February 2008 Archives

This is my blogging portfolio for History and Future of the Book (EL336). It is a class at Seton Hill University. It has covered the topics of oral and manuscript culture, pre-literate society and literate society.

All of my blog entries fall under the category of Coverage because they all include a direct quote from the reading, identify the source, and link to the course website. All of my blog entries also fall under the category of Timeliness because they all occur 24 hours before class.

Coverage and Super-Timeliness:




McLuhan (1-90)


“King Lear is a kind of elaborate case history of people translating themselves out of a world of roles into the new world of jobs. This is a process of stripping and denudation which does not occur instantly except in artistic vision. ... However, the older world of roles had lingered on as a ghost just as after a century of electricity the West still feels the presence of the older values of literacy and privacy and separateness.” - (p. 22) McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy

This is very true. Though pre-literate society was disturbed by the print revolution, some of its values remain. We have internalized oral culture with headphones and recorded speeches.



“Concepts pertaining to uniformity and to diversity - to the typical and to the unique - are interdependent. They represent two sides of the same coin. In this regard one might consider the emergence of a new sense of individualism as a by-product of the new forms of standardization. The more standardized the type, indeed, the more compelling the sense of an idiosyncratic personal self.” - (p. 128) Eisenstein, Writing Materials

Printing also furthered individualism because reading is a private affair, while speaking is obviously not. Even the book itself is private. You hold it in your hand. It is yours.

Brookfield (23-35; 46-53)


“Is it a book? This world history is one of the most curious ‘books’ ever made. Notes in German on events from the Creation to 1595 were written on long strips of paper. The writing is clear, but there is no obvious beginning or end.” - (bottom of p. 29), Brookfield

I still don’t understand what that object is. How can it be a book? What is the point of it if there is no beginning or end? It reminds me of a feather duster. Curious…



"No longer was handwriting simply a mechanical skill... it was seen as involving both mind and body, 'an active process in which the soul was uplifted and the body disciplined.'" - (p. 58) Baron, Writing Materials

Many of these writers are afraid that writing or printing will have an effect on people's souls. Baron says that handwriting disciplined the soul and Socrates said that it would make the soul forgetful.



“…printed books are often deficient in spelling and appearance. The simple reason is that copying by hand involves more diligence and industry.” - (p. 475) Trithemius, Writing Materials

It’s strange to think of people worrying that printers would make spelling errors and typos, but not scribes. I would imagine that humans would be more likely to make mistakes, and not machines. They just weren’t ready to give up the control they had over information.

Havelock 98-126


“As language became separated visually from the person who uttered it, so also the person, the source of the language, came into sharper focus and the concept of selfhood was born.” (p. 113) - Havelock, The Muse Learns to Write

Literacy changed how the Greeks thought. It gave them a sense of self and psyche, and even the active verb (“Could the Muse learn, if not sing, at least to write, in the verb ‘to be’ rather than in the verb ‘to do’?” (p. 107)



“We learn speech as infants - from parents who love us and naturally reward us for speaking at all.” - (p. 137) Elbow, Writing Materials

Speech is easy. Writing is hard. Anyone can say random words. It doesn’t really have any rules. People are less likely to be questioned or rebuked for using slang in their speech. But this is not the case in writing. In speech, slang is often accepted as being part of a person’s personality or culture. In writing, however, it is an error.

Havelock 63-97


“This word, with the concept it expresses, is taken for granted by all scholars and specialists. It describes an accepted presence in history. 'Tradition' can be used to cover almost anything. The more ready its use, the more excuse it seems to provide for not going any further.” - (p. 69) Havelock, The Muse Learns to Write

Tradition is the enemy of creativity. We have to accept the values of others simply because they have chosen them?

“Tradition has specifics for any given society. An individual has to learn what these are, whatever they happen to be. He does not draw them from an instinctive sensibility of his own…” (p. 69)

I don’t believe that. Some people have an “instinctive sensibility.” They speak or write by their own standards. There are always firsts. Look at Homer.



“Despite the almost organic ebb and flow of this evaluation process, the common goal is constant submission to the judgment of one’s peers.” - (p. 383) Rheingold, Writing Materials

Technology is a celebration of the genius of humankind. One might say that those who reject technology are the true haters of humankind. Many of our technological devices are a solitary experience. They may separate people physically, but only physically.

Rheingold made a good point on p. 386 when he mentions technology being your servant instead the other way around. Obviously an obsession with technology taken to the extreme can be damaging, as is anything in extreme.

However, I see no hidden majesty in this lifestyle of anti-individualism and collectivist thinking.


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"Niane recorded the griot's performance and then transformed it into a form that would be familiar to Western readers." - (p. 443) Sundiata, Writing Materials

Niane's version is more condensed. It was what we are accustomed to. Is the first one "dumbed down" for us? Johnson's version is supposed to be closer to the original. And the original is the truth.


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“Virgil, Dante, Milton had their predecessors. They belong in a literary tradition, not narrowly epic, but general. They have genius, but it is not unaided, not unique, not isolated…

But the Iliad and Odyssey - and we must add Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days - have no ancestry, no tradition.” - (p. 19) Havelock, The Muse Learns to Write

They stood at the beginning of what would become a tradition. They had no standards to follow. They were the first story tellers, but their stories were oral.

“We do know that the poems bear the hallmarks of orally composed poetry…” - (p. 192) Homer, Writing Materials

When they were written down, they were no longer the first. Others had come before them. They lost their uniqueness.

Havelock (19-62)


“The paper had a double focus. It directed attention toward survival of orality in the modern world, and to a possible model for orality in its relationship to literacy in the experience of ancient Greece.” - (p. 28) Havelock, The Muse Learns to Write

I can see how he combines his analysis of orality and literary research.

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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