• Rhetoric of Narrative Genres in Nonliterate Societies – From Orality to Digital Illiteracy

    112 | CCN: 77887

    Date / Time: TuTh 930-11A, 209 DWINELLE

    4 Units

    The course this semester gives an introduction to the history of the relations between oral and written narratives and traditions from antiquity to the 21st century. The focus will be on historical constellations between myth and history, orality and literacy.
    How has the shift from orality to literacy changed our thinking? How did the emergence of this difference pertain to shape historical discourse ever since then? How do anthropology, folklore, historiography, philology, and the study of myth deal with this very distinction between oral and written cultures? Finally, what are the differences and similarities between the two major transformations in the history of media technology: from orality to literacy, and from analog to digital?
    We will start with a couple of introductory texts in order to have a shared vocabulary for our discussions before taking a close look at the first rupture in the history of media technologies, the shift from oral to written tradition (reading some classics like Walter Ong, and Eric Havelock), and end with talking about how digital technology and culture has not only changed the ways how we think about writing but created a new form of illiteracy (Vilem Flusser). Along this long historical arc, we will discuss a range of issues related to the history of orality and literacy, in particular the relations between myth and history from the 18th to the 20th centuries, engaging with the works of Giambattista Vico, Bernard Fontenelle, Friedrich Wolf, Ernst Cassirer, Claude Levi-Strauss, Jack Goody, or Rene Girard.
    Attendance is mandatory; you will be dropped from the class if you are not present during the first two weeks. Unexcused absences will result in a lower grade. You are required to do the assigned readings and actively participate in our discussions (25%); there will be an early mid-term exam about the basic concepts and vocabulary (25%); you will have to write 3 one-page responses papers to our readings (20%), and write a 5-7 page final paper (30%). An evolving syllabus will be available on bCourses, listing the topics and readings for each week, as well as the due-dates for assignments, and exams. Electronic versions of the readings in pdf-format will be available. It is your responsibility to make sure that you can access and read them before you come to class. The course combines lectures and seminar sessions with readings of research literature and primary sources. You will receive early mid-semester evaluation with open-ended questions and space for comments. I will also ask for your feedback in order to find out what is working best for the group and our course, and wish to create an atmosphere that allows to include your interests and needs in lectures and discussions.