"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Reading's Influence on Community and Vision

This book is part of a series about the development of our Western culture.  I've kind of read them out of order since I've yet to read How the Irish Saved Civilization (the introductory volume) yet read the book about Jesus and Christianity last year (it's third in the series and you can see my numerous posts on it by scrolling this link which is a search using the author's name).  My previous post touching on The Gifts of the Jews is second in the series, and this blurb is from book four Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter by Thomas Cahill.

"Many cultural commentators have theorized that oral society -- that is, society in which writing is unknown -- is far more communal and visionary than society in which human thought is objectified by writing and that written language encourages the reader in his separateness to individualism (uncommunity) and by its sequential format to sequential, rational analysis (unvision). Though there is probably much truth to such theories, it may also be true that the type of literacy a given society enshrines may work great wonders than the fact of literacy itself.  A type of literacy that can be grasped easily by almost anyone will tend to spread some kind of proto-democratic consciousness far and wide, even if this is accomplished only in small steps over a very long period of time. ... A type of literacy that demystifies the act of reading, erasing for all time the aura of an unapproachable Sacred Brotherhood of scribes, wisemen, and potentates, will by its very nature tend to demystify additional realms of human experience
."  (pg. 60)

I guess this struck me as worth sharing because of all the talk of the old Jewish and Arabian societies being oral in nature. I remember a post I did not long ago about the Quran being repeated over and over and basically perfected by Muhammad as he taught it to his followers before it was finally written in the version we have today (thanks also to Uthman who had the first Quran burning for copies of the Quran that were not the Authorized Version.  Yes, I know I'm being silly calling it the AV which is usually attributed to the King James Version of the Bible, but I'm in that kind of mood.)

So about oral societies vs. literate ones.  Do you think it's true that we readers are more individualistic and rational thus not prone so much to community ties and being visionary which I suppose means - what? dreamers?   Actually what do you think the author means by this vision vs. "unvision"? Is this why we don't have angels talking to us and bringing us fresh revelation from God?

I can see that when I read, I am being individualistic in that I am not interacting with anyone until I decide to do this -- share on my blog and ask you to discuss what I read!  So maybe blogging is getting back to community somewhat.  And for sure if you have an oral tradition of stories, it would promote interaction. It's like the entertainment of the day - hearing the stories, the family history, the battles, the struggles to survive, the victories!  Nowadays we have television.

Also what do you think about reading being demystified and this leading to more democratic movements?

Any other thoughts or observations?  Please share!


Suroor said...

What an interesting thought!

I think that oral societies may be more imaginative but they are also capable of exaggeration. I am currently teaching first generation university students who come from a predominantly oral communities and hyperbole is very much part of who they are. Since they are not used to writing which records everything for posterity they have been getting away with saying a lot that is often exaggeration. Just something that occurred to me when I read your post.

Amber said...

Perhaps oral societies are also more communal simply because of the way the information must be passed on. The best way to ensure the survival of the information is to get it out, correctly, to as many people as possible. The most efficient way to do this is to have large gatherings of people where they listen to the story/teaching and absorb it, taking it back to other groups and passing it along the same way.

With a written society, someone can write a book on the other side of the planet, you can read it in your house here in America, all alone, with no one to talk about it immediately, until you decide to. It's all very one on one learning, whereas the other form is group based.

And maybe this isn't going to make sense because it's late and I'm sleepy. So, yeah.

Sleep is god. I go now to worship.

ps: I think hyperbole is easier in oral societies because you can see your audience and people are always reading the cues of the audience and adapting the story to get the best response. And we love our over blown hi-jinks!

Lat said...

I find written records sort of like spoon-feeding infomation without allowing enough self-search to be done.Everything is planned for you as if they are facts understood to be true.This could work in an elementary level,to sort of provide a path but it must learn to let go so that one can do their own search and come to know the truth on their own.

Like Amber said above,oral communities must try to listen to the best they can in order to pass on exactly what they heard.sometomes one missing word or sound can make a lot of difference to the meaning of a sentence.And it's possible for people to hear and thus understand differently from what is being said.Unless corrected they'll pass on infomation not originally intended to be.Sometimes it works in their favour and sometimes it doesn't.

But if I were to compare both,I think I prefer written records as they give some grounds to start from but it also depends upon who gets to write them down,which is mostly the winners.

Susanne said...

Suroor, I'm glad you shared that about exaggeration and the connection with oral societies. Do you think maybe when we write something, we realize we need to record more accurately, yet when we tell stories, we can thrill our listeners with a bit more exaggeration for the sake of a good story or even to make a point? For some reason I'm thinking of telling ghost stories by the camp fire. How you purposefully make up spooky things, exaggerating and watching the people's faces and making it even more scary for the sake of a dang good thriller! :)

Susanne said...

Amber, your comment actually made me think of camp-fire ghost stories and watching people's faces and making the stories more scary to see the reaction on their faces.

I thought you made a lot of sense despite your sleepiness. Thanks for sharing what you did!

Susanne said...

Lat, wow...excellent points. Really enjoyed all that you shared. I can see the pros and cons of what you mentioned.

Now I am thinking of the Gospels -- four accounts of one man's story basically though three of them have very much similar stories that scholars believe Matthew, Mark and Luke come from a common source. Yet the three differ with some having different stories and details that aren't included in others. I've heard people say Luke is more favorable to women's voices being heard. Mark is much more bare bones and Matthew's connecting Jesus with OT prophesies seems tailor-made for proving Jesus to his Jewish people. So it seems did they hear oral stories and collect them (Luke?) and then write the stories to pass along to people? And is having 4 accounts good so that people can see it's not just ONE person giving the story of the Christ, but four. And who knows how many others there were?

Oh, see how you make me think so early in the morning. Thanks! :)

I appreciate all your comments, Ladies!

Lat said...

I'm glad I made you think in the morning! :D

You comment shows how opinions of writers are laid down in paper for eternity for all to read like the Quran and Quranic tafsirs/commentaries.Maybe it's good and maybe not.what has man done that is perfect for all :)

Really enjoyed your post and comment.Thanks!

Becky said...

I think there is a third dimension which is lacking, which is the access to the written communication. In places where only the elite has access to books it furthers the separation between different classes.

In the same manner, I think a written society, where everyone can read and have access to books and education, it helps to encourage individualism, differing opinions and diminishes the class differences.

Susanne said...

Good point. I remember a post Lat did a good while back and the belief was writing was evil. We wondered if maybe the leaders were wanting to keep control so maybe told the masses how bad writing was. That whole "the pen is mightier than the sword" thing. Enjoyed your input.