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Story Performance and Event: Contextual Studies of Oral Narrative Cambridge University Press Richard Bauman

27th November 2012 Literature & Fiction 15 Comments

Based on a corpus of Texan oral narratives collected by the author over the past fifteen years, this study presents an analysis of the literary qualities or orally performed verbal art, focusing on the significance of its social context. Although the tales included are all from Texas, they are representative of oral storytelling traditions in other parts of the United States, including tall tales, hunting stories, local character anecdotes, accounts of practical jokes, and so on. They are also highly entertaining in their own right. Professor Bauman’s main emphasis is on the act of storytelling, not just the text. His central analytical concern is to demonstrate the interrelationships that exist between the events recounted in the narratives (narrated events), the narrative texts, and the situations in which the narratives are told (narrative events). He identifies these interrelationships by combining a close formal analysis of the texts with an ethnographic examination of the way in which their telling is accomplished, paying particular attention to the links between form and function. He also illuminates other more general concerns in the study of oral narrative, such as stability and variation in the oral text, the problem of genre, and the rhetorical efficacy of literary forms. As an important contribution to the theoretical and practical literary analysis of orally performed narratives, the book will appeal to students and teachers of folklore, sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology, and literary theory.

An analysis of Texan oral narratives that focuses on the significance of their social context. Although the tales are all from Texas, they are considered representative of oral storytelling traditions in their relationships between story, performance and event. — Book Description –This text refers to the Paperback edition.

An analysis of Texan oral narratives that focuses on the significance of their social context. Although the tales are all from Texas, they are considered representative of oral storytelling traditions in their relationships between story, performance and event.

An analysis of Texan oral narratives that focuses on the significance of their social context. Although the tales are all from Texas, they are considered representative of oral storytelling traditions in their relationships between story, performance and event. — Book Description –This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Story, Performance, and Event: Contextual Studies of Oral Narrative (Cambridge Studies in Oral and Literate Culture)

  • 15 responses to "Story Performance and Event: Contextual Studies of Oral Narrative Cambridge University Press Richard Bauman"

  • Amy Elizabeth Harrison
    6:29 on November 27th, 2012
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    This book represents a very concise, easy to read summary of much of Ong’s work in the area of human communications and technology. The depth of scholarship evident can easily be followed upon by using the wide-ranging bibliography. Ong masterfully takes the idea of the power of the alphabet, and points to the impact this has on human understanding, an impact which has not fully been accepted in philosophy, history, anthropology, sociology, etc. The student and scholar would do well to creatively interact with Ong’s work.

  • bigstrapr
    14:07 on November 27th, 2012
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    We type, we print. This is technology. We speak, we write, we read. This is human nature. Or is it?

    Printing and computers emerged as technology. But so did writing. Writing is so natural to us that we forget it is a human creation – we can not even name what came before it (oral literature is a revealing oxymoron).

    Ong convinces us that writing restructured our consciousness, and so does this little book. This technical, scholarly and at time tedious book is an eye opener. It shows that what seems like a given is possibly the most fundamental reshaping of ourselves in the history of humanity.

    Those fond of Homer or Plato will wonder how they could have studied them seriously without the prism of orality vs literacy. The Iliad and Odyssey are oral poems – can we imagine what it takes to compose a tens of thousand words epic without taking a single note, without writing a single verse and without an outline? The Socrates discourses – discourses! – are the first steps of written analytic thoughts in a Society were rhetoric was king.

    Beyond antic work the orality perspective is relevant for the full history of thoughts. Literature became less and less influenced by the oral constraints, shifting from the episodic epics to the modern well constructed novel. Teaching evolved from recitation and rhetoric to analytical thoughts.

    Grasping orality allows a better understanding of human nature, not only by offering a glimpse of what primitive society’s thoughts might be, but by putting the evolution of thoughts in a new light. Differences in today’s societies often reflect their degree of literacy, i.e., the maturity of their written thought process. The Flynt effect – the significant increase in IQ in western societies over the last century – is a symptom of this influence. Societies only recently exposed to writing fair much lower on IQ tests. IQ tests that western experts devised to be a-cultural are in fact rooted in an advanced writing-centric culture. So much that the experts themselves are oblivious to that effect (the more a-cultural the test the stronger the Flynnt effect).

    Ong wants us to glimpse into what our consciousness was before writing, to feel it if not to adopt it, and to understand how transformative that emergence must have been.

