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  • Bernadette Bowen

Response to Ong "Effects of Print Culture"

Updated: Apr 6, 2020

The following is a discussion board post I made for a Media Ecology course in response to this prompt:

"Print culture gave birth to the romantic notions of ‘originality’ and ‘creativity’, which set apart an individual work from other works even more, seeing its origins and meaning as independent of outside influence, at least ideally. When in the past few decades doctrines of intertextuality arose to counteract the isolationist aesthetics of a romantic print culture, they came as a kind of shock. They were all the more disquieting because modern writers, agonizingly aware of literary history and of the de facto intertextuality of their own works, are concerned that they may be producing nothing really new or fresh at all, that they may be totally under the ‘influence’ of others’ texts" (Orality & Literacy, p. 131).


Using the above quote (and any other relevant material from Ch. 5), respond to the following in a succinct paragraph or two:

  • Who owns and idea? And what are one or two consequences (positively and/or negatively) of your response?

  • you might consider correlate issues such as authorship, the publishing process, citations, subjects of ideas/knowledge, etc.


We've talked about this plenty of times before, but I don't believe in the validity of the ownership of ideas. I know that makes me a bad academic, but I don't care. Consequences of the belief in this idea are the same as any of ownership. They lead to commodification of ideas that Ong and McLuhan both address in different passages throughout our readings for this week. Here's a splattering of examples I'd marked from Ong's chapter five:

"...it [print] implemented the Protestant Reformation and reoriented the Catholic religious practice...it affected the development of modern capitalism, implemented Western European exploration of the globe, changed family life and politics, diffused knowledge as never before, made universal literacy a serious objective, made possible the rise of modern sciences, and otherwise altered social and intellectual life." (Ong, pgs. 115-116)

"Alphabetic letterpress printing, in which each letter was cast on a separate piece of metal, or type, marked a psychological breakthrough of the first order. It embedded the word itself deeply in the manufacturing process and made it into a kind of commodity. The first assembly line, a technique of manufacture which in a series of set steps produces identical complex objects made up of replaceable parts." (Ong, pg. 116)

"Print created a new sense of the private ownership of words." (Ong, pg. 128)

"With writing, resentment at plagiarism begins to develop." (Ong, pg. 129)

"Typography had made the word into a commodity. The old communal oral world had split up into privately claimed free holdings. The drift into human consciousness toward greater individualism had been served well by print. Of course, words were not quite private property. They were still shared property to a degree." (Ong, pg. 129)

As you'd addressed in class recently, citing your own work and Paolo Freire, academia is entirely built upon this idea of the ownership of ideas and the linear or "banking education" model where instructors are seen as the keepers of knowledge who are then being paid to transfer said information to students. This, of course, is a perspective that is the backbone of the entire corporatized education structure that has only further set the stage for the specialization, professionalization, and hyper-commodification of the educational institution; implementing increasing surveillance measures to reinforce faculty/staff practices.


Other examples of this are the creation of language that set standards of citing, and the repercussions for plagiarism if/when it occurs. More recently, there has been a (long-overdue) backlash push main-staged in the National Communication Association list serve over the overwhelming Whiteness, Eurocentricity, and Maleness of citational politics. This only becomes more complicated when considering the problematic erasure of prominently cited figures extracurricular lives (sexual violence, harassment, Nazism etc.).


Jackson, R. A. (n.d.). Who Owns an Idea? Jackson Esquire. Retrieved from http://www.rminventor.org/Data/Sites/1/meetinghandouts/WhoOwnsanIdea.pdf


It's funny to me that this lawyer, Jackson, separated out the world into those two worlds: legal and real. Funny in a: "of course he does" way. And funny in a: "if this is the way law sees our world: we are all doomed" way. These arbitrary distinctions have real consequences. They're the kind of perspective on the world that leads lawyers to take up careers as defenders of rapists, pedophiles, and even billionaires. And what better field than law to justify such a life. Law is entirely dependent upon referencing male written texts, representative of what other men have said before them that allegedly "decided" how the world is; including rampant exclusivity of what and who is allowed in their world. You can back track these types of rituals back to the controlled writing of Latin by males in academia, and Ong did:


"Latin had undergone a sound-sight split. Because of it's base in academia, which was totally male - with exception so utterly rare as to be quite negligible - Learned Latin had another feature in common with rhetoric besides its classical provenance. For well over a thousand years, it was sex-linked, a language written and spoken only by males, learned outside the home in a tribal setting which was in effect a male puberty rite setting, complete with physical punishment and other kinds of deliberately imposed hardships" (Ong, pg 111).

In this opaque institutionally rationalized way, all knowledge is dependent upon whether or not we decide to agree or disagree with the powers at be who make those decisions. Whether or not we say there are separate "legal" and "real" worlds breed either credence or breakdown to that backbone. But here we all are, citing people for credit on discussion boards to get our pieces of paper that say we are worthy of being listened to by anyone with another piece of paper who did the same. So, what do I know?

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