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revises. and summarizes theories he developed over his long career as a classical scholar. ORAL WRITERS. This idea is central to his arguments about orality and literacy and will be explored further in the book. Ong and others had developed. OVERVIEW Eric A. Ken Rufo let me choose it because he had almost assigned it as a reading for the “Evolution” class. while maintaining his own pioneering stature and likely influence on Harold Innis while lecturing at the University of Toronto and. Even though “The Muse Learns to Write” didn’t quite fit the criteria for supplemental readings. 2009 This is another short paper for the “Evolution and Trends in Digital Media” class. Havelock’s final book synthesizes. also on Innis’ acolyte Marshall McLuhan. and he acknowledges the work of others in this field.May 2013 March 2013 February 2013 December 2012 November 2012 May 2012 July 2011 April 2011 February 2011 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 August 2009 May 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008 November 2008 POST: PRÉCIS: THE MUSE LEARNS TO WRITE: REFLECTIONS ON ORALITY AND LITERACY FROM ANTIQUITY TO THE PRESENT By Brook Ellingwood | Published February 1. Seriously.” or the “separation of the knower from the known” was made possible by growing literacy. I wish more people in upper management over media properties would learn this stuff. Havelock asserts that the concept of “self. His concern is with the impact on Greek modes of thought by the transition from orality to literacy. Ong. such as Walter J. Havelock was recommended to me by the amazing Charlie Teske. WRITTEN SPEECH In his first chapter. therefore. Socrates’ voice is a paradoxical one in that he uses the oral tradition to argue for reforms only . Anyone who really wants to understand what’s going on in media today has to go back to the emergence of literacy in Ancient Greece. but my studies were moving from media theory to media practice and I didn’t read him at the time. I chose this book because it came out during my undergraduate studies when I was first being exposed to the Orality and Literacy concepts that Walter J.

One additional idea from the first chapter that helps explain Havelock’s focus on the Greek transition to literacy is that of all the methods of writing emerging in various Near Eastern cultures. but was transfixed by Hitler’s rhythms and expressiveness. his writing was in prose. Thus. only some 30 to 40 years younger than Socrates. Havelock suggests that the original source material for these oral works was all equally rich. His disciples then. Havelock cites also Franklin Roosevelt’s mastery of the radio medium as a part of the time he remembers. formerly a mnemonic device to aid information storage in an oral society. In his opinion these diverse works all contributed in their own ways to a new understanding of how the medium of writing changes the thinking of societies in which writing becomes commonplace. not just the content. then in a brief chapter entitled “Radio and the Rediscovery of Rhetoric” he remembers a time in 1939 when faculty and students at the University of Toronto trouped out into the street where a loudspeaker had been set up.made conceivable by the changes in Greek thought brought on by literacy. as a rhetorical device to more persuasively present his ideas. McLuhan. even though they didn’t know each other. Havelock turns the scholarly magnifying glass on himself. then wrote them down. being of a new literate generation. but the atomic structure of the Greek alphabet allowed for better transcription than the other writing systems. He speculates that. and others were commenting on the impact of re-introducing oral communication as a primary medium to a written culture. as well as the even more shadowy bard Hesiod. Plato. What was it that made 1963 a watershed moment in the exploration of media and thought? Early in the book Havelock describes his own traditional literary early-20th Century education in classical literature. MODERN REFLECTION OF ANCIENT CHANGE Having laid the conceptual ground work for the book. the Homeric epics use lager vocabularies and express greater detail than the Sumerian transcription of The Epic of Gilgamesh or Hindu Vedic literature. McLuhan’s The Gutenburg Galaxy. Unlike the events of some two-and- . the Greek alphabet was uniquely capable of capturing. placing his own 1963 book Preface to Plato alongside four other works published in that “watershed” year: Claude Lévi-Strauss’s La Pensée Sauvage. raises further questions. on that day in 1939 Marshall McLuhan may very well have been in the same Toronto crowd and had a similar experience. who acted as a medium channeling the received oral tradition. In Plato’s case. and the article “The Consequences of Literacy” by Jack Goody and Ian Watt. Ernst Mayr’s Animal Species and Evolution. but also the style of the oral tradition. The concept of authorship as applied to the Homeric epics. invites “the Muse” to sing the poems. Havelock believes he used poetry. He makes no bones about his own centrality to the exploration of orality and literacy. Socrates and Plato were commenting on the impact of introducing written media to an oral culture. Both the Iliad and the Odyssey contain passages in which the “author” who we know as Homer. marking a break with the poetic oral tradition of previous Greek generations. it is a roughly forty year exposure to radio that Havelock credits with influencing thinkers in seemingly unrelated disciplines. Havelock recalls how he didn’t understand the literal meaning of the German words. There. while Havelock. Eventually their conclusions dovetailed into theories of orality and literacy that are credible today. While no record of Socrates’ teachings exists from his own time. In written form. they stood and listened to a live broadcast of a speech by Adolf Hitler in which he urged Canada to withdraw from World War II. Central to the exploration of orality and literacy is the idea that the Muse was literally believed to be external to the presenter. both thinks and presents in the manner of the literate culture even as he writes allegories arguing that writing is detrimental to society.

