The Power of Orality

Location: Bozeman, Montana

I'm a senior at MSU studying English Educat

Sunday, May 01, 2005


In chapter one of France’s Yates’s The Art of Memory, Yates’s discusses the memory training technique of using “privately invented marks to remind one of difficult passages” (Yates 25). Yates’s is referring to Quintilian theory of mnemonic usages to aid learning, and in this case the mnemonic is what we would consider taking notes. Quintilian suggested that these “marks” will “guide him in pursuit of memory, and the mind’s eye will be fixed not merely on the pages on which the words were written, but on the individual lines, and at times he will speak as though he were reading aloud” (25). I knew exactly what was meant by this passage. I wrote in another article about how I take extremely detailed notes while two classmates sit and “experience” the class, not record it. After that realization and blog, I began to think about how note taking aids my memory of a specific moment. At first, I thought it helped me to repeat what the teacher/class said as I wrote it on my paper and thus repeated the words in my head. Repetition is a key element to memorization, which, of all people, Ong would call “repetition of the just-said” (Ong 40), and is critical to the memory process. However, though repetition helped, I knew there was more. I paid close attention to my following exam, and I noticed that in order to recall a bit if information I had in my notes, I had to envision my notes. Yates calls this method “the habit of visualizing writing on “places” (25). I always assumed that I was recalling the information that I had so dutifully and neatly placed on my page with arrows, exclamation marks, and underlines to help me stress important/unimportant information. However, it turns out that when I recall my “marks” I am “attempting to…visualize ordinary writing as actually placed on the tablet or page” (25).

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Go Sherman Alexie-Go

I took four pages of notes from Sherman Alexie- I know I know, I should have experienced the presentation, not recorded it. But I knew I was sure to come accross something useful for this class, and I did! I have this quote "....after all, isn't that the oral tradition? The sepparation of reality: someone repeats something again and again and again until we have history". I think Alexie is a little off on this definition because the repetition of a fact or information doesn't necessarily indicate the oral tradition. Writing is most of what we rely on for history, as far as factoral history goes. But in a sense he is right; it does take the repetition of something to be remembered, such as the Odyssey and Beowulf, but we wouldn't call on these epics to uncover history. It's interesting though, it's almost as if he is making fun of two things: first, he criticizes historians by claiming that their information is simply based on word-of-mouth and therefore it is not reality-but rather SEPPARATED from reality; second, he makes fun of the oral tradition we so highly value (especially after this class) by belittling the power and benefits of the oral tradition. The oral tradition is not just a way to pass on information, although it does do this; there are many beauties in the oral traditions, but the one that stands out most is that it creates community, and this is something Alexie forgot to mention. The reason this stands out is because Alexie was participating in the oral tradition-he was the storyteller! And he did what the oral tradition tends to do, which was to educate us, the audience. However, Alexie did not succeed in creating a commuity. He was highly attentive to how the audience was responding to him, a critical component of the oral storyteller, yet by the end of the night, at least for me, I felt that the audience was more divided than at the beginning of the night; we were divided from eachother, and we were divided from him. This seemed to be his aim: to reveal the fractures in society and humanity, from racial fractures to sexual fractures. Alexie was a storyteller, but he did no justice to the oral storyteller of the past that so diligently pulls his/her community into one. Allison also commented on Alexie's storytelling abilites and how he did an amazing job inter-weaving multiple stories into one whole story. He also made many points to educate us, with comments about what learning is really about, and how we should celebrate life and creation. It was an amazing performance.

Victor Turner and.....ME!!

