03 novembre 2017

Walter J. Ong, Interfaces of the World, (note de lectură)

Subtitle: Studies in the Evolution of Counsciousness and Culture
1977, Cornell University

Major developments, and very likely even all major developments, in culture and consciousness are related, often in unexpected intimacy, to the evolution of the word from primary orality to its present state.

I. Cleavage and Growth
1. Transformations of the Word and Alienation
Orality, Writing and Disjuncture
There is an alienation in the technological history of the word. The technological inventions of writings, print, and electronic verbalization have restructured consciousness.
The psyche in a culture innocent of writing knows by a kind of empathetic identification of the knower and known, in which  the object of knowledge and the total being of the knower enter into a kind of fusion, in a way which literate cultures would typically find unsatisfyingly vague and garbled and somehow too intense and participatory.
With writing, the earlier noetic state undergoes a kind of cleavage, separating the knower from the external universe and then from himself.
Oral cultures appropriate actuality in reccurent, formulaic agglomerates, communally generated and shared.
Oral utterance encourages a sense of continuity with life, a sense of participation, because it is itself participatory. Writing and print, despite their intrinsic value, have obscured the nature of the word and of thought itself, for they have sequestered the essentially participatory word from its natural habitat, sound, and assimilated it to a mark on a surface, where a real word cannot exist at all.
Many persons in the technological cultures are strongly conditioned to think unreflectively that the printed word is the real word, and that the spoken word is inconsequential.
Languages, in which words originate, are commonly styled „tongues” (langue, lingua, tongue) and require no external technological skills at all.

Identity, Mother Tongues, and Distancing Languages
The association with mother and early nature and nurture is why speech is so closely involved with our personal identity and with cultural identity.
A mother’s closeness is not only biological and psychological. It is linguistic as well.
Father language for Western Europe: learned latin. For over a millennium, all the teachers and all the learners were males. The admission of women to academic education and the decline of Latin moved pari passu.
Other chirographically controlled languages: Old Church Slavonic, Byzantine Greek, Sanskrit, Classical Chinese, Classical Arabic, Rabbinic Hebrew.
At a crucial stage in its development the most advanced thought of mankind in widely separated parts of the globe has been worked out in linguistic economies far removed from the heart and from the entire world of infancy.
Learned Latin had been isolated from infant development and thus from the physiological and psychosomatic roots of consciousness and which had been given instead an artificial base in writing.
Modern science and much of modern technology developed out of an intellectual world which shaped its concepts and vocabulary and its cognitive style on Learned Latin. Modern science only gradually became viable in the vernacular atmosphere as it transformed this atmosphere by injecting it with Latin terms and forms of thought.
Writing made possible the separation of the knower and the known, the substitution of knowledge-by-analysis for knowledge-by-empathy.
Learned Latin was a literary medium in a specialized, distanced sense.

Mass Vernaculars, Magnavocabularies
The mass languages with magnavocabularies relate to the spoken word with utmost complexity. They could not                 sustain themselves at all without writing and printing.

Technology, Alienation and the Evolution of Consciousness
Native languages have little or no litterature (technologically processed speech) to teach.
Since writing came into existence, the evolution of the word and the evolution of consciousness have been intimately tied in with technologies and technological developments.
Each of the so-called „media” (writing, printing, electronci devices) makes possible thoughts processes inconceivable before. The „media” are more significantly within the mind than outside it.

