Ong 2002

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"Without writing, the literate mind would not and could not think as it does, not only when engaged in writing but normally even when it is composing its thoughts in oral form. More than any other single invention, writing has transformed human consciousness." (105)


  • establishes "context-free" language or "autonomous discourse"
  • has vatic quality of oracular utterances, the "voice of God"
  • cannot be directly refuted -- even total refutation doesn't erase the physical text
  • destroys memory, cannot defend itself in dialogue; associated with death (Socrates)
  • completely artificial (107)

"Texts are inherently contumacious." (105)

criticisms of writing/print/computers weakened by using writing/print/computers to make their arguments; "once the word is technologized, there is no effective way to criticize what technology has done with it without the aid of the highest technology available" (106)

Havelock: Plato's entire philosophy is a technologizing of language, focusing on the visual over the oral

"Technologies are not mere exterior aids but also interior transformations of consciousness, and never more than when they affect the word." (107)

"The use of a technology can enrich the human psyche, enlarge the human spirit, intensify its interior life." (108)

writing is "a coded system of visible marks ... whereby a writer could determine the exact words that the reader would generate from the text" -- not simply semiotic markers, like urine (108-9)

  • tied to language, speech, and yet distinctly other from it

in oral cultures, "customary law, trimmed of material no longer of use, was automatically always up to date and thus youthful -- a fact which, paradoxically, makes customary law seem inevitable and thus very old" (112) -- like wikis today?

Biblical passages: oral traditions written down; "They are not felt as thing-like, but as reconstitutions of events in time" (113)

oral language is never words alone; "yet words are alone in a text" (114)

"The psychodynamics of writing matured very slowly in narrative." (115)

grapholect of standard English -- accumulation of writers' labor, constructed artificially