Harold Innis’s idea that creative thought was dependent on the “oral tradition”

December 21, 2013 · 1 comment

I came across this quote by Harold Innis (apparently “Canadian scholar of world renown”) in an essay by Rick Salutin (Canadian writer/journalist/playwright and other stuff that makes me really want at least ONE blasted title of my own) and have been mulling it over. (Warning: You will not be interested in this post… this is just me having a study session with myself… as a distance online student I don’t get to discuss my lessons with anyone so I’ve chosen to use my blog for that…. if I had any readers that weren’t related to me I’d feel bad about this but as it is…)

Innis came to the conclusion that “creative thought” was “dependent on the oral tradition.” Writing is too fast, it is too unnuanced compared to the complexity of speech. What it means to be human is to speak and listen, to interact with others—and wisdom and insight emerge in that social context. Writing and individual scholarship are a dilution and “dumbing down” of basic human function; they may seem more efficient, in some respects, in creating intellectual “product,” but at a cost to the human and mental processes involved. (1997, 247)

Harold and I part ways on this. Heh.  I do think that there is a significant difference between writing and speech… between reading and listening… between broadcasting and conversing… but I don’t believe writing is necessarily less nuanced. I’ve always felt that when I read someone’s writings I am hearing their thoughts… the voice inside their head… which is different than the voice they would let me hear if I was face to face with them… I don’t think there is a dumbing down of basic human functions in writing (necessarily)–unless we are talking about most things we read in the mass media or shit that business people write. Heh. I do agree with Innis that there is a lot of nuance in face to face communication that gets missed in writing… non verbal expression and what isn’t said is more readily apparent face to face… the reading between the lines can be easier in person… but in face to face interactions there is a guarding that doesn’t necessarily occur in writing… people are less inhibited in writing and less affected by the emotions of the other person on the receiving end… this is can be bad in some contexts (eg: the sort of meanness we see online)… but it can be good in that that same inhibition is dropped and we may hear more truth… reading someone’s writing can be much more intimate. I’ve often thought my writing voice is most like the voice inside my head. (Or one of the voices… LOL).

That’s my two cents anyway. Back to the books. (Well, back to the digital online materials… see what I did there? That was a little online student humour…. if we were face to face you would get that… so maybe Harold was on to something after all… but then again if we were face to face I might say nothing at all.)


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