… past and present concert in a babble of chat and memories and observation and complicated kinship relations.
This is from’Verbi-Voco-Visual’ found in Essential McLuhan edited by Eric McLuhan and Frank Zingrone (1995):
… Oral societies have a code of honor. Charles James Fox was confronted by his tailor one morning when he was piling up gold pieces to pay a gambling debt. The tailor presented his bill. Fox explained the money was for a debt of honor. ‘Then,” said the tailor tearing up his bill, “I make mine a debt of honor also.” And Fox paid him on the spot. Even today in the American South order books are taboo.
The Boer general Krueger was quite illiterate, said Roy Campbell. He sat daily under a large tree administering justice. Two brothers presented themselves. They could not agree about the division of their patrimony. They showed him a map of the land. Krueger said to one: “You divide it.” To the other: “You choose.” The oral is quick, inclusive, total. It considers all aspects in a single instant.
If one were to ask any power group, a corporation or an ad agency: “If, by pressing a button in this room you could instantly achieve all your goals, would you press that button?” The answer would be “NO.” This question merely transfers their operations from the written and analytic mode to the oral and simultaneous. It is the difference between the fairy wish and the Puritan will. The world of the oral wish at once reveals the moral quality of the goal.
… Aristocracies are always oral in tendency, living by gossip and anecdote, games and sports. They make use of the scribe but despise him. Said the Duke of Gloucester to Edward Gibbon on the appearance of his History: “Another damned fat book, eh, Mr. Gibbon? Scribble, scribble, scribble eh, Mr. Gibbon?” The use of the fox hunter, said Wyndham Lewis, is to keep the business man in his place.
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Always the totalitarian, inclusive and drastic character of the oral tradition in law and society. Always the fragmentary, loop-holed, and limited aspect of law in the written tradition.
These remarks imply no value judgments, no preferences. To distinguish the properties of these things avoids the confusion of moral clamor. Clarification permits co-existence, and resolution of conflict.
[ … ]
Most prominent among American representatives of the oral manner in prose is William Faulkner whose latest novel The Town (volume two) opens:
I wasn’t born yet so it was Cousin Gowan who was there and big enough to see and remember and tell me afterward when I was big enough for it to make sense.
The oral tradition of the South is a world in which past and present concert in a babble of chat and memories and observation and complicated kinship relations. An oral world keeps multiple blood relationships in easy acoustic focus in the same way as a pre-literatie people have no trouble in managing complex word formations and inflections.