II. The Sequestration of Voice
2. The Writer’s Audience Is Always a Fiction
The standard locus in Western intellectual tradition for study of audience responses has been rhetoric. But rhetoric originally concerned oral communication, as is indicated by its name, which comes from the Greek word for public speaking.
The spoken word is part of present actuality and has its meaning established by the total situation in which it comes into being. Context for the spoken word is simply present, centered in the person speaking and the one or ones to whom he addresses himself and to whom he is related existentially in terms of the circumambient actuality.
Writing normally calls for some kind of withdrawal.
If the writer succeeds in writing, it is generally because he can fictionalize in his imagination an audience he has learned to know not from daily life but from earlier writers who were fictionalizing in their imagination audiences they had learned to know in still earlier writers, and so on back to the down of writtern narrative.
There exist a tradition in fictionalizing audiences that is a component part of literary tradition.
Audience is a fiction => 1. The writer must construct in his imagination, an audience cast in some sort of a role. 2. The audience must correspondingly fictionalize itself.
Even an oral narrator calls on his audience to fictionalize itself to some extent.
Homer’s language is „once upon a time” language. It estableshes a fictional world.
„Because history is always a selection and interpretation of those incidents the individual historian believes will account better than other incidents for some explanations of a totality, history partakes quite evidently of the nature of poetry. It is a making. The historian does not make the elements out of which he constructs history, in the sense that he must build with events that have come about independently of him, but his selection of events and his way of verbalizing them so that they can be dealt with as „facts”, and consequently the overall pattern he reports, are all his own creation, a making. No two historians say exactly the same thing about the same given events, even though they are both telling the truth. There is no one thing to say about anything; there are many things that can be said.”
Rhetoric fixed knowledge in agonistic structures.
Knowledge of the degrees of admissible ignorance for readers is absolutely essential if one is to publish successfully.
The epistolary situation is made tolerable by conventions, and learning to write letters is largerly a matter of learning what the writer-reader conventions are.
The audience of a diarist is even more encased in fictions.
We are familiar enough today with talk about masks – in literary criticism, psychology, phenomenology, and elsewhere. Personae, earlier generally thought of as applying to characters in a play or other fiction (dramatis personae), are imputed with full justification to narrators and, since all discourse has roots in narrative, to everyone who uses language.
Masks are inevitable in all human communication, even oral.

3. Media Transformation: The Talked Book
Question: Do the new media (television) wipe out the old (books)?
Answer1: That electronics is wiping out books and print generally.
Answer2: Books are books, and they are here to stay.
A new medium of verbal communication not only does not wipe out the old, but actually reinforces the older medium or media. However, in doing do it transforms the old, so that the old is no longer what it used to be.
Writing is the product of urbanization.
Writing not only encouraged talk, it also remade talk. After writing, talk had to sound literate, post-oral.
Print also transformes writing.
A new medium, finally, transforms not only the one which immediately precedes it but often all of those which preceded it all the way back to the beginning.

4. African Talking Drums and Oral Noetics
The talking drums of Subsaharian Africa metamorphose primary oral processes in ways which are unique, at least in their sophistication and cultural importance.
African talking drums are the most highly developed acoustc speech surrogates known anywhere in the world.
Writing systems or scripts are also speech surrogates, but visual rather than acoustic.
The „words” on the drums are set into stereotyped contexts or patterns.
It takes much longer to say something on a drum than viva voce, on the average eight times as long.
The salient features of an oral culture that are advertised in the use of talking drums:
a) stereotyped or formulaic expression
b) standardization of themes
c) epithetic identification for „disambiguation” of classes or of individuals
d) generation of „heavy” or ceremonial characters
e) formulary, ceremonial appropriation of history
f) cultivation of praise and vituperation
g) copiousness.
Oral cultures think in formulas, and communicate in them.
Oral noetics, as manifested in poetry and narration of primary oral cultures, organizes thought largely around a controlled set of themes, more or less central to the human lifeworld: birth, marriage, death, celebration, struggle (ceremonial or ludic), initiation rites, dance and other ceremonies, arrivals and departures, descriptions or manipulations of implements (shields, swords, plows, boats, looms), and son on.

