Many of us in biblical studies have known much about primary orality for
many years, discovering Parry, Lord, Havelock, McLuhan, Ong et al.
long ago. These literate, scholarly, descriptions of primary orality, such
as those of Ong that I have used here, describe exotic realities that remain
distant and alien to us. Primary orality is like a lost world that we will
never visit. As much as we may know about it, we are but armchair tourists,
reading dusty travelogues on a winter's day in our study.
However, by means of our computers, telephones, televisions, VCRs, CD players,
and tape recorders, hypertext breaks into our cozy study, grabs us by the
scruff of the next, and plunges us full-bore into the advent(ure) of secondary
orality. Surprisingly enough, hypertext embodies and enacts many distant
and exotic aspects of primary orality by plunging us deeply into cyberspace.
Orality isn't just a quaint antiquarian area of study anymore--it is an
apt description of the reality into which we're all hurtling ever deeper
There is one more index of orality from Ong that I would like mention. Ong
claims that orality is "conservative or traditionalist" (Ong,
1982:41-42). No doubt many oral cultures are loath to change and hence are
conservative, but change they do, nevertheless, through the metamorphosis
of oral tradition. That is, oral tradition can be both deeply conservative
and yet open-ended and accommodating of change in ways that might put to
shame those of us of print culture, who often jettison our inheritances
indiscriminately while lusting for the latest novelty. But does the incessant
quest for novelty bring satisfaction? And what grand legacies have we trashed
needlessly, heedlessly? Is it possible that the Electronic Age will see
the return of a culture both deeply rooted in its heritage (and thus profoundly
"conservative") and at the same time vibrant and open to the future
(and thus wisely "traditional")? Might we see the return of traditional
culture? Jay David Bolter seems to think so, as he observes:
[Writing] in the electronic writing space can be a collective
process: the writer creates some connections, which pass to the first reader,
who may add new connections and pass the results on to another reader, and
so on. This tradition, this passing on of the text from writer to reader,
who then becomes a writer for other readers, is nothing new; it is the literal
meaning of the word 'tradition.' (Bolter,
In cyberspace can we conserve the very best of the biblical traditions?
By means of the electronic media can the biblical traditions become open
and vital again? Can the biblical traditions break out of the amber of the
printed page and once again live, grow, and change? The Bible is the product
of oral and manuscript cultures and achieved its crowning glory in the Age
of Print, but what will succeed the printed Bible in the Electronic Age?
Where is the interactive multimedia 'Bible' for the 21st century being produced
today? In multimedia, what will the biblical traditions look, sound, taste,
smell, and feel like?
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