Thus when we read Homer. the standards and practices of Greek oral culture were slow to transition. presenting more consideration on the role of orality . and are not essential characteristics of human thought. but it alienates literate readers. Where a literate mind might separate the log into one group. however. which explores the paradoxes present in trying to experience a written medium as an oral medium. even grammatical. or chop wood. The Special Theory of Greek Literacy follows. In the “oral literature” there are object and there are actions. The tools can only do.a-half millennia ago. Rather than a fictional personification of inspiration the Muse in Greek oral culture was the keeper of the culture itself. such as architectural norms. and the tools into another. the subject saw them all as part of one group. Some information. The question of whether text can “speak” occupies a short chapter. it is expressed in rythmic. may be deduced by looking at examples but in a non-literate society the only way to pass more abstract information is orally. Not only does this limit topics to the concrete. Havelock presents five conditions of continuity of practice between orality and literacy. It concludes with a very short overview of Millman Parry’s experience recording the oral epics recited by non-literate Yugoslavian peasant bards. predicated on the idea that no society can exist without methods of passing information to successive generations. modern translations rework the original to provide this thought framework. Havelock points out that our literate minds find it easier to read later Greeks whose writing had become more influenced by literate thought. then. saw. an axe. connected by the similarity of use. Euripides. we are experiencing oral thought in a literate medium. and a log couldn’t be broken in to subcategories. and other early Greek followers of the tradition of the Muse. To a non-literate in one survey a hammer. among others. Other societies in which there is a record of the transition meet some of the requirements. with the result that some of the first literature composed for text still followed the conventions and practices of orality. which only Ancient Greece can meet. repetitive patterns. where Parry’s recordings of Balkan songs are archived. In the oral mind. We have become nearly unable to recognize descriptions of human behavior that don’t include self-reflection and conscious decision. namely to hit. THINK DIFFERENT In exploring examples of cross-cultural collision Havelock anecdotally illustrates different modes of thinking between literary and oral cultures and traces how the growing study of spoken language in the mid-20th century eventually led to deeper study by Innis and McLuhan. Poetry. the world is understood in terms of objects and actions. the oral mind lacks the sense of self as the literate mind understands it. noting the irony in the title of The Center for the Study of Oral Literature at Harvard. on the impact of media themselves. a saw. He provides examples illustrating how the concept of self-reflection is not present in the orally-aligned works. although to make them comprehensible. In his chapter on the Special Greek Theory of Primary Orality. while in literate cultures it is typically seen as a pastime. takes a place as the most important form of communication in oral cultures. To ensure effective memorization of this information. Ancient Greek literature allows us to understand that these ways of thinking about ourselves and the world are created by our shared experience of written media. Lacking the idea of being. but Greece alone meets all five of them. By providing us a glimpse of pre-literate thinking. In the emerging literate Greek culture. the new media forms of the 20th Century served to augment the written culture rather than displace it. A THEORETICAL TRYPTIC Havelock presents a General Theory of Primary Orality. The literate idea expressed in the verb “to be” is missing in the non-literate mind. they can’t be. Hesiod.