Thanks to Dr. Sexson's recognition of Victor Turner, now I am really intrigued by how people give meaning to their reality, or in my presentation, to the storytelling experience. Turner mainly studied non-western cultures because of his idea that communities had symbols that were used as mechanisms to give meaning to their culture. After reading briefly on Turner I tired to correlate his ideas to mine. I found this quote:
"structural action swiftly becomes arid and mechanical if those involved init are not periodically immersed in the regenerative abyss of communitas.Wisdom is always to find the appropriate relationship between structure andcommunitas under the given circumstances of time and place, to accept eachmodality when it is paramount without rejecting the other, and not to clingto one when its present impetus is spent."[6]

Now, if I am reading into this correctly as far as seeing how it parallels my ideas, I would focus on the line "wisdom is always to find the appropriate relationship between structure and communitas under the give circumstances of time and place". Structure is the the performance of the actor/storyteller, and the more professional the actor, the more sensitivity there is towards the structure. Actors have natural talent, but those who are able to sumberge their whole mind into the performance by taking on the two mind frames I discussed in my paper- sensing the awareness of the audience and seeing themselves from an outside perspective- the better they are able to form the "communita", or relationship with the audience. This relationship is the result of the actor's ability to take control over the given circumstance of time and place.

Similar to my notion that dramatic performances consist of a continual give-and-take motion with the actor to the audience, and from the audience to the actor, Turner also believed that culture is a “changing entity, influenced by …deep myths, that propel and transform people and groups at critical moments”. Yet the point I found most paralleled my thoughts is that Turner viewed the actor as a “threshold, a place and moment “in and out of time”, and such an actor…hopes to have there direct experience of the sacred, invisible or supernatural order…”. Here, Turner validates my idea that the actor is in constant search to elevate the experience of the story/play, or experience of the sacred. Likewise, the oral storyteller also seeks to form a communal experience, which Turner defines as “ jointly undergoing ritual transition through which they experience an intense sense of intimacy and equality”. And, back to my paper, in order to achieve this equality and a communal process by means of it being participatory, the storyteller/actor must have an extreme awareness of the state of his/her listeners and adjust accordingly, so that a “distinctive form of social community” can exist. I feel I am so far away from Turner’s ideas, yet so close. Thanks for referencing this genius, Dr. Sexson. And for the rest of you, I suggest you check out these websites, Turner’s work is amazing, and my analyzing him does no justice to his work: he’s miles beyond me!

Monday, April 25, 2005

Individual Presentation

Genius’, pure genius’. There’s always a little bit of curiosity as to the purpose of our assignments, but just as shown today from the individual presentations, I’m sold. I learned a lot of pertinent information from my fellow classmates today, here’s a clear, hopefully, outline of the day (if I get anything wrong, I apologize in advance):

To start the day, Mick gave a remarkable memory presentation on the chess game of the century with the teenage winner Bobby Fischer. Mick said his oral memory is not too strong, but memorizing the game, move-by-move, was easy for two reasons: first, it was something that interested him-or pertained to his human life-world; and, second, it was VISUAL memory, which Mick claim is much easier for him. I guess here's another answer Valerie to your question of what is the best memory stragedy: sight or sound. VERY IMPRESSED, Mick.

As for the presentations, Tracy started us off with the first of several papers written on the almighty Tolkien and his trilogy. She discussed how the trees are the most oral culture of all the groups in the story. She said that Ong would love the trilogy because the cultures in the trilogy fit the cultures discussed in Ong-typographic, chirographic, and writing.

Faith was next. She talked about books on tape and referred to her experienc as a child listening to Noah's Ark. Books on tape, Faith claimed, are a link to orality despite their connection to the print culture because they enhance the memory through music and sound. However, Faith pointed, books on tape are not a real oral story because since they are a recording, the audience cannot communicate with the storyteller.

Heather talked about the movie Waking Life, which I have never seen and therefore had a hard time relating to her topic. She discussed how in the movie, words are symbols, and how the development of literate culture aims to define emotions. An example of this is songs, which emotions come through music yet is still marked with the written culture residue.

Jeremiah impressed us again with his creativity and originality! He had a lovely little hand-made booklet that outlined Ong's major points, which he called the "Complete Guide to the Oral Tradition". Then he talked about a man named Joe Chandler Harris who took stories from souther slaves, specifically their trickster stories. A white guy took the stories from there and wrote them in the dialect of the African Americans. I can't recall Jeremiahs point, but I'm sure it has to do with myth content and how it is altered by the identity of the storyteller.

