My Journal



Agonistically Toned

Ong also discusses that a characteristic of orally-based thought and expression is that it is, what he deems, agonistically toned. Specifically, he discuses that in oral cultures, each narrative and other piece of information is with the knower. This is to say, there is little way to decipher any difference between the known and the knower. Therefore, it is not until the advent of the chirographic culture that this situation changed. “[Writing] separates the knower from the known.” (43).

While this point is accurate, digital orality replaces that connection between knower and known. In other words, writing takes a knower’s knowledge and makes it an abstract, attainable, knowable by anyone. This general concept can still be true; however, beyond the printed text, digital orality allows an individual to still be the originator, the knower, the one to whom listeners turn having sought him/her out. It is then possible for that listener to become the knower, too.

    • ramsey affifi
      Jun 22, 2010 at 5:23 PM /

      it’s “agonistically toned” not “agnostically toned” – I think that oral cultures are definitely not agnostically toned! That seems more a property of scientific hyper-literate culters

    • Time Barrow
      Jun 22, 2010 at 9:20 PM /

      Hah, you are quite correct. I am surprised that this has been out there since December 2007 and no one (including me) caught that. However, we are really talking about a typo here. Whether it was my direct typo or one that I let go past Word’s spellcheck, I do take the blame. Clearly, however, neither Ong nor I are discussing anything that is “agnostically toned.”

      Rather, that orality is agonistically toned is really about a struggle; the way that orality creates a setting in which participants engage each other in a sort of verbal combat. What I take from the Ong reading is that this is less like a formal verbal debate with which we might be familiar (like a political debate) and it is more like a challenge to “one-up” an opponent, even including name-calling. If he or she makes one claim, the “opponent” makes a claim that is is better or potentially more impressive. If I’m not mistaken, such actions likely did give rise to the more formal (that is avoiding name-calling and such) debates of early Greece through to today.