devoting the final chapter to putting “The Special Theories on Trial. A.” perhaps in a nod to Socrates’ own fate.” indicating that Socrates. Socrates. Master of Communication Tags: Digital Media. I have studied Judges for about 30 years and analyzed it to find all kinds of amazing things in this ancient anthology of short stories that no one before has ever noticed.in shaping early literature. Objections are touched on briefly but honestly. while literacy has allowed him to address a new topic. he must build a discourse on a new topic by reference to mentions of justice that his audience will be familiar with. a discourse would require as its subject something that has behavior. bound by the rules of orality. Follow comments: RSS feed. The Muse Learns to Write: Reflections on Orality and Literacy from Antiquity to the Present. had already moved their thinking towards the literate. Havelock takes on the task of critiquing his own special theories. so far as I know. but because he has developed a literate mind and writes in prose rather than poetry. he frames his discourses as dialogs. Some of the (many) things that I discovered about its language are what Havelock also finds in the oral “literature” of Greece. “Intricacy. Post a Comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL. He is trapped between tradition and emergence. Design. Voltaire. By acknowledging areas where he may have been tripped up by his own ingrained habits of thought. T. So. In fact. reaching back to the pre-literate ideal that Socrates defended. she will need to supplement the verb “to do” with the “to be. In the oral mind. Plato tries to use writing to preserve the thoughts of his teacher. etc. An example is found in Hesiod’s discourse on justice. So. Havelock. he lacks the means to be truly original and individualistic in his discourse. the Icelandic Sagas. Havelock nicely caps a lifetime of study. E. or at least his students. Eric A. (1986). A. A concept like justice that only has existence can’t properly be described. but can only describe people or objects doing something. he has taken a large leap towards literate thinking. not because it’s the best way to approach the topic. but because it’s the only way to approach the topic. Orality and Literacy. and Cunning in the Book of Judges” by E. Cervantes. I had come across a sentence by Havelock in an article on film noir in PMLA (January 2008) and used it in an article I was writing last year. Evolution and Trends. His discourse is metaphorical. Davidson (Xlibris 2008) is a literary criticism of the 7th book of the Bible. Bookmark: Permalink. I finally concluded that it was originally created by storytellers before the age of writing and transmitted by storytellers over the centuries until finally it was frozen at a later time when put into writing. New Haven: Yale University Press.” And as she does. like a person or an object. Categories: Academic. His sentence about the function of storytelling capsulated what I had learned in my many years of teaching world literature in colleges and universities-–works like the Iliad and the Odyssey. Finally. But Havelock credits the Socratic vocabulary as the source of the concept of “self. Beowulf. 2009 at 8:39 am | Permalink My book. Ovid. But. he can’t actually discuss the concept. and also (very importantly) what I had learned from comedy and present-day . 3 COMMENTS Edith Davidson Posted September 17. which are limited to the oral tradition. the language containing the culture moves from poetry to prose. For the Muse to “learn to write” then.

I would be glad to send it to you by email. Yesterday. build team spirit and patriotism. I’d be honored to read your paper. like that of the Greek oral literature (as discussed by Havelock) ”shows.” but doesn’t “tell. This language.” As in oral literature. but nevertheless a picture. there is no prose treatise in Judges about morals and ethics. is the first book of the so-called histories of the Bible which contains traces of actual history. -Brook louis berger Posted December 6.’ Judges as we have it possibly represents the point at which the oral and the written forms intersected. My current studies are likewise towards a professional Masters’ degree. and transmit these values from one generation to the next. valiant warriors. Davidson Brook Ellingwood Posted September 17.storytellers. “Complexity and Design” (2008). But it did not have them. I read Havelock for the first time and was excited to learn that “The Muse Learns to Write” confirms many of my conclusions about a similar period of time in ancient Israel. writes classics professor Eric Havelock. I find these “traces” in what I call the archaeology of the language. The sentence I quoted from Havelock iappears I n my unpublished paper. to be sure. and that this actual history is different from what most (perhaps all) other scholars thought it meant. which is many respects is fictional. after the performance was over–or much later in time by readers like me. One reason why this is important to me is that I believe that Judges. What the stories “mean” is something that might be discussed with the audience. As we go through increasingly rapid introductions of new media forms.” It doesn’t give us the prose explanation of what the stories mean. this understanding becomes less historic and more relevant to our future. 2010 at 12:48 pm | Permalink Hi — you may be interested in having a look at my “Language and the Ineffable: A Developmental . but I was thrilled when the class I took last Winter gave me a chance to return to the rise of literacy and the way it shaped human thought. If you would like to read my paper. T. [was] an absolute social prerequisite for maintaining the apparatus of any civilization. rather than academic career. In a preliterate era. and cooperative tribes. What Israel needed was strong leadership. the site where traditional storytelling finally developed into written art. ‘a collective social memory. Through my analyses. foster a collective memory of the society’s values. E. 2009 at 9:05 am | Permalink Professor Davidson. While I’ve been fascinated by these ideas since being exposed to them as an undergrad in the 1980′s by Charlie Teske at The Evergreen State College. in which I summarize the unique characteristics s of the style of the Book of Judges: My passage: “Ancient stories were created in order to bring the community together. but only questions the stories raise about the behavior of the various men and women who jump into the fray to “save” Israel. A. tenacious and reliable. I’ve applied them to my pursuit of a professional. I was able to build up a picture of that society– an incomplete picture.

