ENGL 661 (Schedule #24370)
Virginia Commonwealth University
Spring 2011
T 7-9:40pm :: 308 Hibbs
Prof. David Golumbia
Office: 324D Hibbs Hall
Spring 2011 Office Hours: m 2-3:30pm & 5:30-6pm; w 5:30-6:30pm

Topics in Interdisciplinary Studies
Orality, Literacy, and the Digital

In brief, this course will try to open the questions of what we mean by core terms like "language," "speaking," and "digital communication," by carefully setting the terms in a variety of historical and philosophical contexts. We will take our inspiration from (some of) the issues raised in Walter Ong's Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. Ong, to some degree like his teacher Marshall McLuhan, argues that the "transition" to writing was also a backgrounding/stigmatizing of "orality," so that much that we think of as "oral" or "non-literate" is very valuable but has been errantly dismissed in whatever we call "modernity," what does that say about our attempt to define a new form of "digital reception" or "digitality" and, if so, what would it mean to see that as a stigmatization of both orality and literacy, as well as a new form of communication? Students will offer discussion questions on on each part of one day's reading; write two short papers on topics raised by the reading; and write a final paper (or project) on a subject of their choice chosen in consultation with the instructor.

Books (at VCU bookstore, but any new or used edition of these books is acceptable for class)

  1. Naomi Baron, Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World (2010)
  2. Stephen Robert Fischer, A History of Language (Reaktion, 2003)
  3. Stephen Robert Fischer, A History of Reading (Reaktion, 2004)
  4. R. Zamora Linmark, Rolling the R's (experimental fiction, Philippines,1995)
  5. Jane McGonigal, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (Penguin, 2011)
  6. Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (1982)
  7. Cass Sunstein, Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Divide and Unite (Oxford, 2009)
  8. Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (Harper, 2008)

Articles and Book Chapters (mostly in Blackboard)

  1. Naomi Baron, "Rethinking Written Culture." Language Sciences 26 (2004)
  2. Naomi Baron, "The Future of Written Culture," (in press expansion on "Rethinking Written Culture," 2005)
  3. Graham Barwell, "Original, Authentic, Copy: Conceptual Issues in Digital Text." Literary and Linguistic Computing 20:4 (2005)
  4. Roger Chartier, "Languages, Books, and Reading from the Printed Word to the Digital Text." Critical Inquiry 31 (Autumn 2004)
  5. Jacques Derrida, "The End of the Book and the Beginning of Writing," from Of Grammatology (1967)
  6. Martin Heidegger, "On the Nature of Language," from On the Way to Language (1959)
  7. Martin Heidegger, "Traditional and Technological Language" (lecture delivered in 1962), with optional translator's introduction
  8. Paul Hopper, "Linguistics and Micro-Rhetoric: A Twenty-First Century Encounter." Journal of English Linguistics 35:3 (Sep 2007)
  9. Paul Saenger, "Introduction" to Spaces Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading and reviews of book by LanguageHat, Relevant Practice, Mark Aronoff, and Leah Price.
  10. Susan Schreibman, "Computer-Mediated Texts and Textuality: Theory and Practice." Computers and the Humanities 36 (2002)
  11. Henry Staten, "Writing: Empirical, Transcendental, Ultratranscendental." CR: The New Centennial Review 9:1 (2009)

Assignments and Evaluation

Evaluation will be based on written exercises and course participation as follows:


Honor System

Reasonable Accommodations

What to Know and Do to be Prepared for Emergencies at VCU

  1. Sign up to receive VCU text messaging alerts (www.vcu.edu/alert/notify). Keep your information up to date.
  2. Know the safe evacuation route from each of your classrooms. Emergency evacuation routes are posted in on-campus classrooms.
  3. Listen for and follow instructions from VCU or other designated authorities.
  4. Know where to go for additional emergency information (www.vcu.edu/alert).
  5. Know the emergency phone number fort the VCU police (827-1234). Report suspicious activities and objects"

Week by Week Schedule

Week One. Introduction

Week Two. Heidegger on language.

Week Three. Orality and Literacy, part 1.

Week Four. Orality and Literacy, part 2.

Week Five. A History of Language , part 1.

Week Six. A History of Language, part 2.

Week Seven. Writing, Culture, & Language

Week Eight. Rolling the R's.

Spring Break

Week Nine. "Space Between Words"

Week Ten. A History of Reading.

Week Eleven. Proust and the Squid

Week Twelve. Digital Textuality

Week Thirteen. Always On

Week Fourteen. Going to Extremes

Week Fifteen. Reality Is Broken

Final paper due in my English Dept mailbox (Hibbs Hall) or emailed to me by 7pm, Tuesday, May 10, 2011, per the registrar's exam schedule. There is no final exam for the course beyond the final paper.

Last updated  January 23, 2011 .