  • Matt Burkhardt
    16:49 on November 27th, 2012
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    Ignore the review above. It is too narrowly focused on the writer’s values and expectations. Orality and Literacy is a great book; I think the best on this topic: the idea that writing as a mode of thinking changed our world more than any other “invention.” Professor Ong’s writing is itself a demonstration of the exploratory, contemplative nature of writing. It is a beautiful book and you will never look at writing in the same way. (The book is not filled with jargon, just thinking.)

  • Karla Shelton
    20:16 on November 27th, 2012
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    This book is a simple summary of the works of other authors in the field of Orality and Literacy, with no proprietary originality whatsoever. I felt ONG often stated the obvious, such as the relation between books and death, as the content of books can be resuscitated after the author’s death. Another such example is when for example one pronounces the word “orality”, by the time he gets to “lity”, “Ora” would have vanished….

    What is quite strange is that a book about literacy, and one that devotes one third of its content to the invention of writing and the alphabet, there is no mention of the Phoenicians people in the index or anywhere in the book, (he talks about “some Semitic people”!!), though Phoenicians are known to have invented the alphabet (phonemic script as we know it today). “Not invented here” syndrome?

    And although he admits that the invention of the alphabet is arguably the greatest mind transforming invention ever, he later conveys the argument that the addition of vowels to the alphabet by the Greeks was in itself far more important then the invention of the Semitic consonant alphabet, as -based on the work of another author – vowels “favor left hemisphere activity” and therefore allow for a higher level of abstraction (NLP?). Is it possible that ONG is unaware that the etymology of Semitic words are based almost always on three consonants stems, and that vowels in Semitic languages have a different function than in Greek?

    In another passage, you get comments out of the blues with no connection to the core subject. In a paragraph discussing formulaic expressions used in oral cultures, you get undignified statements like “Khalil Gibran made a career of providing oral formulary products in print to literate Americans”.

    As to the Arab civilization, who by the end of the 10th century had produced over 10,000 titles in Arabic all catalogued in their “bibliotheca” (The Fahrast), – more than the work of all previous civilizations by that time- ONG claims that they have never really interiorized writing. To ONG, only the West apparently has fully interiorized writing, and this is what gives the West its “Westerness”… Maybe it’s true…

  • derek nierman
    20:57 on November 27th, 2012
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    Orality and Literacy by Walter J. Ong is not only a book I was assigned to read in a graduate course in Linguistics but also one that I have referred back to on multiple occasions. Ong, who was a student of Marshall McLuhan, takes some of the insights of his mentor and applies them to the particular issue of the differences between oral and literate cultures. His insights, drawing heavily upon the work of McLuhan, Eisenstein, and others, are essential for understanding the transformations of culture and identity we are now experiencing that have been called by many “postmodern.” Ong writes in an easy to read style and with greater clarity than McLuhan and less technicality than Eisenstein. I highly recommend it for the educated layperson who wants to understand the differences between oral and literate cultures and how they apply to our world today.

    Oral cultures believe in the power of the spoken word over things, and they also, necessarily, are focused on mnemonics, the art of memory. As Ong says: “You know what you can recall” and “Think memorable thoughts.” Oral culture necessitates redundancy and repetition, and are conservative and traditionalist in nature. Furthermore, oral cultures are more empathetic and participatory, rather than objectively distanced, as in literate cultures. Cultures that are primarily oral also foster personality structures that are more communal and externalized, in contrast to the individualism and introspection of literate cultures.

    Writing, however, restructures consciousness, and so primarily literate cultures have the opposite characteristics of those listed for oral cultures above. Along the way, Ong provides a convenient summary of Eisenstein’s findings about how the advent of the printing press changed culture: it made the Italian Renaissance a permanent European Renaissance; implemented the Protestant Reformation and reoriented Catholic religious practice; affected the development of modern capitalism; implemented European exploration of the globe; changed family life and politics; diffused knowledge as never before; made universal literacy a serious objective; made possible the rise of modern science; and otherwise altered social and intellectual life. Writing has changed us as individuals and communities far more than you might imagine, and Ong tells a story well worth reading (and hearing!)

    In Chapter 5 Ong introduces a concept that is worthy of much greater elaboration: the idea that the electronic media have brought us into the age of “secondary orality.” This secondary orality is participatory, communal, present-oriented, and uses formulas – all characteristics of oral, rather than literate, cultures. This secondary orality is both similar and dissimilar to the orality and literacy that preceded it: “We are outward because we have turned inward.” I find this a powerful but succinct way to understand how the culture we now live in is both similar to and different from both modern and pre-modern cultures. In fact, I think Ong’s insights go a long way toward explaining one of the greatest factors contributing to a “postmodern” world: the way that the electronic media are changing us.