of the high classic Greek vocabulary and syntax. to be published by Lexington Books in the next couple of weeks.explains meanings concealed in a thousand passages of Greek literature from Homer to Aristotle.Perspective and its Applications. But don't be creepy.’ never since duplicated. though convenient and fashionable. It explains the Greek invention of philosophy. If you like.22-3) .” a quite radical view of what language “is”. It explains what Charles Segal has called the curious ‘dynamism. It is a theory which. POST A COMMENT Your email is kept private. Havelock: The Muse Learns to Write: reflections on orality and literacy from antiquity to the present (Yale University Press: 1986) “What has been called the ‘Literate Revolution’ in Greece is not one more programmed concept conjured out of the air. TWITTER LINKEDIN GOOGLE FACEBOOK Brook made this stuff and it's copyright © 1998 . pp.. The word revolution. She learned to write and read while still continuing to sing. is one that can mislead if it is used to suggest the clear-cut substitution of one means of communication for another. send me an email address and I’ll send you a pdf of the publisher’s informative flyer. The following pages seek to describe how this came about. The Muse never became the discarded mistress of Greece. Regards.2013 shytone books music essays home exploratories new this month book reviews Eric A.” (Havelock.. Required fields are marked * Name * Email * Website Comment You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong> Follow me.

.100) “That is why Greek orality requires its own special theory..only to die away during the fourth century B.. which chronicle a major shift in human history: the consequences of the Greek invention of the full alphabet from the Phoenician syllabary which preceded it. pursuits that university professors are fabled for but. most evident in the fragments of Pre-Socratic philosophers.. which grouped syllables in ‘sets. Even today this seems to hold true in societies that are not officially alphabetized..representing the initial ‘consonant’ of the set.or sign .59-60) “The Greek system got beyond empiricism.. pp. It could not ‘hear’ the full richness of the original oral tradition.’.“One of the difficulties of thinking about language is that you have to use language to think about it. as distinct from the visual ones symbolized in early Egyptian hieroglyphs. Their creation separated out an unpronounceable component of linguistic sound and gave it visual identity. We now style these elements ‘con-sonants’. and it has taken the Classics decades to begin accepting his conclusions. This adds ritual dignity to the record.’ each set having a common denominator . The Greeks did not ‘add vowels’ (a common misconception: vowel signs had already shown up in Mesopotamian Cuneiform and Linear B) but invented the (pure) consonant. this may appear one of those harmless....... Once written down. searching for economy. The reader... Havelock’s work was revolutionary in truth.34) As Eric Havelock explains in the first chapter of this deceptively slim book. but present throughout. This the pre-Greek systems could not provide. therefore.. Drastic economy (you would easily memorize the names of such an ‘alphabet’) was purchased at the price of drastic ambiguity.” (Havelock. The number of syllables is tremendous. The vocabulary as it is written shows a steady tendency to economize and simplify both thought and action. and the resultant sign system became difficult to memorize and cumbrous to use. “The art (or science?) of writing in the Near East had through millennia slowly promoted the invention of signs that had phonetic values. cut down the number by inventing a shorthand. p. yet erudite.. by abstracting the nonpronounceable. In so doing. But what was the nature and significance of the speaking act itself? What has been its role in man’s history?” (Havelock.E.. The same holds true for the remains of the Sumerian and Babylonian so-called ‘epics.60) “To achieve a complete transfer to a system of visual recognition requires a comparable visual fluency. and so they could not compete adequately with the oralism which they partially recorded.” (Havelock. nonperceptible elements contained in the syllables. who used the system had to decide for himself which vocalic to use out of the [set]. The instrument of inscription was imperfect. Progress in this direction had got as far as identifying the syllables of a spoken tongue and assigning ‘characters’ to them. make no mistake. but which continued to flourish as the habit of a majority. he spent much of his long life attempting to explain a series of strange features