5. „I See What You Say”: Sense Analogues for Intelect
Bernard Lonergan’s philosophical investigations of man’s noetic activities.
„Now, if human knowing is to be conceived exclusively, by an epistemological necessity, as similar to ocular vision, it follows as a first consequence that human understanding must be excluded from human knowledge. For understanding is not like seeing. Understanding grows with time: you understand one point, then another, and a third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, and your understanding changes several times until you have things right. Seeing is not like that, so that to say that knowing is like seeing is to disregard understanding as a constitutive element in human knowledge.” (p. 122)
If knowing is like sight, the subject can know himself only by making himself something to be looked at. If we make ocular vision an analogue for intellectual knowing, the subject can know himself only by making himself an exterior.
When knowing is equated unquestioningly with vision this is because the latter is invested with symbolic or mythological qualities.
Modern mythology: one can be absolutely convinced that a cognitional act can be a congnitional act only if it resembles ocular vision.

Our technological culture is addicted to visualism.
The shift from oral to visual is connected with surprising changes in personality structures as well as in social institutions.
In intellectual history as elsewhere there are limits to what a person can freely choose. We can choose only what somehow know. You cannot deliberately choose to do the unthinkable.
A given situation forces certain matters on the attention of thinking men and at least favors, if it does not command, the development of thought in certain fields rather than in others.
Intellectual developments are not matters of free choice insofar as they depend on the structure of actuality itself.
Major steps on the road to modern visualism:
- the alphabet;
- the printing;
- modern mathematically implemented science.

What is distinctive of the visualist development leading to our modern technological culture is that it learns to vocalize visual observation, by vocalizing it manages to intellectualize it, and by intellectualizing it comes to generate further specific visual observation.
The visualism we are talking of is a visualism strenghtened by intimate association with voice. This association is capital. Noetic activity itself is rooted directely in the world of sound, through vocalization an hearing. For man there is no understanding without some involvement in words.

We would be incapacitated for dealing with knowledge and intellection without massive visualist conceptualization.
The economy of sensorium:
Touch – taste – smell – hearing – sight
To learn to think and understand, it is far more necessary to be able to hear and talk than to be able to see.
Formalization is needed because our knowledge is both fragmenting and distancing. We need apartness.
Sight is a fragmenting or dissecting sense. It cuts appart. It dismembers. Man’s knowing is in a way murderous insofar as it is analogous to vision.
The movement from the analogy of touch to the analogy of sight is a movement from the generic to the specific.
For some knowledge, definition, distinctness, edge, precision, clarity is irrelevant or even devastating. Ex: knowledge of another person.
Because of the contrast between sight and sound, knowledge of things is more immediately assimilable to knowledge by sight; knowledge of persons more immediately assimilable to knowledge by hearing.

We can never entirely dispense with sight as an analogue for intellectual knowing, either by avoiding all reference to sight or by defining sight analogues in terms which transcend sight.
Touch is the first used and the most immediate (non-distancing) and basic of the senses.

The concept of „understanding” does imply an analogy of intellectual knowing to sensory knowing, but in significant ways to kinesthetic knowing.
Mother and earth are close to us, ground our sense of touch (which develops in contact with mother), and deeply involved in subjectivity. Father and sky are more remote, more object-like, apprehended more by sight than by touch.

III. Closure and print
6. Typographic Rhapsody: Ravisius Textor, Zwinger, and Shakespeare
Commonplaces and Their Significance
Major question: Why was the commonplace tradition once so important, since it now seems so affected and boring and aesthetically counterproductive?
The term „commonplace” has to do in one way or another with the exploitation of what is already known.
A commonplace is a standard brief disquisition or purple patch on any of hundreds or thousands of given subjects.
The noetic economy of an oral culture demands that knowledge be processed in more or less formulary style and that it be constantly recycled orally.

Ioannes Ravisius Textor: Exemplary Collector
Jean Tixier, Seigneur de Ravisi, latinized his name as Ioannes Ravisius Textor, profesor of rhetoric. He wrote Officina (a dictionary of classified excerpts from extant writing) and Epitheta, both in latin.
The Officina proffers more or less bare, hard ideas, „naked” thoughts, whereas the Epitheta provides an assortment of options for giving the presumably bare or „naked” thought of the rhetorically untrained weaver of words a richer, more attractive texture.

