Orality-ception

In excerpts from “Writing Restructures Consciousness,” Walter Ong describes an idea of secondary orality which is “essentially a more deliberate and self-conscious orality, based permanently on the use of writing and print,” while primary orality is viewed as the old fashioned way of talking to big groups of people without the aid of print.

The Martian by Andy Weir is an example of secondary orality in that, physically, it’s a book that a mass of people have read (and now a movie that many people have seen). These people have internalized the story individually yet have all probably felt similar emotions and reactions to the book. Thus, the book has proven Ong’s claim that we turn outward towards a large community because all of us simultaneously have turned inward.

Within the story, Mark’s means of communication are a very interesting feature to me. So far, he communicates with the people of Earth through two different mediums, his logs and his communication with NASA through the rovers.

So here’s the stretch.

His logs are an example of secondary orality by way of being a written work themselves but, currently, they have affected no one within the book. Mark initially thought that the logs weren’t going to be read by anyone and there is no interplay or relation between Mark and the people he is writing to. However, both the reader and Mark know that someone might stumble upon these logs in the future making the logs an important source of information for both the reader and the characters in the book.

Contrastingly, Mark’s communication with Earth can be viewed as primary orality because, even though they are written words, they are broadcasted to the entire world in real time. Ong present the idea that orality is an “untouched” idea because it hasn’t been connected to writing in any way. In this sense, Mark’s communication is primary orality even though no one on Earth could physically hear him yell from Mars if he tried.

So the real question is why is this important and why should we care. Mark’s logs can be viewed as glorified diaries that will one day be shown to an entire planet. His communication with Earth is an example of print writing that also acts as primary orality from one planet to another. Whether Andy Weir did this on purpose or not, I think the inclusion of means of communication within the story itself forces readers to internalize the story through a different point of view that is more personal (through diaries) and more global (through the idea that those same diaries could one day be shown to the world).

~Ryan Scott

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One thought on “Orality-ception

  1. “Contrastingly, Mark’s communication with Earth can be viewed as primary orality because, even though they are written words, they are broadcasted to the entire world in real time.”

    From Ong’s point of view, this would be a form of secondary orality, particularly when Mark’s words get restated by, for example, someone from NASA on a news program. Remember that secondary orality will have a verbal component but will have been prepared through some form of writing or print.

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