found in all early Greek writings. The Phoenicians.” (Havelock... A linguistic act has to be directed upon itself. Now.C. but at the cost of omitting the complexities of physical and psychological response. The invention also supplied the first and last instrument perfectly constructed to reproduce the range of previous orality.. the act could be visualized and this visual thing could be separated from the act of speaking and laid out in a kind of visual map. p..These . they for the first time supplied our species with a visual representation of linguistic noise that was both economical and exhaustive: a table of atomic elements which by grouping themselves in an inexhaustible variety of combinations can with reasonable accuracy represent any actual linguistic noise. The Hebrew example furnished in the Old Testament is not a parallel case. p.

all are briefly noted only to be dismissed. the chanted choruses. to carry the responsibilities of a memorized code of behavior. since what was now embraced was the whole tradition of the society for which the bard sang. and they strongly suggest a qualitative difference between these systems. however..vocabulary counts are straightforward measures. It can. there are also other barriers.. And if the ancient Greeks were less literate than we think.first outlined in the groundbreaking Preface to Plato (1963) . so far as the original Greek epics were concerned.[and] the language used is no longer a governing language. in a whole variety of areas. as their models are clearly irrelevant to the actual evidence Havelock is struggling with. Levi-Strauss. And similarly. There was no single institutionalized priesthood. but also makes clear the fact that he does not share many of McLuhan’s ideas...91) In an age of relativism with regard to cultural comparisons.. and legal system to governements that are literate in their methods of management.45) Havelock does note the importance of the Parry-Lord hypothesis on the oral nature of Homer’s Illiad & Odyssey. In the latter [case].versions were to be used and read and. Primary orality by contrast controls and guides its society flexibly and intuitively. he strongly denies that it can be seen as fully comparable: “[Examples from anthropology] exemplify societies which either have never charged themselves with the responsibility of maintaining a developed and complex culture. Freud. intoned on ceremonious occasions by scribes..albeit now on different grounds to that which attended its first statement. “Preface to Plato sought to shift attention. Such scripts tend to ritualize their accounts of human experience and so simplify it and then make this simplified version authoritative.” (Havelock.” (Havelock. maybe. p. Derrida . something which it was his didactic purpose to conserve. and have an appeal both aesthetic and romantic. they have surrendered control of their economic..the infamous “lava lamp of cultural theory” . that is.. their analyses stopped well short of thinking through the full implications of this discovery. while he finds contemporary work from anthropology suggestive. however. the ritualized performances slip into forgetfulness.. but not recited expansively in festivals of the people. However. having come in contact with literate cultures which have either invaded or infiltrated them. The surviving orality of such societies. applied to content as well as style. but his own argument on that score . just how did this connect with their startlingly original worldview(s)? .. the evidence is clear enough . for the development of Greek thought. and on a larger scale of reference. or have ceased to do so.. away from improvisation towardd recollection and remembrance.. The great epics. Many (unfairly) still associate Havelock’s careful work with the dubious notions of Marshall McLuhan . be modeled into forms that are attractive and interesting. and no attempt to form a canon out of what was being inscribed. crucially set the stage for much that has come after. Havelock politely acknowledges McLuhan’s praise. p.ceases to be functional. with the help of literacy. p. Here.11) For while Parry and Lord have successfully convinced us that Homer was an oral poet. military protection. this argument is likely to encounter strong resistance . All that is left is residual entertainments.has far wider implications. Furthermore..” (Havelock.whose bombastic books still clog the shelves of secondhand book dealers worldwide. he is also briskly dismissive of the usual suspects in the Humanities canon. Yet. and its alphabetized version in Greek continued this flexibility... yet genuinely singular in their newly literate experience.

