Blog Post #3: Ong, Goody, and Watt’s Orality and Literacy

In Walter J. Ong’s Orality and Literacy, he writes about how literacy is derived from orality. After the brain has recognized a full thought, it can be verbally expressed through the art of orality. Only after that expression of orality is expressed, can the art of literacy also be expressed.

“The Consequences of Literacy” by Jack Goody and Ian Watt also touches upon the same topics in a similar fashion. Both works of writing include a dive into the ideas of orality, communication in a broad aspect, literacy, and technology used to express literacy. Goody and Watt points out to the reader that through writing, something tangible can be passed down from ancestors regarding past widely-held beliefs and the thought process which went into those beliefs. A history passed down through orality can be romanticized and has the potential to be changed entirely over time. Goody and Watt advocate for literacy by stating in their “writing is clearly an addition, not an alternative, to oral transmission.”

Plato’s famous “Phaedrus” is a dialectic which also delves into the topic of orality and literacy. Plato’s character Socrates advocates for orality in place of literacy by arguing that an idea written down is an indication of a writer who simply has to write things down in order to remember them. If the man were to have a full grasp of the idea, he would not have the need to write it down, but would know everything on that particular topic by heart. Socrates does not absolutely discredit literacy by generously adding that writing is still quite useful in the event of memorization.

I think literacy is an astonishing and impressive tool which we are equipped with in our generation and age. I do not think, however, that literacy trumps orality. The intimacy gained through orality is not something which can be described in mere words. Literacy and orality should not to be fussed over and debated on with the subjects of which is more efficient, useful, and expressive. A lot like technology, both can be categorized with pros and cons.

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2 Responses to Blog Post #3: Ong, Goody, and Watt’s Orality and Literacy

  1. I agree with that last point, and like how you talked about the different apparati through the other writers. I think that your last point is really a question of Plato wanting to shoot writing down, but there is a great bit of irony there in that Plato can only shoot writing down because he searched for truth, a search and a concept that only becomes possible after literacy. Or at least that is what I hoped you got after our discussion. Thoughtful post….

  2. I do wonder about the premise, about the thought being fully recognized by the brain. That’s an interesting idea. I wonder if things work that way, how so.

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