epics and oral traditions

Laurie L. Patton lpatton at emory.edu
Fri Jun 6 18:42:45 UTC 1997

The Parry/Lord theory at its most general, implies that it is possible to
tell from the formal properties of certain works (use of lists,
stereotyped formulae, etc) what place writing and orality had in these
works' composition, display and storage. (And composition, display, and
storage are three very different activities.)  Intriguing use of this
general idea in the case of early India can be found in the works of
Cousins (83)  Gathin (92) and Oskar von Hinuber (89,94). 
	Less helpful is the argument by Jack Goody (The Interface Between
the Written and the Oral, 1987, 110-122) about the necessity of writing in
the composition of the Vedas, which has been refuted by a number of
	In addition to Ong, Goody, Watt, and others, David Olson (1994)
has also recently explained the cognitive and institutional effects of the
presence of writing and printing in the West.  There are many specific
studies on the relationship between compositional technology and its
social and cognitive effects (such as that of Elizabeth Eisenstein on
printing in Europe, C.A. Read on alphabetic [as opposed to pictographic]
literacy in China). 
  	These are excellent case studies of specific variables. It seems to me,
however, that problems come in when one argues that compositional
technology **determines** cognitive and social significance. To claim that
a particular tool or technique of memory or writing will ALWAYS have
certain social and cognitive effects is where one runs into trouble.

Laurie L. Patton
Dept. of Religion
Emory University
Atlanta, GA 30322
FAX: 404-727-7597

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