two idioms woven into one.. scenes. making a collective decision.. a method for preserving an ‘encyclopedia’ of social habit . not as it is spontaneous and impermanent. its ideas. and we have also found no evidence of transplanted texts from the then more civilized Middle East during the lengthy (and crucial) development period.particularly for scholars who organize their lives around texts but it is crucial to seeing that Havelock’s argument for literacy’s slow advance is not radical. early “literate” Greece. organizing funerals. or else the culture loses its coherence.. the other for serious preserved communication.meets the following criteria of authenticity: 1) they have been framed in a society free from any literate contact or contamination.. [But] oralist theory has to come to terms with communication...” (Havelock. kindled by the bard’s skill.and the other large-scale urban non-literate societies we find in history . and the like. philosophy. and repetition must be faithful.organize and regulate the custom & law that made their society workable. 2) the society was politically and socially autonomous both in its oral and literate periods.. and even carrying out such technical procedures as navigation.it is the only conceivable one when the full situation is considered. which is quite other than we might superficially think. and it always has been. the one designed for immediate communication. takes precedence over it.is astonishingly flexible and mobile. The Greeks..“The Homeric epics considered as records of the orally preserved word.. but of separate genius. even though in our imagination the narrative itself. arming for battle.. Such was the evidence [that]. 5) the application of the invention to transcribe anything and everything that might be both spoken and preservable continued to be controlled by [native] speakers.. there are no other cases that satisfy these criteria. our laws. that is. but as it is preserved in lasting form... are not only described formulaically. our history. This goes to the heart of the oralist question... we normally do not think of the difference. 3) as far as responsibility for the preservation of this consciousness rested upon language. It slips so easily into our casual converse that when we cease to be casual. that language had originally to be a matter of oral record with no exceptions.. The list is inexhaustible. the poetry must also be seen as functional. conducting a banquet. On the other. our technologies. but recallable for re-use. Any discussion of a serious topic is bound to use its terms. That is what talk is. pp. The [latter] have to posess stability.” (Havelock.. We become familiar with this form as it exists in our textbooks..86-7) Quite simply.. usually adding the qualification that the entertainment is somehow mysteriously elevated. and performance which are ritualized. its vocabulary. never used the Phoenician syllabary they adapted. it can intrude into our daily talk. pp... Much of the thematic content noted by Lord turn out to occur in contexts that are social-political: they continually recall and itemize the rules of order to be followed in such things as holding an assembly..64-71) “So much of the Homeric narrative involves situations.. literature. and consequently possessed a firm consciousness of its own identity. ship-building. And.the intentions of the Homeric were bifocal.. Of course. “Unrehearsed conversational language.. They have to be repeated from generation to generation. 4) at the point where this language came to be transcribed the invention necessary for the purpose was supplied by the speakers of the language within the society itself. and often does. had nothing to read. On the one hand they were recreational: the poetry was the product of an art designed to entertain.. The solution discovered by the brain of early man was to convert thought into rhythmic talk. Facing the full implications of this is very difficult . if this was the case. house-building. how did the earlier Greeks . Variable statements could then be woven into identical sound patterns to build up a special language system which was not only repeatable.. our religious scriptures. quite simply. but the difference is there . this being the preferred criterion by which modernity has judged them. So. but also rendered as typical of what the society always did under such circumstances. as far as we know. issuing challenges..

