- Getting from Isocrates to McLuhan by way of the Liberal Arts Curriculum
- Who’s tipping whom? Mind yer hats goan in.
- Culture wars
McCorkle explains the transition to writing by rhetorical mechanisms, driven and shaped by rhetoricians, specifically Isocrates. Isocrates becomes the manifestation of the otherwise invisible forces in McLuhan.
What McLuhan sees as a cognitive/cultural transformation, McCorkle explains by the mechanism of remediation, motivated by cultural changes but locally orchestrated by rhetoricians. When the rhetoricians stopped paying attention to delivery, they created a tipping point.
The declining status of delivery was itself a mechanism of remediation, in that it was an attempt on the part of rhetorical theorists to divert attention away from the embodied rhetorical performance and refocus that attention toward words, in and of themselves, as objective components of thought, whatever the medium. In other words, the Greeks had to pay less attention to oratory’s uniqueness as a technology of communication. By paying less attention to delivery, classical rhetorical theory allowed alphabetic writing to embed itself more easily in the cultural practices predominantly occupied by the spoken word alone. Minimizing the importance of delivery helped to blur the material distinctions between speech and writing, naturalizing the written word by erasing its interface. One way of rendering the writing interface invisible was by applying its attributes back onto the speaking body-in effect, making speech more writerly and thereby taking advantage of speaking’s more “natural” disposition. Another was to place writing in a comparatively uncontaminated light, framing it as the intellectually “pure” counterpart to the dangerous, irrational rational nature of the performing body; as Fredal describes the hierarchical repositioning of speech and writing, “Speech appears not as natural but as naturalized, and composition-rhetoric as dependent upon this naturalization for its intellectual stature. Writing disciplines itself by refashioning speech, specifically its non-verbal, performed components, as “organic,” ‘irrepressible,’ and natural” (5). Adhering to the language of Bolter and Grusin’s remediation theory, writing became more immediate (a transparent relay of mental activity) as the attributes of embodied speaking became hypermediated (amplified-and suspicious-attention was placed on the medium-specific elements of speech)…. The culture of writing fostered by Plato, Aristotle, and even Isocrates signaled a change in disposition toward language broadly understood, valuing words-in-themselves (the “pure” state) over words-in-action in-action (the dangerous, contaminated state). This shift in theoretical attitude toward delivery is but one mechanism of remediation, a mechanism reflected in other attempts to remediate alphabetic writing.
A local practice becomes, by McLuhan, a zeitgeist. The common thread between all those who consider the shift to literacy is materiality, embodied performance. Here, the performance of writing becomes embodied in speech. A new practice of logographic is borne.
The practice of logography developed over time to become much more than a means of carrying the unadulterated spoken word for an embodied performance to be delivered later and elsewhere. It was also a contaminating influence on speech. It began to reach back into the materiality of the spoken word, reshaping it so that speech began to take on the attributes we commonly associate with the written word: multiple tenses, embedded clauses, and more complex sentence structures in general.
Speech remediate the attributes of writing. Either (choose one) as a result of a shift in consciousness, or as a cause, or by collocation. Affordances are on the move, and the move is sponsored and carried by The Ten, their written word, and McLuhan.
The presence of writing resulted in more than just a unilateral shift in consciousness. Rather, the process of speech became more writerly and writing became more naturalized owing to a reciprocal, interactive dynamic. The technologies of speech and writing fed upon each other, writing borrowing from the cultural prestige of speech, speech adapting to compete with the newly arrived technology of chirography. At the forefront of this remediating transformation was Isocrates, whom Enos calls the “father of logography,” and who, as one of the Ten Attic Orators, contributed to the growth of the Greek language by bringing ing a notable stylistic complexity to oratorical performance.
Pause for a moment to consider how the teaching-orators are creating and spreading this New Consciousness. Your first-year comp teacher, with her tedious stylistic moves, is the vector of infection.
The development of this complexity owed much to the sort of plastic manipulation of language afforded by written discourse. For instance, Forster describes in the introduction to Isocrates’s Cyprian Orations how the teacher-orator “could manage the period as few Greek writers succeeded in doing. In reading a long sentence of Isocrates we are struck by the fact that, however intricate it may seem, it runs smoothly, and its structure is perfectly clear” (22). Isocrates developed a style of composition that, in part, drew upon oral stylistics and extended them to degrees that likely could not have been developed in purely oral contexts. Forster observes that “the conscious artifices which Isocrates employs”-among them parallelism in sound, homophonic wordplay, and the avoidance of hiatus (a word ending in a vowel followed by another beginning with a vowel)-“though at times they may seem laboured, certainly often add to the clearness of his style” (23). Isocrates also brought uniquely writerly prose to the composing process, an ornateness derived from his use of amplification and highly embedded constructions.
The Liberal Arts foster the literate consciousness by clandestine rhetorical training. Blame the teachers. Pay attention to the figures going out. Tip.
As students grew accustomed to encountering written discourse as a surrogate for speech from the outset of their rhetorical training, the differences between the two media became less distinct.