This was a response to Joe…

…until I realized, I hadn’t posted yet this week. As I was commenting on Joe’s post (thanks for the inspiration), I decided to chalk this one up to the next level.


Basically, I tentatively agree with Joe/Ong’s idea that all aspects of speech and/or writing are basically artificial in some sense. This drew a strange parallel in my mind to a discussion I had in another class last week.  My prof was telling the class about a woman he had interviewed once that was seeking “true movement.” Over the years, she had found her definition of “true movement” in only one circumstance: falling. When the human body is falling- apparently- it is the most natural and amazing to see the ways in which the body will contort in order to protect itself. Therefore, this woman built her entire dance company and performance around high flying acrobatics and literal leaps of faith. All in the pursuit of true movement.

Why do we all look like this as we jump?

Back to language, reading, and writing. I think the same concept applies. True movement is born out of a reaction. Out of instinct. You begin to fall, you put your arms out to break your fall. Most of us shouldn’t have to think about that response. It is natural. Similarly, I think that in order to have “natural” speech or writing, it has to be borne out of a reaction to someone or something. In the heat of the moment, in the midst of an argument, at the edge of glory, on the precipice of doom, whatever melodramatic moment you may have. The point being, whatever form of communication that you choose at that moment is going to be visceral. Natural. And that is what I believe Ong was looking for.

Continued from class…

Earlier I blogged about how I really hated the Ong piece. And I still do. And after we read the second half, I hope to never pick up a piece of writing by Ong again.

However, I did want to thank everyone for bringing such different ideas and opinion to class. I know that may sound cheesy, but I always appreciate what everyone else has to say. I think it’s so great that we can all come from these different background and interests, and have different goals and reasons for why we’re there, but can all have these intelligent conversations and really learn from each other.

“If we were to follow Hebrew usage in English we would write and print ‘cnsnts for consonants.’ “

After spending the last 15 or so years of my life studying Hebrew, I have to laugh at this point that Walter Ong brings up.  It’s true that the everyday Hebrew writing has no vowels and most Israelis would probably laugh at someone if they read or wrote with vowels.  None of my Hebrew assignments or papers since elementary school have been written with vowels and the thought of including vowels seems like an unnecessary chore.


Perhaps the lack of vowels is a quality of the language that makes me so attracted to it; when you write and especially when you read in Hebrew, you have to look at the context of a sentence and that tells you how to pronounce a word.  Studying Hebrew taught me the value of context for reading and writing and ironically improved my reading comprehension skills in English.  In Hebrew, two words might have the same letters, but the vowels above and below the letters change the pronunciation, meaning, and sometimes even the tense of the word.  This requires readers to read actively and take the context into account.  Reading out loud is especially important because you have to mentally survey the context to figure out the appropriate vowels, while actively pronouncing the words of the sentences.  I’m making it sound like a lot of work, but it’s actually a surprisingly natural process.  Reading without vowels becomes the norm and I completely forgot about that until reading Ong’s piece.

Reading, writing, and speaking seems so natural and it’s interesting to think about a time where people didn’t have language.  If writing, as Plato says, is an artificial process, then what about speaking?  Speaking could also be considered a form of technology since it requires a set of “tools.” Communicating through speech requires making sounds and putting thought into some sort of rules and guidelines as means of defining words.

Writing As A Technology

Walter Ong’s response to Plato’s ideas about writing being “external, alien technologies” and as external and detrimental to the mind by instead comparing writing to a “deeply interiorized technology” is an awesome way of communicating his point, and is not like something I’ve ever read before. What especially resonated with me was his comment that “technologies are artificial, but—paradox again—artificiality is natural to human beings.” He supports his claim that technology is incredibly enriching to the human consciousness and interior life by again comparing writing as an art form that has complex script and grammar rules, and rich cultural and historic traditions. Much like the creation of musical instruments to contrive unique forms of harmonic sound, the written language was born in the alphabets of mankind’s first civilizations as the product of aesthetic design and phonetics that expresses the observed sounds. Ong’s argument is that the external creations of the mind enrich humanity in countless ways, including through the process of them being discovered, but also by their application in everyday life.
His did not spend too much time and each of the several examples and comparisons that he made, which I think leaves room for several replies, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed his style and his argument!

