Today I'm Liking the Physical World the Best

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In the essay “Writing Is a Technology that Restructures Thought” in Evelyn B. Tribble and Anne Trubek’s Writing Material, author Walter Ong suggests that, “Writing is an intrusion, though an invaluable intrusion…” (318).  I am not so sure I agree with the second part of this statement, but I agree wholeheartedly with the first because as I was reading this essay, I was also listening to the Super Bowl on the radio.  At that moment, writing was an “intrusion” for me: an intrusion into my enjoyment of oral culture.  Of course, I was listening to it on the radio instead of watching it on the television because I knew I needed to get work done, but I felt this article was interfering with my having fun with my friends today.  Even Ong says, “…the oral sensibility is out to hold things together, to make and retain agglomerates, not to analyze (which means to take things apart)…” (317).  Doesn’t this sound so much better than the ripping apart that writing seems to facilitate? 


With such comments as these, I started to enjoy what Ong was talking about.  Two quotes from his essay especially made me think about writing differently than I had before, and not just because I didn’t want to do any so that I could watch the Super Bowl.  Ong writes, “…the written text, for all its permanence, means nothing, is not even a text, except in relationship to the spoken word” (321).  This is a really new way for me to think about writing and literacy.  In another blog, I talked about the importance of literacy; however, I did not really include the necessary oral aspects of literacy in my discussion.  To use Ong’s example, if someone does not know what a tree is, has not experienced the sight or identification of a tree, the written word “tree” will not be very effective.  


This relates directly to the second quote that I enjoyed from Ong’s essay: “One of the most generalizable effects of writing is separation” (326).  Writing separates the material world from meaning.  If one does not know what a tree is, he or she may still be able to read the word “tree,” but it will mean, essentially, nothing.  Similarly, if one lives in a country where soccer is more popular than American football, one would not truly understand what I mean when I write about my disappointment at having to do homework while listening to the Super Bowl.  It seems that Ong does not fully explain this idea he has because he leaves out the material world-a world defined by the senses.  Yes, he discusses sounds and events abstractly, in the context of orality and literacy; however, he never explicitly states that without the physicality of the person and the world around him or her, there could be no orality or literacy.  I think that this is actually an unspoken point that is underlying his arguments about orality and literacy.  We discussed this a bit in class, bringing up how different a phone interview is from a personal interview because one cannot see or interpret the possible employer’s body language.  At some point in the line of communication, usually at the heart and purpose of it, the physical world is necessary.


It seems that in our world today that is so intimately connected via radio, phone, and more technologically, via the Internet, we sometimes lose sight of the importance of the connecting force of the physical world.  While it is amazing that we can experience so much more because we are not limited to only experiencing the physical world, I think we do need to see the importance of it.  Next time there is an important event like the Super Bowl, I will take Ong’s unspoken advice and physically and orally experience it.  After all, I can write about it later. 


See what others have to say about the Super Bowl and about Ong's essay.

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