Renaissance Interactions with the Commonplace Tradition
During the Renaissance, the commonplace heritage of antiquity and Middle Ages became in many ways more important than ever before.
Various arragements for visual retrieval of material in texts had been physically possible since writing was invented. Indeed, this was what writing was all about: words, though irreducibly sounds, could now be recovered by the eye (for reconstitution as sounds).
retrieval through indexes
vision is a fractioning sense
index locorum communium – index of commonplaces

Evolution of Visual Retrieval: Textor, Theodor Zwinger and Others
An oral culture can make no lists of commonplaces, for lists demand writing, but such a culture has as its commonplace collections the formal oral performances such as orations or narrative poetry or prose or other poetry.
anthologia (gr.) = florilegium (lat.)

Effects on Renaissance Literature: A Sonnet of Shakespeare’s
A literary work consists of an assemblage of individually conceived parts.
the paradigmatic status of the epithet in the commonplace tradition
In these perspectives Shakespeare's value becomes once more that of a skilful conservator and reflector of the amassed wisdom of a sizable portion of the human race. Like his contemporaries generally, Shakespeare was not original in the way in which poets since the romantic age have often programed themselves to be original. He did not "create" from nothing. He did not want to, nor did he even consider the possibility. (There is no such possibility.) He wanted to rework the old wisdom in an always fresh and meaningful way. Shakespeare is perhaps our most quotable author in English, or at least the most quoted. It is, or should be, a commonplace that the reason he is quotable is that his text consists so much of quotations-not grossly appropriated, but nuanced, woven into the texture of his work more tightly than is normally possible in any performance, no matter how sophisticated, in the oral tradition, in which the practice of composing out of other compositions is nevertheless grounded, as has been seen. Shakespeare appropriated the oral tradition and exploited it with the condensation and pointedness made possible by writing and even more by print.
Encyclopedia users today do not advert to the fact that even today encyclopedia articles, and even dictionary definitions, still represent something that someone „says” about a subject. There is no way to lay hold of a „fact” without some kind of intervention of voice. But we live in a world which tend to feel that pure „facts”, without voice, are there.

7. From Epithet to Logic: Miltonic Epic and the Closure of Existence
In 1672, John Milton published a logic textbook which he has written sometimes in years 1641-1647. It is essentially no more than an edition of Ramus’ Dialectica incorporating Miltonic idiosyncrasies.
Oral cultures do not add antithesis, proverbs, and other formulas and mnemonic patterning to their thought: their thought consists in such elements from the start. In a completely oral noetic economy, thought which does not consist in memorable patterns is an effect nonthought.
An organized, abstract articulation of any „body” of knowledge in the linear, consciously reflective form taken for granted in written treatises is quite simply unthinkable in a primary oral culture. Without writing, the mind cannot work that way.
Logic, like epic and everything else in the noetic world, has both a conscious and an unconscious side.
the centrality of the epithete in the oral noetic economy
In the new visualist noetic economy for words, epithets became noetically dysfunctional, impeding rather than expediting the flow of thought.
Classical culture is essentially oral culture somewhat bridled by writing; romantic culture is typographic.
Epic in its oral original had served not merely aesthetic but also larger noetic functions: it had been an important way of conceiving, storing, retrieving and circulating knowledge, a way of keeping the noetic store from evaporating.

8. The Poem as a Closed Field: The Once New Criticism and the Nature of Literature
The New Criticism was somehow a major cultural development.
The relationship between the old rhetoric and the New Criticism is one of opposition.
Until the beginning of the modern technological and romantic age in the later eighteenth century, Western culture in its intellectual and academic manifestations, can be meaningfully designated rhetorical culture. It is a culture in which, even after the development of writing, the pristine oral-aural modes of knowledge storage and retrieval still dominate noetic activity.
It is paradoxical that rhetoric was one of the first fields of knowledge worked up as a formal art with the aid of writing. New inventions normally at first reinforce what they eventually transform or supplant.
The rhetoric of the New Criticism represents a final break with the older rhetoric in the way it fixes the eye on typographic expression.
Contest, ceremonial polemic, was a constitutive element in the noetic organization of the old preromantic rhetorical world and of the poetic this world enfolded.

