Writing: Reshaping Thought Since The Renaissance

So before I get into my real post…I actually spelled Renaissance right without getting it wrong at all, and without having to think about it. It just rolled right out. That makes me very happy, because that is a very hard word to remember, because all those S’s and A’s and just LETTERS.

Anyways, on to serious stuff, shall we?

I do not think before this course I really gave much thought to how writing has re-shaped my thinking. It obviously has, but I just never sat down and gave it much thought. I think the things we are best at, we do not give much thought to–they just happen. And, taking a quote from Ong’s “Writing Is A Technology That Restructures Thought,” I am realizing that most people don’t ever really consider writing and how it affects our thinking:

“The fact that we do not commonly feel the influence of writing on our thoughts shows that we have interiorized the technology of writing so deeply that without tremendous effort we cannot separate it from our- selves or even recognize its presence and influence.” I found several interesting quotes but this one stuck out first. The reason why human beings do not realize writing is shaping their thoughts, is because they do not realize the influence writing has. It has become such a typical, ordinary thing, that no one realizes it is a technology in itself, or even a philosophy. It is a thing given to every common man, it is no longer something for monks or the privileged few. Writing has been taken for granted, and so it shapes our thoughts but we don’t notice it.

And it is in the study of all this that I realized several ways writing has re-shaped my thoughts.

First, the more I study writing, the more I realize that writing is not “good,” or “bad,” it simply is. I used to cringe at any use of bad grammar or a seemingly “lazy” dialect, which in my mind was not even a dialect. I never liked the southern drawl of “ya’ll,” and I was a proud grammar freak. I still do value the “proper” usage of writing, but I am also starting to realize that writing in itself is a technology, and the more I read and the more I write, the more I realize that it is a tool that is flexible and that anyone can adjust it to fit their needs. Now, I do think that there is a downside to that–it’s a wonderful tool, but it can be used as weapon, as well, and that can be devastating. But there is always power in it–and it has re-shaped the way I see many things. For example, writing has helped me see that “foul” language is not truly foul, it is just language. It can be used to be harmful, but it also can be used like any other aspect of language–to communicate a point.

This leads me to another (long) quote from Ong:

The term ‘illiterate’ itself suggests that persons belonging to the class it designates are deviants, defined by something they lack, namely literacy. Moreover, in high-technology cultures-which, more and more, are setting the style for cultures across the world since literacy is regarded as so unquestionably normative and normal, the deviancy of illiterates tends to be thought of as lack of a simple mechanical skill. Illiterates should learn writing as they learned to tie their shoe-laces or to drive a car. Such views of writing as simply a mechanical skill obligatory for all human beings distort our understanding of what is human if only because they block understanding of what natural human mental processes are before writing takes possession of consciousness. These views also by the same token block understanding of what writing itself really is. For without a deep understanding of the normal oral or oral-aural consciousness and noetic economy of humankind before writing came along, it is impossible to grasp what writing accomplished.

I used to see illteracy as a mental plague, and I still think it is an unfortunate thing for people who want to learn to read to not be able to. However, illiteracy is not a “deviation,” as many seem to think. Writing is not and never was “the norm.” And so not knowing how is not a clash against “the norm,” because there is no norm. Further, before there was writing, there were other basic mental processes, just like Ong says, that are always part of a human being. Writing is just a mere, late-coming extension of that. Through this study of writing, I have realized that while it is a great thing, not being “good at it,” or not valuing it as highly as some is ok. I do not feel an arrogant, selfish pride when it come to writing. Instead I am grateful that I can further help this technology change thinking and that I can help others learn this technology.

Writing has re-shaped my thoughts about itself, but also the negative attitudes that come along with feeling “normal” or part of what is the “right way.” For this, I am forever grateful, and I hope to continue to use writing for good purposes, and to help others do the same.


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