Oral Tradition and the Internet

Oral Tradition and the Internet: Pathways of the Mind

John Miles Foley
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 312
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt2ttdbv
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  • Book Info
    Oral Tradition and the Internet
    Book Description:

    The major purpose of this book is to illustrate and explain the fundamental similarities and correspondences between humankind's oldest and newest thought-technologies: oral tradition and the Internet. Despite superficial differences, both technologies are radically alike in depending not on static products but rather on continuous processes, not on "What?" but on "How do I get there?" In contrast to the fixed spatial organization of the page and book, the technologies of oral tradition and the Internet mime the way we think by processing along pathways within a network. In both media it's pathways--not things--that matter. _x000B__x000B_To illustrate these ideas, this volume is designed as a "morphing book," a collection of linked nodes that can be read in innumerable different ways. Doing nothing less fundamental than challenging the default medium of the linear book and page and all that they entail, Oral Tradition and the Internet shows readers that there are large, complex, wholly viable, alternative worlds of media-technology out there--if only they are willing to explore, to think outside the usual, culturally constructed categories. This "brick-and-mortar" book exists as an extension of The Pathways Project (http://pathwaysproject.org), an open-access online suite of chapter-nodes, linked websites, and multimedia all dedicated to exploring and demonstrating the dynamic relationship between oral tradition and Internet technology._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09430-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  4. For Book-readers Only
    (pp. 1-4)

    This node was created to serve as one possible introduction to (one of several avenues into) Oral Tradition and the Internet: Pathways of the Mind, the book associated with the Pathways Project. For that purpose it emphasizes the disorientation necessarily involved in abandoning the default medium of the book in order to grasp the dynamics of alternative media—specifically OT and IT. As such, it explains how tAgora-speak (tAgora) doesn’t and can’t translate to the eAgora (eAgora).

    You’ve picked up this book, gently cradling it in your hands as you’ve done so many times throughout your life in so many...

  5. Home Page: Welcome to the Pathways Project
    (pp. 5-6)

    The major purpose of the Pathways Project is to illustrate and explain the fundamental similarities and correspondences between humankind’s oldest and newest thought-technologies: oral tradition and the Internet.

    Despite superficial differences, both technologies are radically alike in depending not on static products but rather on continuous processes, not on “What?” but on “How do I get there?” In contrast to the fixed spatial organization of the page and book, the technologies of oral tradition and the Internet mime the way we think by processing along pathways within a network. In both media it’s pathways—not things—that matter.

    The Pathways...

  6. Getting Started: How to Surf the Pathways Project
    (pp. 7-16)

    What you’re scrolling through on your virtual desktop or physically holding in your hands is in some ways a text, but it’s also a great deal more than that. The Pathways Project departs from a stand-alone, linear text in two fundamental ways.

    First, the online version of the Pathways Project consists of a network of linked nodes that presents the contents of the book but also adds many connections and opportunities that books just can’t support.

    Second, even the brick-and-mortar book entitled Oral Tradition and the Internet: Pathways of the Mind is not simply a conventional text. It’s a morphing...

  7. Disclaimer
    (pp. 17-20)

    The Pathways Project is devoted to exploring the homology between oral tradition (OT) and Internet technology (IT). But let me be careful to stipulate a basic and very important disclaimer: homology does not mean absolute equivalence. On the web,¹ and I would add on the web we call OT (Online with OT), it means “the quality of being similar or corresponding in position or value or structure or function.”

    Nowhere in either the morphing book or the online wiki (Getting Started) do I make the reductive claim that these two media-technologies are simply identical. Nowhere is it argued—nor should...

  8. Book versus Website
    (pp. 21-22)

    As the Pathways Project has matured and Oral Tradition and the Internet has moved toward publication, the relationship between the wiki-website and the book has changed in interesting ways. Applying the Golden Rule of multiple media—to leverage each medium to do what it does best—I have abbreviated and focused the tAgora presentation. While the online resource retains all of the nodes and numerous accompanying images, Oral Tradition and the Internet features the most prominent and significant nodes with a few selected images. Part of the motivation for this focusing was practical (issues of length, cost, and the like)....