Nicole wrote about the literate culture and how it brought about creativity in mutiple facets.

Stacey spoke of Ong's main point which is that "writing restructures the consciousness". She proved in her paper the ways in which writing is a gift.

Kristi gave an interesting presentation on her experience in Guinea, Africa, while serving in the peace corps. She talked about their oral language and how the literacy movement tried to formulate and alphabet

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

My 65??? Religions!

Christianity 2 billion
African Independent Churches (AICs)
the Aglipayan Church
Assemblies of God
Calvary Chapel
Christian Science
the Community of Christ
the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Coptic Christians
Eastern Orthodox churches
Ethiopian Orthodox
Iglesia ni Cristo
Jehovah's Witnesses
the Local Church
the New Apostolic Church
Plymouth Brethren
the Salvation Army
Seventh-Day Adventists
Shakers Stone-Campbell churches (Disciples of Christ Churches of Christ the "Christian Church and Churches of Christ" the International Church of Christ)
Uniate churches
United Church of Christ/Congregationalists
the Unity Church
Universal Church of the Kingdom of God
Vineyard churches

Islam 1.4 billion

Hinduism 900 million

Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist 850 million

Buddhism 360 million

Chinese traditional religion 225 million

Primal-indigenous 150 million

African traditional and diasporic 95 million

Sikhism 23 million

Juche 19 million

Baha'I 5 million

Jainism 14 million

Shinto 4 million

Zoroastrianism 3 million

Cao Dai 3 million

Tenrikyo 2.4 million

Neo-Paganism 1 million
Druidism Asatru
Neo-Native American religion

Unitarian-Universalism 800 thousand

Rastafarianism 600 thousand

Scientology 500 thousand

Memorzing the religions was, undoubtedly, similar to memorizing the top 100. I simply finished up my "house" of loci. Just as in my experience with the books, I noticed that the actual objects the loci took over, eventually became the word, or the religion. In other words, as I moved from loci to loci, I did not see the, say, sink, or couch, but instead, I saw the image of the the specific religion almost as if the word was as much an object as the... sink. After seeing Ed's and several other's demonstration of their memorization of a poem, epic, and story, I began to wish I would have chosen something more difficult to memorize-something with conent. I think that the memory palace must be completely different for memorizing something like a poem, epic, or story because the loci must be bigger! Instead of seeing one simple little word, or short passage (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), you would see an entire sentence (Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and sorry I did not travel both). SO how does one do it? Is there a loci for each word of a sentence? Or does each sentence, or each STANZA, take on its own loci? Ed, if you read this, you should answer me :) or anyone else who used the memory palace to memorize a, once again, peom, epic, or story.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Memory: Sound or Sight?

Valerie said that we should e-journal about wether we think that memory is strongest by sight or sound. I started thinking: in my 9:00AM class, the girl who sits to my right AND the boy who sits to my left both do not take notes. I've always thought "WoW! How do they study! How do they remember anything if it's not written down to remember them later on, say, for the test!". Then it occured to me: they are experiencing the moment through the sounds and words of the teacher and are storing the information, and I am simply recording the moment and the sounds of the teacher so that I can have a visual document to reference later on. My classmates were intentionally storing words into their brain as they listened intentively; I, on the other hand, was merely hearing the words and quickly writing down, barely thinking about the words at all. I felt cheap. Then I began to think about how we can submerge ourselves into an experience as a fully engaged audience, yet be able to have reference to what happened during that experience. Maybe we don't need to have a physical reference at all, but should rather rely simply on our memory of that occurence.
So in response to Valerie's question- which is the stronger: memory by sound or memory by sight - I would have to say that it totally depends on whether or not a person wants to be able to participate in an oral production and be an active audience, or if they'd rather learn independently after the production by referencing their notes. I think I'm going to try both-well, I've already done one, so I'll try the other now. I'll get back to you!