    Orality and Literacy is a short, readable book filled with profound insights into how the way we deal with words profoundly shapes us. It is essential reading for those interested in culture, communication, social media, technology, teaching, or religion.

  • monkey master
    2:46 on November 28th, 2012
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    Brilliant book. I was introduced to these ideas at NYU by Jesse Bessinger about the time this book was written. I don’t think it’s fair of that other reviewer to take Ong to task for not addressing how computers might shape communication and thought when he was writing at the dawn of the PC era. Its relevance to the digital age is huge as it suggests different, nonlinear approaches to storytelling. This line of study sheds a unique light on the development of human culture that every literate person should know about.

  • Sylvia Kittens
    4:31 on November 28th, 2012
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    Back when I was in college, one of my professors recommended this book to me. Ten years later, after skimming portions of it through several times, I read it through and discovered how important of a work it is. I would highly recommend it to anyone studying primary oral cultures and traditions.

    Walter Ong approaches one of the central topics for developing a wholistic understanding of older mythic traditions– the linguistic, semiotic, and cognative differences which separate oral and literate traditions.

    The book begins by discussing the works dedicated to determining the origins of Homer’s epics in the 20th century and the discovery of the extent to which the constraints of orally-transmitted knowledge structured the epics. Ong then summarizes additional research done in linguistic and anthropology fields relating to oral traditions in modern Europe, Africa, and elsewhere.

    Ong succeeds in creating an accessible outline of the major transitions in human thought from orality to chirography (manuscripts), from chirography to typography (with the widespread use of the printing press), and the resurgence of some aspects of orality in modern electronic communication (both personal and mass-market).

    This book is important for a number of reasons. First, it can help us to step back and be more conscious of how communications media are affecting how we communicate and, more importantly, how we think. Secondly it provides a framework for a better understanding of the older traditions in our past. Such understanding can provide a framework for better assimilating aspects of past approaches and thought processes into the present world.

    Although published first in 1982, the work has been reprinted numerous times and is still in print. It is a classic in its field and I would highly recommend it.

  • No iTunes?
    9:57 on November 28th, 2012
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    Delve into the history of human knowledge. Comprehend why oral cultures may be more pure than literate cultures. Writing down thoughts changes the way we think and look at the world.

    Walter Ong express this and more in this easy to read, head slapping book. You will find yourself understanding everything you have ever read better. You will see knowledge and intelligence differently.

    Your basic understanding of humanity will change for the better with Orality and Literacy.

  • Joni Cathie
    14:56 on November 28th, 2012
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    I wish I hadn’t read this book… but heard it, for this is a book that deserves the delight that comes from the immediate business of listening to sounds in the air rather than the abstracted business of reading marks on a page (or dulled spots on a screen).

    In it, Walter Ong makes a valiant attempt to take us back to a time before text, to a place where we might imagine language as something heard and existing only in its moment, language as something without thee concept of words and letters to chop it up, language as something we hear without imagined structures learned from print, language as something replete with revealing repetitions to aid memory and understanding, something that values the familiar over the novel. He then slowly winds us forward, textual innovation by [con]textual innovation, to the edge of the cyber age, the next unwritten chapter along this vast track.

    If you’re a reader of books, I’m sure you’ll be transported by this adventure beyond your cultural assumptions of what language is and can be. You may find yourself yearning for some of the human experience our world of convenient published accessible text may be denying us, or even hoping some of that experience is still available in specialist forms such as live performance, as I do.

    Either way, you’ll never hear a book like it.

  • Eric P
    16:00 on November 28th, 2012
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    This is an excellent book regarding the understanding of the spoken word and how it affects our thought process and understanding overall.

    I read it for a class, but it was very enjoyable!

  • Are you dumb?
    18:01 on November 28th, 2012
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    To paraphrase Walter Ong, “think of how difficult it is today to imagine earlier cultures where relatively few persons had ever seen a physically accurate picture of anything,” or much less an accurate written description. This book explains something everyone knows but does not think about, the very short history of human literacy emerging from a very long history of pure oral communication, and how the pass from orality to literacy transformed the human consciousness.

