Orality and Literacy

One final thought about voices. This sections title above repeats that of Walter Ong's book about the differences between words as sounds (orality), and written words. As Ong explains, 'Writing... was a very late development in human history. Homo Sapiens had been on earth perhaps some 50,000 years' (Ong, 1995:83). The visual field of the written word (writing has to be seen, spatially mapped) differs fundamentally from sound sensations. We can only read print as individuals, while we hear collectively as an audience. Voice is produced by, and resonates with, the body, it 'vanishes as soon as it is uttered', while writing 'separates the word from the living present, where alone spoken words can exist' (Ibid: 31-3). I hope it's clear, even from the few examples I've chosen, that writing as speech, writing about speech, adds vital qualities to a text, and we might even claim that creative writing, developing as it has done from an oral tradition, not only reduces the separation between writing and voice, but thrives on their proximity. If speech 'vanishes', creative writing keeps alive the traces of its vanishing.

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