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December 29, 2006

back to the future


The Walter Ong Collection

John Walter, a graduate student at St. Louis University wrote to the TechRet list the other day to announce the launch of the Walter Ong Collection, a digital archive based at the SLU. I went to the site and downloaded a PDF of an early version of one of Ong's more famous essays, "The Writer's Audience Is Always a Fiction." In this particular essay, Ong who made his name analyzing the difference between oral and written communication, explores how this shift changed the role of the reader. Ong makes the case that the role of the reader is quite different than the role of the "listener" in oral communication.

"The orator has before him an audience which is a true audience, a collectivity. 'Audience" is a collective noun. There is no such collective noun for readers, nor so far as I am able to puzzle out, can there be. "Readers" is a plural. For readers do not form a collectivity acting here and now on one another, and on the one speaking to them, as members of an audience do."

What's so interesting here, is that it seems that the age of networked reading and writing promises to get us much closer to one of the crucial aspects of oral culture — the sense that the story teller/author and the audience/reader are joined together in a collective enterprise where the actions of each will have a direct and noticeable impact on the other. [posted by bob stein on Future of the Book]

Posted by jo at December 29, 2006 11:34 AM