  • Billy Bob
    20:20 on November 28th, 2012
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    I have been concerned with alternative, proto- or non-theory of language for decades, but stumbled across this gem only recently. My own perspective is ontogenetically informed (see my The Unboundaried Self: Putting the Person Back Into the View from Nowhere), and Ong’s meditation on the ineffable, unimaginable world of primary orality is a priceless extension of that perspective.

    As usual, what one can gain from this book is a significant function of what one brings to it. I urge those who think they might be able to hear Ong to start reading and listening ASAP.

  • Thomas Edison
    4:42 on November 29th, 2012
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    The book was in good condition and what I was expecting.
    The only thing about this purchase was that it seemed to take longer for it to be delivered to me once the package arrived in my city…
    Other than that, good purchase.

    Thank you!

  • Joe Thomas
    12:46 on November 29th, 2012
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    Walter Ong is evidently one of the 20th century’s most learned men in the area of human thought and communication. He has given us many valuable insights into how our culture, worldviews and ways of thinking changed as we became literate creatures and as we allowed the written word to dominate our civilization.

    All of his major points, however, could have been summed up in twenty pages or less. Instead, this book goes on and on, wallowing in endless academic jargon, citing strands of thought and research from other writers and sources (himself included), without ever laying out his points in a concise, satisfying way.

    I was looking forward to some engaging examples of the oral mind-set that he claims contrasts so starkly with our literate mind-set. Instead, we only get about two pages’ worth, from one Mr. Luria’s studies in the former Soviet Union, plus a handful of passing examples from the former Yugoslavia. Though there are many passing mentions of African pre-literate societies, all Ong shares with us are a few frustratingly brief citations.

    The biggest letdown wasn’t the glossing-over of ‘secondary orality’, however; it was the utter lack of discussion about the internet and recent forms of writing such as email, text messaging, e-books, hypertext and the web. If this were the 1982 edition, I would understand that. But for the publisher to claim that this is a ‘revised’ edition from 2002 is simply misleading. The only discussion about the existence of electronic media occurs in two brief sections. One (pp. 78-80) is entitled “Plato, Writing and Computers”, in which Ong acknowledges that written words can be “printed from tapes composed on computer terminals.” Huh? That’s it? In the other (p. 133), entitled “Post-Typography: Electronics” he claims “…the computer….maximises commitment of the word to space and to (electronic) local motion and optimizes analytic sequentiality by making it virtually instantaneous.” Perhaps I missed something, but I get the feeling Ong doesn’t have a clue about how computers affect words, and is deliberately obfuscating.

    Which is too bad, because there are some genuinely great ideas in this book and they certainly opened my eyes to a few new areas of thought. There’s a lot to reflect on in this survey, but I wish there had been more real discussion and anecdotes, rather than just a recitation of which-academic-said-what.

    I would have also liked to see a greater exploration of the ways in which the transition from orality to literacy affected the development of our religious thought. That’s an area that obviously profoundly affected our civilization, has great relevance to current events, and was an area that Ong, a Jesuit priest, was an expert in.

    I read this book as a requirement for a college course in media history and theory. As such, it was worthwhile, but I don’t recommend it otherwise.

  • sticky_bit
    18:26 on November 29th, 2012
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    In this book, Ong describes some of the ways that writing has transformed the way we live and think from the times before writing. In other words, the book is about the shift from oral culture to literate culture, and the consequences of that shift. As such, the book is quite thought provoking and worth reading. However, a number of Ong’s claims are either unsupported or untenable. Ong takes repeated pains (in Chapter 3 and elsewhere) to emphasize the evanescence of oral communication in contrast to written communication. But the claim misses the point that an oral utterance has ‘moved on’ rather than disappeared; in this respect oral and written communication are more alike than different. In Chapter 4, he (in agreement with Plato) also claims that written texts cannot be questioned or challenged. This is nonsense even in the era this was written without the web; authors were regularly sent letters and would often respond! In Chapter 1, Ong claims that oral speeches could not be studied without writing them down. For a book with a sub-title “the technologizing of the word”, Ong seems to miss the point that words and language are techniques in the first place.

    He convinced me that writing (and especially print) changed the way we think in a significantly quantitative way. He failed to convince me that the transformation was qualitative.

    These criticisms and others not withstanding, the book is thought-provoking and worth reading. I would recommend Chapters 5 and 6 to anyone (skip the rest), and to those especially interested in the topic I recommend the entire book be read while maintaining a critical eye (and ear) to what is being said.

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