Natural versus Artificial

While reading today’s chapter, Writing Restructures Consciousness, by Walter Ong, I was confused by Ong’s notions of speech and writing. Throughout the text, he claims that speech is natural, referring to the organic quality of how a  person learns one’s mother tongue, whereas writing is purely artificial. Yet, isn’t speech artificial as well?

Unlike writing, we practice our oratory skills from infancy, mimicking new sounds and exploring what we can produce.  This in a sense is natural, an innate characteristic of us, but I wouldn’t say that once speech is translated into language, it holds that some quality. We all learned how to speak English by hearing others talk and subconsciously taking hold of the rules that govern our language. As we get older, these rules become more explicit. We learn that there is a certain way to pronounce words, aside from our idiolects, and frame sentences otherwise English wouldn’t be mutually intelligible. Our speech is very much a product of  rules that were crafted by our ancestors. These rules weren’t “natural”; they were an amalgamation of concepts that were eventually institutionalized in a language.

Even though I think speech is artificial, I can see how it is more organic than writing. When we speak, we aren’t able to revise our sentences before we say them. Sure, we can think intently before speaking. But once we say something, there isn’t a backspace for us, and we don’t have an embedded ABC spell check to correct our pronunciation and syntax. In this way, speech is certainly more natural than writing though it is still a product of artificiality as a whole.


Essay #2…any suggestions?

After reading this week’s assigned reading by Walter Ong, I felt drowned in historical facts that, truthfully, do not interest me.  Therefore, rather than blogging about my reaction to this reading, I am going to share some of my thoughts about our upcoming essay.

For our second essay, I am going to repurpose an argumentative essay I wrote about the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  I originally wrote this paper for a public health class, and thus it was geared towards an audience with prior healthcare knowledge.  The thesis of my original essay was “The Family and Medical Leave Act provides initial, necessary regulations for employees to balance work and family, and promotes equal rights amongst men and women in the workplace; however, complete balance of the two is stymied by strict eligibility rules, social inequality, and economic burdens on employers.”

For this essay, I plan to repurposes my argument by writing to a young audience with no prior healthcare or FMLA knowledge.   Although I know the audience to whom I want to write, I have not yet found a specific newspaper or magazine that works for my intended audience…does anyone reading this have any suggestions?  Comment to let me know!!


Websites and You – Everything You Need to Know (probably not everything, but there’s a lot here).

Co-Authored by Katie Brown

What is the range of software options available?
When it comes to website building, there a number of different options that cater to a number of different levels of technical skill and time investment.  Some of the more popular methods and programs include:

Hand Coding (all operating systems), iWeb (Mac), Adobe Dreamweaver (Pay, all operating systems), Weebly (free online), & Wix (a free, online domain).

What is available for users with different levels of expertise?

Hand Coding (html/css) – Though time consuming and kind of difficult to get the hang of, this method offers the most range of freedom of any of the others mentioned here.  This method of creating websites is open to all Macs (through Text Edit/TextWrangler) and PCs (Notepad).

iWeb – Available to Mac users, iWeb makes building websites really simple.  The program has pre-formatted layouts for you to choose from and use as a starting point.  You can add pages, upload images and videos – it’s a really simple way to get a website up fast.  iWeb doesn’t allow for customizing the look of themes very well though, so you lose a lot of creative control with this option.

Adobe Dreamweaver – Dreamweaver is a bit of a hybrid of the last two technologies. You can choose to hand-code your site in dreamweaver or you can select from a pre-made template and edit the code to your liking. However, this still involves a working knowledge of HTML and CSS and may not be the best option if you don’t have the time to learn how to code.