9. Maranatha: Death and Life in the Text of the Book
The Bible as Text
The Bible has a special relationship to time. But texts as texts have a special relationship to time.
Individual parts of the Bible have oral antecedents, more or less evident. But the Bible is what the word biblos says it is, a book, the Book.

Text as Monument
By contrast with oral verbalization, a written or a printed work has a special kind of involvement with the past, its textuality as such.
A text as such is so much a thing of the past that it carries with it necessarily an aura of accomplished death.
In oral communication both speaker and hearer must be alive.
Writing also perdures to the future and in this sense lives. The kind of life writing enjoys remains bizarre, for it is achieved at the price of death.
The connection between reading and death is very deep.
Horace: „Non omnis moriar.” (I shall not entirely die.)
Death presides at both ends of a writing operation. Like writing, print is related to death.
Unlike speech, writing is not unreflectivley acquired by every normal person who grows up to maturity. Writing requires special reflective training, and terrifying restraints.

The Retrospectivity of Literature
The relationship of the text to death is allied to the relationship of literature to past time.
From the reader’s standpoint, all literature is preterite.

Narrative and Retrospectivity
Narrative is the primal way in which the human lifeworld is organized verbally and intellectually. All science itself is grounded somehow in narrative history.

The Retrospectivity of Plot
Plot is paradoxical. On the one hand, it makes a story seem real and gives it its psychological appeal or bite. On the other hand, plot is what differentiates art from real life. Plotting is highly artificial.

Plot and Cyclic Pattern
Cyclic patterns enforce retrospectivity.

Orality and Retrospectivity
Narrative about the past encapsulates most of the lore of an oral culture; that is to say, it stores the culture’s verbalized knowledge.
Living memory is by no means the same thing as a fixed text.

Textuality and Plot
Closer ploting demands writting.

The Fecundity of Writing and Print
There is an association of writing and print with life as fecundity, growth, exuberance.
Writing has made possible not only development of science and technology as well as the humanities, it has also made possible the complex relationship between large groups of people which a fully populated planet demands.
Oral noetic processes are typically formulaic and conservatives of wholes, not analytic and dissecting.

Life, Death and the Word of God
The Bible actually ends with an explicit cast into the future.
The entry of the Word into history did take place in a largerly oral setting.
The Christian believes that the word of God is given in order to be interiorized, appropriated by men and women of all times and places.

10. From Mimesis to Irony: Writing and Print as Integuments of Voice
Vision, Content and Voice
Participatory Poetics
Writing has made possible litterature.

Writing, Print, and Separation
After the invention of writing, and much more after the invention of print, the question of who is saying what to whom becomes confusingly and sometimes devastatingly complicated.
Every written work is its author’s own epitaph.
As the distancing is accomplished by literature, the verbal creation comes more and more to be regarded as an object.
The alphabet converts sound into space with an efficiency quite un known to other writing systems.

In literary history and theory, mimesis and irony stand in complementary relationship. As mimesis loses ground in poetic and other aesthetic theory and performance, irony gains  ground.
Mimesis – art imitates nature.
Mimetic ideas of art are based on acceptance of copying as a primary human entreprise. And oral cultures build their whole world of knowledge largerly on copying in speech what has been said before.

With the Romantic Age, doctrines of „creativity” tend to crowd out mimetic theory.
Unreliability is one of the essence of irony: the obvious sense is not to be trusted.
Irony demands a distancing from subject matter similar to that demanded for analytic thought.

A movie has a narrator without a narrative voice.

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