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This review is taken from PN Review 31, Volume 9 Number 5, May - June 1983.

ILLUSIONS OF LITERACY Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy: the technologizing of the Word (Methuen New Accents) £7.95, £3.50-pb

It may soon be possible, by means of one of those marvels of modern technology that link the home television set to a galaxy of databases, to key into, to summon up on the domestic screen, digests of the most fashionable ideas currently on offer in what was once called, without irony, the humanities. The ageing teacher anxious to hold his own before brash, deconstructive colleagues, the nervous sixth-former full of pathetic bourgeois shibboleths about character and individuality, but needing to impress, at an interview, radical academics who exercise (with the greatest reluctance, of course) the power of selection granted them by the educational system they theoretically despise, will be able to become, at the touch of a button, absolument moderne. The Methuen 'New Accents' series is surely a precursor of this age of cultural Ceefax, and to read through this contribution to the series by Walter Ong is to experience that dizziness caused by prolonged exposure to a visual display unit. In his 179-page exploration of the differences between oral and literate cultures, Ong tries to cram in a vast amount, drawing on a wide range of sources, so that there is, throughout his book, an air of hectic generalization: he takes us on the package tour of a lifetime, through human history, across the world, but gives us no time to draw breath.

He does, nevertheless, offer many interesting glimpses, and a useful bibliography will help those stimulated by his liveliness to explore further. Some ...


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