies (and the melodies which they support/enhance) eventually move to a place of unrest or tension which is the dominant note of the scale and the chords based on that dominant. The seventh chord of the dominant of the scale creates in the listener's ear, an even greater desire for resolution. It contains the leading tone of that scale which seeks resolution a half-step up to end on the tonic/root of the scale; and, it contains the subdominant tone of the scale which calls for a resolution a half-step down to the third of the scale. The tonic and the third are two of the three notes that create that tonic chord - that place of rest, and the resolution that follows the tensions created in the harmonic progression of the piece. My point is that the very harmonic nature of music, although not all forms of music, but nearly all, essentially moves a listener from tonic (rest/stability) to dominant (unrest/instability/tension) and then resolves back to tonic (rest/resolution/stability/satisfaction). The piece must end. Perhaps, however, in music there was a different lack of closure/completion in that musicians didn't 'own' a piece, and they were always improvising/enhancing/evolving the piece. Likely, those works that served the same role as the epic poems were constantly changed with the addition of new verses. Print would have had the same impact by fixing the previously more elastic concept of a'song' to be a more rigid/finite work. In time, improvisation was once again celebrated, although even that was more structured as seen in the improvisation by the vocal soloists performing operatic arias and more recently, the improv of the jazz artist.]

-second orality - due to electronic media, phone, radio, TV.
-like primary orality - fosters strong sense of membership in a group.
-diff than primary orality - secondary orality is a more deliberate and self-conscious orality.
-based permanently on use of writng and print.
[then why call it 'second orality?' Why not a secondary orality???]
-groups produced by 2nd orality much larger than produced by primary orality.
[because????? It's due to mass media, and by design, mass media would involve 'the masses.' Other factors? Larger populations? Wish there was more on this. I'm reminded of Shirkey's remarks regarding the changes in storytelling. The old forms of storytelling, one person telling in linear fashion, are not gone. They now appear alongside the newer forms made possible by the technologies of the internet and social media. Likewise, wouldn't the 'orality' inherent in the mass media platforms of TV, radio, telephone be happening alongside the printed text/written text of our literate culture? In my opinion, that doesn't qualify this phenomenon as a 'second orality.' IMHO, it is something more, and maybe it's that another label would be more fitting. Then again, I'm no Ong.]

-Chapter Six: Oral memory, the story line and characterization -
-genre of narrative affected most by shift from orality to literacy.
-diff structure in narrative from oral vs. literate cultures.
-primary oral cultures can't manage knowledge in elaborate/scientifically abstract categories.
-SO, oral narratives made for easy storage/retrieval of info.
-oral storehouses of hx.
-episodes linked togehter w/ little regard to linear plot structure.
-use flat characters
-instead, focus on interaction w/ audience.
-focuses on elements of oral narr and makes easier to remember.
-no need to be structured mnemonically.
-follow linear plot-line.
-make use of heavy subordination(WTF?)
-structured so narrator/writer and reader detached.
[Would have REALLY liked examples. After all, the narrative and its structure was most affected by this shift. Would have probably found narratives of oral cultures unsatisfying and strange. Narratives of oral cultures definitely served a purpose. What was the purpose of literate narratives???]
-Chapter Seven: Some theorems
-Ong discusses how concepts from book might provide inspiration for new interpretation by diff disciplines.
-neither orality or literacy superior.
-Ong stresses this point.
-Myron C. Tuman - Words, Tools, and Technology
-criticizes Ong - says Ong gives sense that literacy offers vast improvement over earlier ways for storing verbal meaning.
-says Ong sees literacy as superior to orality.
-then says Ong shows literacy as opposite and not as good as orality. (make up your mind, nimrod).
-what Ong DOES say: - both orality and growth of literacy out of orality are necessary for evolution of consciousness.
[So, neither orality or literacy superior…really???? I know that E=mc2 didn't happen and couldn't happen in a primarily oral culture, and neither could the small pox vaccine, much less the type of thinking and conceptualizing necessary to conceive of either and to make the second a reality. Doesn't evolution, by definition, describe a growth/change that is necessary to better respond to the demands of the environment? As humans, isn't it our adaptability, that is, our ability to find what works best and use it along with our innovation that allows us to improve upon what works, that has allowed a relatively puny, slow, weak, and vulnerable naked ape survive and succeed? (Better not overlook the fact that we're probably the most vicious species there has ever been). We aren't leaving literacy and going back to orality, are we? No - because the latter is more effective. Ong's idea of a 'second orality' is actually proof of this. It is not that we are abandoning literacy in favor of that oral culture in which we all once existed. Aspects of the two may now exist alongside one another. We outgrew primary orality in favor of the literate culture we know. I do believe that the primary oral culture was/is necessary, along with the shift to literacy to bring about the conscious evolution about which Ong writes. I guess I appreciate the benefits of the literate culture with which I'm familiar. I do hope to learn more about the benefits of a primarily oral culture. I'm open to discovering that I'm mistaken.]

-Paul Lippert - '82 - short review of Orality and Literacy
-says Ong's book should become landmark.
-Methuen reprinted O and L 5-times.

-when Ong wrote, couldn't have predicted how technology now used.
-now is time for sequel to his book - devoted to second orality.
[I very much would like to read Ong's work in its entirety. I would also like to see what that sequel would have to say about the present day changes the internet and social media are making.]