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Orality and Literacy

Rhythm and Rhyme

I’ve been struggling with the dichotomy and division between orality and literacy, caught between the hearing and the seeing. In connection to this struggle, in my own thinking, comes the third part, the doing. This erupts from the rhythm and rhyme of language – the cadence and motion that comes from either spoken or written words.

For me this unsettling ‘either-or’ split between the oral and written impact on human thought, as Ong describes it, has not yet resolved into a clear sense of one being usurped by the other. I can’t seem to think of it as either one or the other, but an integration of the two, blended together in the mind, linked and woven through rhythm and rhyme.

This feeling of the beat or cadence of language as a reflection of thought, comes from hearing the rhythm in the Genesis story when recited aloud, from hearing the cadence in the Funeral speech, as recited in the Orson Welles performance, and through the patterned ‘beat’ from the lists of the Illiad’s catalogue of ships. It calls up the imagery of a drum or dancing feet, the ‘doing’ in the sway of movement that often accompanies a good performance, either oral or written.

So, here I sit, stuck between the seeing and the hearing, without a clear sense that our thinking has been divided by either one or the other. In my mind, it is knowing that seeing, hearing and feeling exist together.

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