Three things I very much want to talk more about, which I think are connected, but I haven’t the words to explain how yet:
From a recent post by T, which has truly tapped the zeitgeist. (Although I’m still unpacking some of the links in the post, I have just ordered Ong’s book; it sounds awesome.)
“Sure,” you say, “Ong claims that writing changed the human consciousness — but what does that really mean? What is the mechanism through which consciousness could be changed by a technology, radically or at all?”
The answer is memory – and it’s here where I hope some of your ears will perk up. Both speaking and writing function as technologies allowing us to extend and supplement our own memories, even beyond the extent of our own lives. (This is, for me, a working definition of culture.) For people who only have access to the speech technology, an oral culture, this remembering is structured through verbal recitations composed from formulaic patterns which are interchanged, repeated, and combined into the working linear narratives which structure memory. Ancient Greek literature, the Odyssey and the Iliad, are primary examples for Ong — hence my questions about Milman Parry. In a literate culture, on the other hand, the technology of writing allows cultural memory to be crystallized in a different form — the separation of the word from the speaker-of-the-word allows revision, tree-structured (‘analytic’) thought, and abstraction from experience to concept.
Furthermore, most of us don’t even really realize how deep this change from ‘orality’ to ‘literacy’ really was, and how thorough its effect is on our own consciousness, until we try to examine and recover the modes of thought that are specific to purely oral cultures.
A passage from Neuromancer:
He turned on the tensor beside the Hosaka. The crisp circle
of light fell directly on the Flatline’s construct. He slotted some
ice, connected the construct, and jacked in.
It was exactly the sensation of someone reading over his
He coughed. `Dix? McCoy? That you man?’ His throat was
`Hey, bro,’ said a directionless voice.
`It’s Case, man. Remember?’
`Miami, joeboy, quick study.’
`What’s the last thing you remember before I spoke to you,
`Hang on.’ He disconnected the construct. The presence
was gone. He reconnected it. `Dix? Who am I?’
`You got me hung, Jack. Who the fuck are you?’
`Ca — your buddy. Partner. What’s happening, man?’
`Remember being here, a second ago?’
`Know how a ROM personality matrix works?’
`Sure, bro, it’s a firmware construct.’
`So I jack it into the bank I’m using, I can give it sequential,
real time memory?’
`Guess so,’ said the construct.
`Okay, Dix. You _are_ a ROM construct. Got me?’
`If you say so,’ said the construct. `Who are you?’
`Miami,’ said the voice, `joeboy, quick study.’
`Right. And for starts, Dix, you and me, we’re gonna sleaze
over to London grid and access a little data. You game for
`You gonna tell me I got a choice, boy?’
Some brain glue to hold all these together coming soon…