Weebly – A free online resource, Weebly is probably the most friendly of the options thus far.  On the front page of the Weebly website you’ll be prompted to enter your name, email address and password.  After that, you can get started on your site immediately. Making a website with Weebly is a lot like editing a photo with Picnik; there are tons and tons of settings you can play around with. Weebly will also publish your site to the web for free : )

Wix- Another free online website builder. All you need to do is create an account and a variety of tools are at your disposal. It doesn’t take long to learn to navigate and the interface is user-friendly. Option to upgrade to premium membership, but the normal account is usually more than adequate and will allow you to publish your site to the web under the Wix domain. Also great for continuous editing.

Which options are supported by the University?

iWeb, Dreamweaver CS5, and TextWrangler, Fugu, and Fetch  are available on University of Michigan Macs.  Dreamweaver CS5, FileZilla, and Notepad++ are on all University of Michigan PCs.

What support is available online?

The web is full of awesome places to learn how to hand code, but some of the best sites I’ve found are HTML Dog  and W3School.   Both offer great instruction on how to use HTML & CSS to build your websites alongside examples where you can actually manipulate code on your own to see how it affects the layout of the page.

For learning Dreamweaver, Youtube is going to be your best friend. Search “How to use Dreamweaver CS5” and you’ll find a ton of resources to help get you off the ground. Google is always a good starting place as well.

Lynda is another great resource for learning about how to build websites and includes tutorial videos on iWeb, Dreamweaver, and general website design and development.  Some tutorials do require a subscription, however.

What are your favorites (and why), and/or what else should we know?

Josh’s personal favorite is hand coding HTML and CSS into Dreamweaver – it offers a lot of control and freedom in designing simple sites.  It can be a major headache though.

Katie’s favorite is obviously Wix! Takes almost no time to learn and I’ve used it in a variety of classes for a range of different assignments. Great if you are looking for a time-friendly option.

Also, a lot of these resources will help you make a website, but many won’t help you publish it without doing a little extra work.  If hand coding or using Dreamweaver or iWeb, you’ll need to push your site to a server space using an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) program. Fetch and Fugu are available for Mac and supported by the university.  FileZilla is available for PCs and is supported by university computers.

You can buy domain names and space from places like GoDaddy, but each student has his/her own personal space you can upload a site to through the university, which can be accessed through this URL: will walk you through the steps.

Happy website-making!



Dismantling the Power Paradigm of the Academy’s Patriarchy

First, I just want to say that I really enjoyed this article – it was well researched, thought out, and most importantly, interesting.

Of particular interest to me was when he talks about how women may actually have been the genesis of the novel.  It’s such an interesting point to make. He rationalizes this claim by explaining that men were traditionally the ones to receive educations in rhetoric at schools and universities, while women, if they went to school at all, were taught subjects conducive to running an effective home or business.  So, when women start coming to the academy, they bring a completely new perspective to language and particularly writing – they’ve not been trained in traditional rhetoric, and thus it doesn’t hold as much importance for them, which is why the novel starts to rise as a legitimate form of writing; it allows for more freedom of form. You can still kind of see the echoes of this today, in that many popular or well known authors of novels are females: JK Rowling, Jodi Picoult, Barbara Kingsolver, Audrey Niffenegger, Suzanne Collins, and (*cringe*) Stephenie Meyer. Obviously, if Ong’s argument is true, then women have given to humanity a great artform.

Twlight, a "book" by "writer" Stephenie Meyer. (Source:

So then, it’s curious to me as to why academic institutions still favor a fairly patriarchal view on writing; non-academic writing still seems to be thought of as somehow “less” in an university setting.  In my peer tutoring seminar, we’re learning about different approaches to writing as well as how to tutor writing. We recently read an essay that applied Feminist critical theory to the idea of writing, which aims to equalize the role of tutor and the student; the practice attempts to dismantle the power hierarchy present in the traditional student/teacher paradigm, which the academy perpetuates by often times forcing students to learn “good” writing by making them conform to the abstract standard of an “ideal text” as imagined by academia. Since this “ideal text” is often a traditionally academic paper, filled with classical rhetoric, and since rhetoric is a subject that was created by men, for use by men, this ideal text is inherently patriarchal; it makes the writer conform to invisible, “acceptable” standards envisioned by men and only men years and years ago.

