ABC: The Alphabetization of the Popular Mind by Ivan & Barry Sanders Illich

ABC: The Alphabetization of the Popular Mind

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Cultural critic Illich (Deschooling Society, Medical Nemesis, etc.) teams up with medieval scholar Barry Sanders in this analysis of how the alphabet has affected culture and cognition. The authors explain that what started out as a series of conversations on medieval paleography and the impact of the written word on 12th-century society evolved into this wider consideration of the significance of written culture down to the present age. Perhaps on account of that initial impetus, though, the real weight here falls on the evolution of written culture rather than on its present condition. Illich and Sanders point out the difference between oral and written culture, arguing that, among other things, an oral tradition makes no distinction between recollecting and doing, whereas memory as we understand it today is a child of the written text. At first simply reminders of proclaimed acts. texts as objects eventually provided a means and context for a silent, contemplative act. The authors also argue that our image of self was made in the image of the text--as memory, biography, material to be shaped in the manner of Rousseau's Confessions. So if our sense of self is linked to text, there is cause for concern, Illich and Sanders find, when technology displaces text onto a computer screen; or when culture, via fallout from scientific discourse, reduces language to mere code and nonsense words that, according to the authors, operate on a sublinguistic grunt level--here delightfully referred to as ""uniquack."" Characteristic Illich polemic warning of the dangers accompanying technological hubris, here tempered through collaboration, but at the same time curiously undeveloped for so massive a subject.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1987
Publisher: North Point