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Today was the first day of group presentations from Kane's book. Tracy, Jeremiah, Faith, and Heather did a great job checking us in into the types of maps with their lovely little show called "Stating the Obvious about Maps". I loved Tracy's enthusiastic overview of the many types of maps. Heather enlightened us with the traditions of aborigiones (sp), and Faith discusses the many myths that are still told today. Creative Jeremiah demonstrated the oral map with distinct images used to guide the audiences' minds to the place intended to end up- in this case, the final location was to find a bottle of wine!! This visual description turned what would have been a simple, plain map into a beautiful, life-like map that one could feel themselves actually IN the map. The oral tradition used this feature to enhance the potential of the map and the images are intended to remain in the audiences mind so that they can recall them if needed. This oral map is memorable.

The next group was Allison, Krisit, Stacy, Nicole, Kellen,, and Courtney. Applause! Great acting guys, we enjoyed the cross-dressing. The story was Midir (sp) which Kane chose to demonstrate how myths use boundaries. Most of the time boundaries are what sepparate the natural from the super-natural world. The story showed the constant process of birthing and changing in the mythical world where two worlds come together, (i.e. the sea and the sky) and it is that point that is most sacred. The process is a transformation from the ordinary into the the spiritual, and the mythteller is responsible for constructing the physical world to the spiritual world. The group emphasized that when a physical transformation takes place, so does the mind change, and they clearly acted this out!
Kristi gave an excellent presentation on polyphony, which is multiple melodies at the same time creating one piece, or one sound consisting of many sounds. This is a quality that is essential to the oral culture. An example Kristi gave us is of a man in the woods who can hear one, individual sound from the many sounds of the forest; however, in order for the man to hear the sound, he must think like an animal, unconsciously. This relates to boundaries because his polyphonic ability only comes from crossing the boundary from the human world, which cannot piece together many sounds into one, but into the animal world. Dr. Sexson pointed out that the man from the human world , or for us, the writing world, is univocal, meaning one vocalzation, and can only think about one thing at a time. Hint hint classmates, I do believe this will be on the final exam!!!

Group 3 did a beautiful presentation on dreams and the mythical story called The Earth-shapers, which was of the creation of the world. In the story, Jennie, who was earth, dreamt of of beauty, so the gods created it. The room had a dream-like essence to it- dark, lit only by candles and the glow of the "dream" ball that Jennie held in her hand. A few of Kane's theories of dreams and the myth world are : "For mythtelling societies, however, the unconscious is continuously awake and aware, and not merely in the individual but in nature as well" (134); " The state of dreaming is similar to the state of pattern, .....something invisible yet making its pressence felt in visible forms, something that behaves as if it had properties of mentality, something that occupies no time and space"(135).

Unfortunatly, I was outside in the lobby getting ready for my performance durring group 4's presentation-I"m sorry!! But I saw a lot of it through the window-it might have been more fun that way actually because I really got to judge the presentation on your body expressions, costumes, and props. Their chapter, on Complementarity, starts with the story Branwen Daughter of Llyr-this must have been what the play was depicting. This chapter discusses "how a myth contains within it a whole mythology and how that mythology constitutes and ecological vision" (Kane 165). Kanes defines natural ecology as a "circuit or loop of communication, with messages travelling around the circuit bringing the parts of hte system together into an overall pattern of complementarity" and therefore" the behavior of any part of the circuit is partially determined by the results of its previous message" (165). Kane futhers his point by claiming that" the later myths of organized agricultural humanity lose this openess to the circuits of meaning in wilderness, to copy instead the imposed order of the garden".

Group 5 was astounding. They blindfolded the audience, altered the SMELL of the room (fragrence spray bottle) , heightened the sound of the room (music), just to heighten the experience of the audience. However, this was no ordinary experience-it was totally oral. The group exposed us to REAL polyphony-music with two or more independent melodic parts sounded together. They submereged our minds in to the realities of the oral tradition as we felt, smelled, and listened to six conversations (or arguments) all going on at once! I caught that the debates were over the oral and written cultures as pertaining to Yates and Ong. Very creative friends, very creative. I put my response to Valerie's answer on what method of memory is better, sight or sound, in another blog.

