Friday, November 28, 2003

Ong, Ong-Ong, Ong, Ong

Being a writer and a fan of Neil Postman, I've always been skeptical of the displacement of the rational written word by the emotional irrational medium of television earlier last century. What I haven't considered as much is the oral culture that writing supplanted. Thanks to colleague Jeet Heer, who writes for the Boston Globe as well as the Post, for introducing me to the work of Father Walter J. Ong, close intellectual ally of Marshall McLuhan, in a recent article.
Heer writes:
"[To Ong,] written language was a mixed blessing. Societies governed by primary orality were incapable of ornate syntax and abstraction, but they were rich with personal interaction. By contrast, writing was "voiceless, immobile, devoid of all warmth, not interactive but isolated, not part of the human lifeworld but utterly above and beyond it.'' Ever since Plato, the written word has detached the speaker from the audience. The invention of movable type in the 15th century, along with the Protestant Reformation that followed, privileged the rigours of individual introspection over the riches of communal experience."
Ong also wrote about the shift to new technologies like television, in which he saw similarities to the older oral traditions, Heer explains. "In his examinations of popular culture, enlivened by the teaching he did in St. Louis' inner-city schools, Ong was impressed by the parallels between traditional oral societies and the media-rich environment of young Americans. He noted there were similarities between Homer's oral world, where warriors prove themselves not just by their physical strength but also by their rhetorical prowess, and contemporary pseudo-sports such as professional wrestling and the African-American street game of "the dozens,'' with its competitive insults and yo mammas."
Must read more of this Ong character.

Speaking Ill of the Long-Dead?

Who's the most-overrated president of all time? Asked this in one of my U.S. History classes a few years ago, I replied John F. Kennedy. Is the 40th anniversay of his assassination a good time to bring this up? Well, Christopher Hitchens thinks so. He really thinks so.

Post-script

- Yes, the title of the post is a gratuitous and inappropriate Reference to Sisqo's 'The Thong Song.' I admit it.
- Apparently, onthefence.blogspot.com is "a place where people of all sexualities can come and learn that they are not alone in many aspects." No, my site is not connected, but thanks for asking.

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