Rhetoric, Second Orality, The Gutenberg Parenthesis

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Rhetoric, Second Orality & The Gutenberg Parenthesis

Gutenberg Printing Press

Gutenberg Printing Press

Burn further invokes Green’s 1995 observation with reference to the resurgence of the rhetorical, an approach that might be used as a means of balancing out prevailing reading modes of “suspicion” for media texts and “appreciation” for literary texts (Burn, 2009:9). Again looking for conceptual and interdisciplinary relations and a more holistic understanding of textual constitution, Burn neatly wraps Aristotelian rhetorical precepts around “how a text makes a truth claim, and what a reader makes of this” (Burn, 2009: 10); with consideration given to performance credibility (ethos/production), message integrity (logos/text) and listener interpretation (pathos/audience) such that:

“… orality and oracy may often be better metaphors for the communicative processes of new media than literacy” (Burn, 2009: 10)

This proposal recalls the historical continuities inherent in Walter Ong’s notion of “second orality” (1982), that is, the media text comprises elements of the pre-Gutenberg oral tradition which is now informed by contemporary self-conscious reliance on the written word.

Tom Pettitt extends the historical perspective and perceives the period from the medieval inception of moveable type up until the postmodern digital age as something of an anomaly –  “The Gutenberg Parenthesis” (Pettitt, MIT Communications Forum, 2010) – to the extent that oralcy, through the agency of the internet and digitization, is now re-asserting itself as the predominant communicative medium. Texts once more share the impermanence and unprotected status of the manuscript. Interestingly, Pettitt even suggests that the beginning of ‘the parenthetical (print) period’ coincides with increased levels of social and cultural circumscription and containment: from the nature of books themselves, to gardens, to underwear, to bodily etiquette and access to thought and language.

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