  9. Response
    (pp. 23-28)

    The University of Illinois Press¹ engaged two anonymous readers to review the manuscript of Oral Tradition and the Internet: Pathways of the Mind in the context of its accompanying wiki-website. Their comments and suggestions have led to additions, subtractions, and revisions that have substantially improved the Pathways Project as a whole. In the spirit of interactive exchange that lies at the foundation of the Project, let me enumerate their major points and offer my response and perspective. Hopefully, this sort of conversation can continue in the Contributions node of the site.²

    First, the Pathways Project—morphing book and wiki-website alike...

  10. Linkmaps
    (pp. 29-30)

    Linkmaps amount to suggested routes through the wiki network, particular sequences of ePathways that have been found to be illuminating in one way or another. An example is eWorld, a linkmap of nodes that leads from Leapfrogging the Text to Museum of Verbal Art to Resynchronizing the Event to Systems versus Things. En route the surfer will have an opportunity to think about a textless world, the new-media landscape for literature and oral tradition, an ancient Greek myth of transformation, the re-creation of performance events, and communication without “things.” What’s more, the entire itinerary revolves around the core OT/IT thesis...

  11. Nodes in Alphabetical Order

    • A Foot in Each World
      (pp. 33-35)

      Common sense and agora-savvy would seem to indicate that the individual person who feels completely at home in more than one verbal marketplace must be rare indeed. Of course, the Pathways Project actively encourages citizenship in multiple agoras (Citizenship in Multiple Agoras) as a way to avoid agoraphobia (Agoraphobia) and culture shock (Culture Shock). But full fluency—full media-bilingualism or even-trilingualism—is another matter. Cognitive habits run deep, as we textualists (Ideology of the Text) can come to realize if we’re willing to look beyond our buried assumptions and conditioned reflexes about media.

      Occasionally, though, we do encounter an exception...

    • Accuracy
      (pp. 36-40)

      A tricky concept, accuracy. And very often a code word summoned to praise tAgora activities while denigrating transactions in the oAgora and eAgora. We’re told that oral traditions can’t preserve history accurately, for example, or that the web is far too subject to change or multiplicity to be a really dependable medium. We’re asked to subscribe to (literally, to “underwrite”) the credo that text is the only possible vehicle for safely and faithfully conveying the immutable data we need to run our cultures. Beware the oral and the virtual; fidelity lies solely in the brick-and-mortar. Or so goes the widespread...

    • Agora As Verbal Marketplace
      (pp. 40-41)

      The ancient Greek word agora originally names a brick-and-mortar marketplace, a physical site for exchange, in general a center for municipal interactions of many sorts. The Athenian agora,⁶ for example, situated northwest of the Acropolis, seems to have been a bustling center for political, commercial, and religious activities throughout the fourth and fifth centuries bce. It served its constituency uniquely as a designated public space and nexus for social transactions.

      The Pathways Project uses the term “agora” to denote a verbal marketplace, a virtual site for exchange, a public space and nexus where ideas and knowledge are shared via whatever...

    • Agora Correspondences
      (pp. 41-41)

      As explained in each of the three involved nodes—the oAgora, the tAgora, and the eAgora—our discussions of these verbal marketplaces and principal media-types follows a mirroring logic. Each section within a node is explicitly matched to corresponding, parallel sections in the other two nodes. The purpose of this structural strategy is to highlight the comparisons and contrasts (Three Agoras) that constitute the major subject of the Pathways Project (Getting Started).

      The following table lists the section titles, with (in the wiki) anchored links to the relevant section in each of the three nodes. In the spirit of the...

    • Agoraphobia
      (pp. 41-43)

      The online Merriam Webster English dictionary⁷ defines agoraphobia as an “abnormal fear of being helpless in an embarrassing or unescapable situation that is characterized especially by the avoidance of open or public places.” Does this phenomenon apply to our three agoras—the oral, textual, and electronic marketplaces (Agora As Verbal Marketplace)—that lie at the basis of the Pathways Project (Agora Correspondences)? Can a person be phobic about media dynamics?