they must be names of agents who do things. Meaning is accumulated piece by piece. This living body is a flow of sound. or having something done to them. one which also prepares us to confront a profound transformation that has since occurred in the nonperformative language we use today. Its content is not ideology but action.and custom-law and convention.the most original.proofs that something revolutionary did take place way back then. takes.Havelock ..95) Although there has been a considerable amount of work done on the oral/literate transition. and those situations which action creates. item is added to item using the connections supplied by the verb ‘to be’ and the preposition ‘with. will not be available to aid in this process. that is. Action in turn requires agents who are doing something or saying something about what they are doing.... A language of action rather than reflection appears to be a prerequisite for oral memorization. despite the crucial importance of the ancient Greek experience . But the parataxis habit is only the tip of the iceberg or (a better metaphor) the set of clothing which contains the living body of the language. Ernest Gellner. prolonged. One law of narrative syntax in oral poetry.a process which would enrich all. at once brings out the dynamics of the oral tongue and what has happened in the transfer to a literate syntax.the potential list is inexhaustible .. But Eric Havelock. p. . rather than a treatise. or (if the language of modernistic philosophy is preferred) a ‘performative’ syntax.” (Havelock. from Mikhail Bakhtin. sadly. The predicates to which they attach themselves must be predicates of action or of situation present in action.. Merlin Donald and Peter J.. The more fundamental fact of his linguistic operation is that all subjects of statements have to be narrativised. Wilson .58) “Even at our literate level.’” (Havelock.and convincing . when the effect is compared with the original.. Recognition of it is crucial to the formation of a true general theory of primary orality. and cross-disciplinary without making a show of it. and that language was genuinely different before literacy gradually changed the way we think: “Translation of the high classical language into a modern literary tongue.’ The whole effect is static. Havelock’s work can be profitably juxtaposed with that of important theorists in a variety of disciplines. noted by specialists. to me at least his comparisons of modern “translations” of ancient Greek texts with their literal counterparts remain the most startling . symbolizing a river of actions.has been little read by those outside the discipline. In the English of this widely used modern version. as image is connected to image by ‘and’ rather than subordinated in some thoughtful relationship. With major implications for the development of our intellectual approaches.” (Havelock. spoken or written. The narrative format invites attention because narrative is for most people the most pleasurable form that language..the grammatical structure is atomistic. the average adult would prefer to take a novel to bed with him. pp.75-7) But while the range of evidence Havelock brings to bear is formidable. expressed in a behavioral syntax. p. whether actual persons or other forces which are personified. never of essence or existence.. The Muse Learns to Write was his swansong.. with the unfortunate consequence that the most original scholar in the area . Oedipus opens the play that bears his name with a public address in which he describes the city’s condition: ‘The town is heavy with a mingled burden of sounds and smells’ (Grene 1954). and intriguing transition of this kind in human history. resistance to the importance of this idea has seemingly been highest amongst Classicists. not to mention the concept of selfhood itself. The original Greek says: ‘The city altogether bulges with incense burnings. which constituted the Greek cultural tradition at the time when the poems were composed. We tend to think of the oral storyteller as concerned with his overall ‘subject’ (a literate term) for which he creates a narrative ‘structure’ (again a literate term). a continual dynamism. takes the form of parataxis: the language is additive.

p.. New Haven: Yale UP. 1986... p. Because this is a major piece of the human puzzle yet to be fully integrated into our broader understandings. Alphabetized speech offered its own forms of freedom. The propositional idiom with the copula which we continually fall into is precisely what Plato wished the Greek language to be converted to.move beyond cultural relativist & gendered language sensitivities . 2005 The Muse Learns to Write Havelock.and listen to him. slowly. The need to conserve in memory required that the content of memory be economical.. So. Eric A. Alphabetized speech.since these have no real bearing on the actual dispute at hand .composed in his eighties in a last attempt to sum up his findings.” (Havelock. . its particularity that he deplores. The speech will praise or blame but not in terms of moral approval and moral disapproval based on abstract and manufactured principles.and raise interest in them outside his recalcitrant profession. The Muse Learns to Write: Reflections on Orality and Literacy from Antiquity to the Present. the invention continued to be used to inscribe an orality which was slowly modifying itself in order to become a language of literacy. and he spent his entire writing life trying to do this.109-10) John Henry Calvinist AUTHORSHIP IN ANTIQUITY AN ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY Did Demosthenes Publish His Deliberative Speeches? | Main | Literature and Literacy in Ancient Greece NOVEMBER 13.90) “The absence of any linguistic framework for the statement of abstract principle confers on the high classic tongue a curious and enviable directness. Oral information was packaged tightly (to use an anachronistic metaphor). p..94) “Yet there is another side to the coin. given its ready fluency of recognition. and often with the loss of previous material to make room for addition in what was a drastically limited capacity. scanning as he read. the first historic task assigned to it was to render an account of orality itself before it was replaced. [But] it is far easier to translate Plato. both in content and style. You added to it only cautiously... its fluidity. now allowed of novel language and of novel statement (should individual minds be tempted to indulge in such) which a reader... rather than an implement designed for excavation. its concreteness.we face the paradox that. whereas the alphabet by its phonetic efficiency was designed to relace orality by literacy.” (Havelock. The resources of documentation were by contrast wide open. Oralism had favored the traditional and the familiar. could recognize at leisure and ‘take in’ and ‘think over.’” (Havelock.. The particularism of orally remembered speech has the continual effect of calling a spade a spade.. even of excitement.. Since the replacement was slow.. “In the Greek case. an absence of hypocrisy.. When he turns against poetry it is precisely its dynamism.

