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ABC: The Alphabetization of the Popular Mind

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Maverick social critic Illich (Medical Nemesis) and medievalist Sanders have teamed to write a dense, frustrating essay on the way written language affects our perception of ourselves and the world. They claim that the modern self is an ``alphabetic construct'': each of us weaves a cocoon of stories about ourselves, and we can only do so because of narrative literary traditions of the past several centuries. Ranging over the history of alphabets, intriguing word lore, a comparison of the Iliad with Serbian epics, the origins of autobiography and Huckleberry Finn, the authors reach sweeping, ill-defined conclusions. Lying and moral feigning, they argue, are possible because memory is like a mental text. Human culture, in their ethnocentric view, was made possible by alphabetic writing. They fail to consider societies based on ideographic or hieroglyphic scripts. The final chapter, on Orwellian newspeak, pinpoints the dangers of applying computer terminology to human interaction. (February 15)
Library Journal
The authors argue that the relation that has bound speaker to speech and made discourse whole and meaningful disintegrated with the invention of the alphabet, leaving streams of separate words detached from any context of utterance. After the alphabet, some unity was maintained by style and grammar, and by ties between vernacular languages and the communities using them; but this unity is threatened by information processing that strips the texts into their component bits. Librarians and everyone else concerned with the fate of books should read this one, though readers who like to stay calm may still prefer O. B. Hardison, Jr.'s urbane and judicious Entering the Maze (Oxford, 1981). Leslie Armour, Univ. of Ottawa, Canada
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780865472914
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 8/15/1989
  • Pages: 192

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