David Cayley on Literacy: The Medium & the Message – Audio Recordings From CBC’s Ideas

22Feb16

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During the 1930’s and 1940’s two scholars working at the University of Toronto began to outline a new theory of the role played by media of communication in shaping consciousness.  English-born and trained classicist Eric Havelock studied ancient Greece’s transition from an oral to a literate culture and the changes in mentality this brought about.  Harold Innis, in Empire and Communications, linked the rise and fall of empires to the media they had employed – from stone and clay to papyrus, parchment and paper.  In a second book published after his death, The Bias of Communication, Innis broadened his theory andproposed fundamental questions such as:  What assumptions do communications media take from society and what assumptions do they contribute?  What forms of power do they encourage?  Marshall McLuhan, then a young English professor at the University of Toronto, was inspired by Innis and took up these questions.  After he published The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man in 1962, he modestly said that his celebrated book was but a “footnote” to Innis.  A series of influential works followed, notably Understanding Media, and McLuhan’s reputation spread.  The University of Toronto established the Centre for Culture and Technology to further his work and keep him in Toronto.  After McLuhan’s death in 1980, the university tried to close the centre, but protests from around the world and a determined local effort by McLuhan’s inheritors kept it open. 

In 1987 two of these inheritors, David Olson and Derrick de Kerckhove, convened a major conference on “Orality and Literacy,” bringing together many of the scholars who had contributed to the school of thought that Havelock, Innis and McLuhan had founded.  Eric Havelock was there in what proved to be the last year of his life.  Walter Ong, another major contributor to this school, was expected but had to withdraw at the last minute.  I attended for Ideas, establishing a temporary studio in the basement of Emmanuel College, where the conference was held, and interviewing the speakers in whatever intervals the proceedings upstairs allowed.   The result was a three part Ideas series, broadcast in 1988, which I called Literacy: The Medium and the Message.  “Orality and Literacy,” the conference’s title, would have better represented its contents, but I was afraid that orality might be an unfamiliar term to some listeners, and more apt to evoke thumb-sucking than non-literate ways of life. Read the rest of the commentary here: http://goo.gl/vDOkl2 ).

Thanks to Agnes Kruchio for alerting me to the availability of this newly published material on the Internet.

photograph of Havelock Eric Havelock while at Yale

Access the recordings of 3 CBC Ideas programmes by following the links below:

The participants in the programmes are as follows:

Part One: David Olson, Eric Havelock, Jan Swearingen, Derrick de Kerckhove, Jerome Bruner, Carole Feldman, Rangaswamy Narasimhan, Ann Bennet

Part Two: Brian Stock, Ivan Illich, Paul Saenger, David Olson Barry Sanders, Derrick de Kerckhove

Part Three: Eric Havelock, Ivan Illich, David Olson, David Patanayak, Suzanne de Castell, Jan Swearingen, Barry Sanders, Derrick de Kerckhove

Literacy Part One: Download Now

Literacy: The Medium and the Message Part Two

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Literacy: The Medium and the Message Part Three

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Cayley

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