everyday language and the ‘storage language’ that characterizes the oral tradition.” 1985. Havelock claims that “no other instance of transition from orality to literacy can meet all these five requirements” (87). It requires communication to be understood as a social phenomenon. he now suggests that we cannot assume that a great. especially when linked to literacy theory. Contrary to his earlier work in Preface to Plato.) The emphasis here is on culture: “a general theory of orality must build upon a general theory of society. I am under the impression that Havelock’s theories have become canonical (but not entirely undisputed) in the 20 years since the publication of this work. Goody and Watt.) Still. which concerns the written form of this information. When it was finally accepted. “Writing is a Technology that Restructures Thought. The new research in this book actually begins in chapter eight. His overviews of Levi-Strauss. relatively static forms (70-75). and poetic and/or narrative in nature. Rather. As far as responsibility for the preservation of this consciousness rested upon language. His “program of investigation” provides an excellent model for junior scholars who are in the process of developing their own research agendas. The Greek mnemones performed this function. and the notion of intellectualism (115). since it gives us a way to consider how the shift toward encapsulated knowledge began. rhythmic. (This notion becomes much more pertinent on down the line. His work is pertinent to my project. entitled “A General Theory of Orality.” Havelock draws a sharp distinction between ordinary. introducing the active verb (107). and the alphabet encountered an initial long period of resistance after its invention (90). it becomes much easier to think of it as a “thing” that can be owned. Mayr. but Havelock argues that Greek culture demands special theories of orality and literacy because of several distinguishing elements: [Homeric epics] were framed in a society free from any literate contact or contamination. (See also Ong. and Preface to Plato consitute a solid introduction to 20th century orality/literacy research. that language had originally to be a matter of oral record with no exceptions. The application of the invention to transcribe anything and everything that might be both spoken and perservable continued to be controlled by Greek speakers (86-87). At the point where this language came to be transcribed the invention necessary for the purpose was supplied by the speakers of the language within the society itself. written Greek preserved the flexibility of oral Greek. the oral remained partnered with the literate throughout Socrates’ and Plato’s lifespans (116). a phenomenon that stands in contrast with the simplification of other contemporaneous written languages. Posted by at November 13. (This is the speech that orality theory focuses on.Havelock devotes the first three-fourths of the book to a description of his long-term research agenda and a review of the relevant literature and prevailing views on the topic of orality. with the rise of the medieval scriptural economy and then the development of Caxon’s and Gutenberg’s presses. This second type is ritualized. not a private transaction between individuals“ (68). sudden rupture of literacy occurred in Athenian or Greek society. providing a means of containing vital cultural information and passing it along in easily memorizable.) The Muse Learns to Write is certainly relevant to the study of authorship in antiquity. This text would be a good one to position in the beginning weeks of a course on the subject. McLuhan. since once knowledge is shifted from the oral commons and encapsulated in writing. 2005 2:34 PM | Books | Greek | Literacy COMMENTS . while all of this was going on. Havelock also theorizes that the shift to literacy transformed Greek thought. The society was politically and socially autonomous both in its oral and literate periods and consequently possessed a firm consciousness of its own identity. the concepts of selfhood (113) and psyche (114). the move was gradual.