Ong’s text got me thinking about writing a lot more about what writing is, and more specifically, what “good” writing is.  Is it this generally agreed upon standard, or can it be something more?  Why is it so difficult to break away from the academic form instilled in writers from the time they’re taught to write? Why can’t fiction be just as effective a mode for delivering an argument? Why did I just make fun of Stephenie Meyer, if in fact, she may have written a very good piece of writing, and I’m just not seeing it fromt he correct perspective (this pains me to write, fellow writing minors; I just need you all to know that)? I’m not sure I have any answers to any of these questions, but the article definitely got me thinking about them.


Don’t press send.

Ong’s article explains that throughout history, writing has been seen as dangerous, because unlike speech, it cannot be immediately argued or changed. Once something is put down in pen, it exists unaltered forever. No one has the chance to refute it. Speech, the article claims, is a fair safer, less threatening form of communication. What I am most afraid of, however, is not writing or speech, but instead, a deadly combination of the two. Yes, I am talking about texting. Nothing is more dangerous. As with every technology, there will be naysayers. Late adaptors, like my parents, who refuse to embrace the genre, in this case, because they believe it impersonal. I, on the other hand, am skilled and well practiced in the art of the text, and yet, I remember never to underestimate how destructive it can be. It is far to easy to compose such a message without thinking through the consequences. Though it may be appealing to send an angry message written at the height of an argument or a text to an ex in a weak moment on a particularly lonely night, it is clearly not in the best interest of the sender. Texting is the worst of two worlds. Like speech, it is not always eloquent or well thought out. It is far more “stream of consciousness” than say an academic essay; however, it falls victim to many of the flaws that plague the written word. For example, it is impossible to tell the tone of voice from a text message. May times something is heralded as “bitchy” when it was meant to be sarcastic. Also, unlike speech, once the text is sent, a record of the conversation will exist forever. Goodbye secrecy. Goodbye privacy. My rules for texting are a lot like my rules for driving.

Plan ahead- think through the consequences of what you are about to say. Who might see this message?

Use the three second rule- read your message through and wait a few seconds before sending it.

No road rage- don’t text when your mad… It is not safe for anyone.

Maintain the approiate speed- Don’t send more than one text before you have received an answer.

Don’t drink and text- It can be fatal… well at least to your self respect.

Ong maybe should rethink his article. There is a new medium in town and it will not be underestimated. The written and spoken word have formed an allied force, and for the unprepared user, it may be a destructive combination.

Old school texting?


Wordy Architecture and Rainy-Day Reading

Ong’s argument, more or less, is that writing restructures consciousness.  How it does so is less simple.  A starting point is that writing is detached from its source – like the Delphi Oracle, the writer is a non-entity, no more than a means for communication.  Thus writers are freed from the everyday constraints of oral speech.  Writing is in many ways subversive, disobedient to authority.  That’s one of the reasons Plato hated writing and plays, because it can spread subversive ideas and falsehoods through the community and then gets in the way of societal order. Writing can’t defend its opinions.  It is passive.  With Wikipedia, or sources of writing that rely heavily on technology, one cannot directly criticize it without access to/know-how about the technology in question.  These points are all very good ones to make.  But I’ve heard this argument before.  The idea that writing can influence other large areas of human life  rather reminds me of a book I’ve read recently.

According to Erwin Panofsky’s landmark work Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism, the Scholastic movement changed what Panofsky calls “mental habits” in 12th C society and in turn informed the evolution of Gothic architecture.  Scholastics were engaged with theological writings and texts, but the way in which they wrote was drastically different from the movements before them, such as nominalism.  This, according to no less than Thomas Aquinas, requires a change in thought – or, as Ong would say, a change in consciousness.  Namely, this included a new focus on symmetrical ordering of arguments, and “clarification for clarification’s sake”.  This same intricacy spilled over into another art, architecture, and the Gothic movement took off.  While this may seem confusing, it’s a wonderful book and comes with beautiful pictures of churches and I recommend it highly for a rainy day.