Thinking through those “Democratic Multiple” posts, and reading some essays over the weekend, I’m beginning to see the points of intersection between different discursive paths. Everything is, of course, related. The hand-mechanical emerges again, as a practice, as a practice of the inside as well as the outside. From the essay “Orality and Literacy: Writing Restructures Consciousness,” by Walter Ong:

Plato was thinking of writing as an external, alien technology, as many people today think of the computer. Because we have by today so deeply interiorized writing, made it so much a part of ourselves, as Plato’s age had not yet made it fully a part of itself, we find it difficult to consider writing to be a technology as we commonly assume printing and the computer to be. Yet writing (and especially alphabetic writing) is a technology, calling for the use of tools and other equipment: styli or brushes and pens, carefully prepared surfaces such as paper, animal skins, strips of wood, as well as inks or paints […]. Writing is the most drastic of the three technologies [writing, print, computer]. It initiated what print and computers only continue, the reduction of sound to quiescent space, the separation of the word from the living present, where alone spoken words can exist.

By contrast with natural, oral speech, writing is completely artificial. […] Writing or script differs as such from speech in that it does not inevitably well up out of the unconscious. The process of putting spoken language into writing is governed by consciously contrived, articulable rules: for example, a certain pictogram will stand for a certain specific word, or a will represent a certain phoneme, b another, and so on. […] To say writing is artificial is not to condemn it but to praise it. Like other artificial creations and indeed more than any other, it is utterly invaluable and indeed essential for the realization of fuller, interior, human potentials. Technologies are not mere exterior aids but also interior transformations of consciousness, and never more than when they affect the word. Such transformations can be uplifting. Writing heightens consciousness. Alienation from a natural milieu can be good for us and indeed is in many ways essential for full human life. To live and to understand fully, we need not only proximity but also distance. This writing provides for consciousness as nothing else does.

Technologies are artificial, but—paradox again—artificiality is natural to human beings. Technology, proper interiorized, does not degrade human life but on the contrary enhances it. The modern orchestra, for example, is the result of high technology. A violin is an instrument, which is to say a tool. […] Beethoven’s score for his Fifth Symphony consists of very careful directions to highly trained technicians, specifying exactly how to use their tools. Legato: do not take your finger off one key until you have hit the next. Staccato: hit the key and take your finger off immediately. […] The fact is that by using a mechanical contrivance [tool, technology], a violinist […] can express something poignantly human that cannot be expressed without the mechanical contrivance. To achieve such expression of course the violinist […] has to have interiorized the technology, made the tool or machine a second nature, a psychological part of himself or herself. This calls for years of ‘practice’, learning how to make the tool do what it can do. Such a shaping of a tool to oneself, learning a technological skill, is hardly dehumanizing. The use of a technology can enrich the human psyche, enlarge the human spirit, intensify its interior life. […] [1]

1. Walter Ong, “Orality and Literacy: Writing Restructures Consciousness,” The Book History Reader, ed. David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery (London: Routledge, 2002), 107-108.

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