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Life Arts    H4'ed 3/31/16

William Egginton Celebrates Cervantes' Achievement (REVIEW ESSAY)

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In effect, David Riesman's book The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character (Yale University Press, 1950) is a classic study of inner-directed people in print culture 1.0. In Ong's most widely known book Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (Methuen, 1982), and elsewhere, he connects the inward turn of consciousness that Riesman refers to as inner-directedness with print culture 1.0.

In the book The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History (Yale University Press, 1967), the expanded version of Ong's 1964 Terry Lectures at Yale's Divinity School, Ong suggests that our contemporary communications media that accentuate sound (oral culture 2.0) were immeasurably challenging the hegemony of print culture 1.0.

As a result of that challenge of oral culture 2.0 over the last half century or so, print culture 2.0 has emerged in Western culture. In Riesman's terminology, people influenced by oral culture 2.0 and print culture 2.0 tend to be other-directed. However, by contrast with them, many conservatives such as economic libertarians tend to be inner-directed.

In our new cultural matrix in print culture 2.0, we are now in a position to develop a more clear-sighted view of the contours of print culture 1.0, as Ong himself does not only in his 1958 book Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue, mentioned above, but also in his 1986 book Hopkins, the Self, and God (University of Toronto Press), the published version of Ong's 1981 Alexander Lectures at the University of Toronto.


In part, Egginton's book is a biography of Cervantes. However, the author makes no claim for having undertaken any original biographical research. Instead, he judiciously draws on previously published biographies of Cervantes. If writing is somehow an author's autobiography, then it makes sense to consider the author's biography alongside his written works, as Egginton does.

However, Egginton's way of proceeding to consider Cervantes' life alongside his written works would not be worth pursuing with the Homeric epics or other works out of oral tradition (oral culture 1.0). Concerning the Homeric epics, see Havelock's 1963 book Preface to Plato, mentioned above, and John Miles Foley's book Homer's Traditional Art (Pennsylvania State University, 1999).

In Riesman's terminology, people in oral culture 1.0 tended to be outer-directed (also known as tradition-directed).

In any event, as Egginton's title indicates, his book has a thesis that extends far beyond contextualizing Don Quixote in terms of Cervantes' life. So did Cervantes' invention of modern fiction help usher people in Western culture into the modern world that emerged historically in the following centuries?

In Europe after the Gutenberg printing press emerged in the 1450s, everybody grew up in a popular culture that was a residual form of oral culture 1.0, despite the centuries-old prestige culture of learning (mostly in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew) as exemplified by the rise of the medieval universities in which the study of logic was central in the arts course of studies. In Riesman's terminology, popular medieval culture, like popular ancient culture, culturally conditioned people to be outer-directed (also known as tradition-directed).

But according to Egginton's argument, Cervantes somehow learned the trick of NOT aligning oneself and one's thought processes with the tradition-directed orientation of popular culture. Moreover, according to Egginston's spirited argument, the widespread popularity of Cervantes' signature novel helped many other people in the then-still-emerging print culture 1.0 learn this clever trick for themselves. Furthermore, according to Egginton's argument, this trick emerged in the prestige culture in the then-still-emerging print culture 1.0 on such a widespread scale that it became in time so characteristic of print culture 1.0 that it became the new normal in popular culture. In Riesman's terminology, that new normal represents inner-directedness.

In general, I think that Egginton's argument is decidedly more measured than certain hyperbolic claims that Yale's literary critic Harold Bloom makes about Shakespeare in his best-selling book with the hyperbolic title Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (Riverhead Books, 1998). Concerning Bloom's hyperbolic title, also see Philip Cary's book titled Augustine's Invention of the Inner Self: The Legacy of a Christian Platonist (Oxford University Press, 2000).

In addition, I like to give people credit where credit is due. I am willing to go along with Egginton and give Cervantes all the credit that Egginton thinks Cervantes is due for Don Quixote. As I've indicated, I can translate Egginton's basic argument into the larger framework of Ong's thought that I prefer to work.

Historically in American culture, inner-directedness was the gold standard, despite the presence of uneducated Americans who were outer-directed people (also known as tradition-directed).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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