Plato worried that writing would spoil memory. He should not have. Jack Goody has found that verbatim memorization only appears in literate societies. As summarized by Ian Morris in 1 1986 Classical Antiquity article, Goody concluded that “It is only when mnemonic devices drawn from writing itself become available within a society that rote learning becomes possible; oral societies possess neither the elaborate techniques nor the necessity for such memorization.”
Morris elaborates further on: “there is no cultural demand for great accuracy [in oral cultures]. The idea of exact reproduction that we hold, as members of a literate society, does not exist in oral cultures. There can be no fixed, ‘original’ text of an oral poem, and hence one version cannot be more or less authentic than another, and cannot even be contrasted in practice. The only criterion is that the poem meets the demands of the singer and audience as it is performed.”
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Friday, June 22, 2012 at 12:41 pm
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