orality now

“The mouth is our sustainer: with it our body is fed and our soul made articulate. Orality as a developmental stage is as early as any, near to our deepest and often most desperate feelings. The spoken language is learned at the point, and in the manner, in which we learned to live; when we heard love, anger, anxiety, expectation, in the tones of the parental voice, and later began to find the words we had heard forming in our own mouths as if the ear had borne their seed. Moreover, we still communicate at the daily and most personal level by speaking, not by writing, to one another. If the telephone suggests physical closeness at the price of spiritual distance, E-mail promotes that impersonal intimacy sometimes experienced by strangers. Writing has even lost the kinetic character the hand once gave it, or the portable conveyed through its worn and pounded keys. Prefab letters pop onto a screen in full anonymity now, as if the mind alone had made them, our fingers dancing along over the keyboard as unnoticed as breathing until something breaks or the error beep sounds. As Plato feared, the written word can be stolen, counterfeited, bought, released from the responsibility of its writer, sailed into the world as unsigned as a ship unnamed or under borrowed registry. Suppose politicians were required to compose their own lies, use their own poor words, instead of having their opinions catered – how brief would be their hold on our beliefs; how soon would their souls be seen to be as soiled as their socks.”

(William Gass, “Finding a Form,” p. 43 in Finding a Form.)

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