As for group 6, yes, that was my group, we did a lovely little puppet show by the talented Wes and Zac. For those who didnt' catch our message, and I'm sure that most of you did, we demonstrated how myths change over the years, or Kane says "we may see how the context in which a myth is presented actualy reshapes the story, directing it to take on th emeaning of its often invisible context" (Kane 231). From the character's names and characteristics, to the actual story line, the changing of humanity is shown to have great effects on the context of myths-they change to the time in which they are being presented. For those who don't remember, this was represented by the evolving characters: the classical Hermes--Elvis--Eminem, the classical Apollo--a cowboy--Donald Trump, and the classcial Zeus--President Reagan--Judge Judy. However, though the characters changed identities and personalites, the epithets remained to help the audience identify who was who AND to show the oral residue that still thrived despite time: Hermes, the cattle-driving bandit child, Apollo, the light-bringer, and Zeus, the thunderer. We had the audience join in on the repeating of epithets so that they, like the oral community, were able to participate in the process of storytelling.

Some of the context Kane discusses are "language, agriculture, literacy, the individual, the city" (231). Kane also discusses the domestication of speech, which he calls "speech with fences around it", or tamed speech. Instead of the redundant, aggregative, and additive features of the oral narrative (as Ong puts it), the myth becomes simplified, or "fenced", like a garden. In this chapter called Tradition, Kane also talks about the changes of the gods and how they are perceived in contemporary myth-telling. He says that "the gods have lost their habitats and are beginning to behave like heroes and kings in the courts that resound with their praises...they have been driven underground" (238). In other words, the gods have become humanized. I left the class with one last quote from Kane which summarizes the chapter: "Yet even while it is being swallowed, the indigenous mythology gives its shape to the conquering mythology liek moss clinging around a rotted-out tree stump: the original tree has gone, yet it leavs its form on the moss" (239).

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

My notes page

Don't forget to check out my notes page incase you missed class!!

Fair Heather

Muses, munificent muses, hear my cry
Make my voice resonate rich and clear
Bestow upon my amiable words
To praise fair Heather dear.

With locks of brown and eyes so green
The most beautiful in all the land
From country to country, men travel far
To try to take Fair Heather’s hand.

Yet a man has she, and a country man is he
Who stole Fair Heather’s heart
Their love is a fire forever burning
I’m sorry guys, they ain’t gonna part!

Her kin, noble kin, are an honorable folk
From their splendor, much they are worth
Hunters, fishers, and farmers are they
They cherish the fruits of the earth.

Far away in Washington land
Is where Fair Heather grew
Yet the mountains called her soul and mind
So she came to MSU.

Yet on her way to the mountain state
Eerie creatures did she find
They crawled and lept from the deepest of woods
And trailed her from behind.

Creatures of all shapes and size
Werewolves, gremlins, orcs, and witches
Some with fire eyes, some with thick claws
Coarse scraggly hair, and crawling with leeches.

Fair Heather didn’t know what follows her close
Desiring her flesh and blood
Yet when she heard a noise and turned
Fear filled her veins like a flood.

She knew who could help, so she raised up her head
“Athena, Athena!” Fair Heather cried
I cry for aid, for strength, for mind
Give me the power I need to survive”.

The goddess heard her plea and down she came
Draped in wisdom and fight
With a blow in the ear to Fair Heather dear
She transmitted her vigor and might.

By then the creatures were tearing her skin
But Fair Heather, she did not shout!
For with the goddesses blow, Heather began to grow
Up and up, out and out.

She grew five, ten, fifteen times her size
Until it was she who stood the tallest
And with a swing and a swat, she battled those ghouls
From the malicious giant, to the creepy crawliest.

After killing them all, she shrank back again
Then she turned towards the heavens for the goddess to praise
She continued her journey the mountain state
And to this day, the mountains she stays.

A heart of gold, a soul of grace
Fair Heather is nearly a queen
Her intelligence transcends beyond all things
She is the purest mankind has seen.