An academic's meandering foray into the realms of the preliterate. Sanders (English and the History of Ideas/Pitzer College)...


"A IS FOR OX: Violence, Electronic Media, and the Silencing of the Written Word"

An academic's meandering foray into the realms of the preliterate. Sanders (English and the History of Ideas/Pitzer College) fears for the fate of the printed word. Beginning with a history of literacy, he presents the ancient Greeks as the primary example of a people with a limited, verbal culture who flowered with their adaptation of the Semitic alphabet, which he contends not only allowed for superior intergenerational communication but also for the critical thinking that made Greek philosophy and ethics possible. Moving from human history to human development, the author posits that infants and people deprived of language cannot perceive in the abstract and are incapable of morality. He skates on thinner ice when he suggests that people stuck in verbal cultures, especially the functional illiterates of our inner cities, are a mindless, amoral mob. Here the humanities professor shows gaps in his hard and social science reading: Few of America's 70 million illiterates display the conscienceless violence of the sociopaths he fearfully describes. Displaying tinges of Eurocentrism when diagnosing the social problems of certain hyphenated Americans, Sanders also links illiteracy to feminism -- mothers not staying home to feed their children constant verbal stimulation. ""Among humans only women educate"" is a line that would resonate better were the author less obsessed with unproven theories about breast-feeding and the development of literacy. Avolley fired at technology in general and computers specifically reads: ""Word processors have turned everyone into ghostwriters, so that technology...has sucked the very essence out of life."" While TV and video games have pedagogic limitations, the author does not successfully demonstrate why trashy novels are better than classic films, why the confines of grammar are less stifling than the parameters of a video game, or why a TV show represents ""a shift from the human to the technical."" A few pearls among the paranoia, but this flawed paean to literacy is as awkward as its title.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 1994


Page Count: 288

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994