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A Reply to Rob Kall's Comment

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) July 28, 2015: I am willing to reply to your comment, Rob. I appreciate the time you took to post your comment. However, I have been so frustrated by the reply feature at OEN that I am no longer willing to try to use it.

I admit that I am not a very tech-savvy person. But enough is enough. I have had my fill of frustration with that reply feature. So I will reply by writing you a new essay.

Arguably the American Jesuit cultural historian and theorist Walter J. Ong (1912-2003) is most widely known for coining the expression "secondary oral culture." Actually, he had previously referred to "secondarily oral culture," and then he settled on shortening that to "secondary oral culture." He also shortened his earlier expression about "primarily oral culture" to "primary oral culture."

So following popular computerese, we can further shorten Ong's expressions to oral culture 1.0 and oral culture 2.0.

The salient point is that oral culture 2.0 is NOT oral culture 1.0. You see, if Ong were to claim that oral culture 2.0 is the same as oral culture 1.0, then he would be expounded a cyclic view of cultural history. As a matter of fact, Ong discusses cyclic views of history in connection with oral culture 1.0. Over against the cyclic view of history, Ong clearly and repeatedly favors the linear and evolutionary view of history -- cosmic history and cultural history.

By oral culture 1.0, Ong means pre-historic and pre-literate culture, and residual forms of oral culture 1.0 after the distinctively literate thought of ancient Greek philosophy as exemplified in Plato and Aristotle emerged.

In the book Preface to Plato (1963), the classicist Eric A. Havelock aligns the Homeric epics with oral tradition (oral culture 1.0) and ancient Greek philosophic thought in Plato with distinctively literate thought, which I will here style visual culture 1.0.

In Ong's book Ramus, Method, and the Decay of dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason (1958), Ong works with the aural-visual opposition that he explicitly acknowledges that he borrowed from the French philosopher Louis Lavelle.

In that 1958 book and elsewhere, Ong aligns the entire sweep of Western philosophical thought from Plato onward with the distinctively literate thought that Havelock discusses in his 1963 book -- in short, with visual culture 1.0.

Ong's alignment of Plato's and Aristotle's thought with visual culture 1.0 is strengthened by Andrea Wilson Nightingale's book Spectacles of Truth in Classical Greek Philosophy: Theoria in its Cultural Context (2004).

Now, nobody thinks that the Hebrew Bible is an anthology of Greek philosophic texts. It's not. Ong sees the Hebrew Bible as an anthology of thought and expression of oral culture 1.0.

But the Hebrew Bible does not represent cyclic thought. As a matter of fact, Ong, following Mircea Eliade, sees the Hebrew Bible as pioneering a linear and historical sense of time -- over against the cyclic sense of time characteristic of oral culture 1.0.

Richard Elliott Friedman's book The Hidden Book in the Bible (1998) greatly strengthens the idea of an extended linear narrative history in the Hebrew Bible.

After distinctively literate thought emerged in ancient Greek philosophy, in visual culture 1.0, it later found its way into Christian theology.

Now, Ong refers to ancient and medieval culture as manuscript culture (also known as chirographic culture = visual culture 1.0). He then refers to the emergence of the Gutenberg printing press in the 1450s as being involved in a new constellation of infrastructures that he refers to as print culture in Western culture. For Ong, print culture is different from the preceding manuscript culture. Nevertheless, print culture did not emerged suddenly overnight. It emerged slowly. In the meantime, manuscript culture continued on residually.

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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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