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.


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.


What is Writing?

Source: My Photo, Edited via Picnik

Writing as Death.

“One of the most startling paradoxes inherent in writing is its close association with death.” Excuse me, what? Well I completely disagree with this statement (as is clear in my “Why I Write” essay).  I have never once associated writing with death. If anything, writing is like birth: a chance to reinvent yourself to the world. I do see how writing is able to be resurrected by readers, but why does it have to die in the first place?

Writing as a Technology.

I never really saw writing as a technology, but that’s probably because there are so many other technological things that are more obvious in the sense that we grew up in an era of digital revolutions. When I think technology, I think computers, ipods, cell phones, tvs–but I do not think writing. As I think more about it, I guess some form of writing had to go into each of these technologies.

Writing as Pictures, Pictures as Writing.

It’s interesting how something as complex as writing began as simple scratchings on a stone. I still think writing and pictures go hand-in-hand. Just think back to the books you read when you first learned how to read. Chances are, they were full of  mostly pictures accompanied by a few words.

Writing as Magic.

I think writing has some magical components, but I don’t associate it with magic in the oracle sense mentioned in the reading. That is taking things too far…And who are these “Glamor Grammar” girls? All I thought of when I read this part was the Glamour (as in fashion) girls!

Writing through Scribes.

When I read this part, I instantly thought of my sister who currently works as a medical scribe. I never knew this concept of having someone else record your thoughts and words for you dated so far back.

Writing as Solitude, Writing as Social.

I agree with Ong that writing is a solitary task. When I write it’s essentially just me, my paper, and the thoughts in my head. But writing is just as social as it is solitaire. I immediately think of the writing workshops we do and how much of a conversation takes place between the reader, writer, and text. There is nothing alone about sharing your writing with the world.

 Writing with a Voice.

When you write, you have to consider how you would say the written words out loud. What tone do you want? What message do you want to get across to your readers? These are the types of questions worth asking.  Although writing may seem passive and silent; simply words on a page, writing is just as alive and active as the spoken word.

Writing as Rhetoric.

Personally, I don’t enjoy the word rhetoric. I hadn’t even really heard it used until this year. I think the word rhetoric complicates an otherwise simple concept of “how to write effectively.” If you want people to write effectively, you should communicate to them in a language they understand.