      Let’s offer a trial answer to these questions before we begin to address the issue of agoraphobia in detail.

      In short, for well-indoctrinated citizens of the tAgora, steeped in texts...

    • Arena of Oral Tradition
      (pp. 43-45)

      What does it mean to enter the oAgora? Why do you go there? Whom will you meet in that marketplace (Agora As Verbal Marketplace)? What kind of verbal exchange can you reasonably expect to happen there? How do you leave and how do you return?

      Try conceiving of the experience as entering an arena, a space defined by the activities that transpire there rather than by geography or other physical attributes. It is a space for recurrent rather than repetitive activities (Recur Not Repeat), and you can get there only by following oPathways (oPathways)—which means by cocreating your own...

    • Arena of the Text
      (pp. 45-47)

      What does it mean to enter the tAgora? Why do you go there? Whom will you meet in that marketplace (Agora As Verbal Marketplace)? What kind of verbal exchange can you reasonably expect to happen there? How do you leave and how do you return?

      Try conceiving of the experience as entering an arena, a space defined by the activities that transpire there rather than by geography or other physical attributes. It is a space for repetitive rather than recurrent activities (Recur Not Repeat), and you can’t get there by following pathways because the tAgora is pathwayless (Impossibility of tPathways)....

    • Arena of the Web
      (pp. 47-49)

      What does it mean to enter the eAgora? Why do you go there? Whom will you meet in that marketplace (Agora As Verbal Marketplace)? What kind of verbal exchange can you reasonably expect to happen there? How do you leave and how do you return?

      Try conceiving of the experience as entering an arena, a space defined by the activities that transpire there rather than by geography or other physical attributes. It is a space for recurrent rather than repetitive activities (Recur not Repeat), and you can get there only by following ePathways (ePathways)—which means by cocreating your own...

    • Audience Critique
      (pp. 49-50)

      Most of our elite contemporary forms of performance—drama, classical music concerts, ballet, opera, formal poetry readings, and so on—call for polite, narrowly defined participation by audiences. We’re encouraged to applaud and perhaps allowed to quietly express our disapproval, but these reactions are customarily permitted only after the performance has finished. To interrupt an ongoing event with audible comments or visible responses is normally considered rude and inappropriate; in the context of that kind of performance arena, such actions are unidiomatic.

      Audience protocol is often radically different in the oAgora. Of course there are some forms of OT that...

    • Bellerophon and His Tablet
      (pp. 50-51)

      It’s endemically difficult to comprehend in our present tAgora-dominated environment, but letters and pages and books didn’t always have the upper hand (Texts and Intertextuality). They didn’t always represent the trump technology, the medium through which all other media had to be interpreted. Nowhere is this more evident than in a tale from Homer’s Iliad, a perilous episode that at first sight may seem like unexpected evidence for writing within the oAgora.

      The story concerns the victimization of the Greek hero Bellerophon, who incurs the wrath of Proitos’s wife by denying her advances. His refusal so infuriates her that she...

    • Citizenship in Multiple Agoras
      (pp. 51-55)

      You know how it goes. You’re planning a trip to another country and find you need a passport, maybe a visa, perhaps even a special travel permit beyond that. Documents in hand, you get off the plane, pass through immigration and customs, change some currency, and—if you’re able—switch to the local language. But even if your vocabulary isn’t spotty, even if your syntax and grammar prove serviceable, you can’t simply assume immediate membership in the new culture. Remembering a few words and stringing correct sentences together is one thing. Achieving cultural fluency (Culture As Network)—which requires a...

    • Cloud and Tradition
      (pp. 55-60)

      To indulge ourselves in an inexcusable pun, the Cloud is poised on our near horizon. And it’s headed this way.

      Wikipedia defines the Cloud13 as “Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices on-demand, like the electricity grid.” But of course this new initiative hasn’t made its appearance without causing ripples. No radical change in media ever fails to elicit a mix of excitement and resistance, and typically we hear both encouraging and worried pronouncements about what the Cloud means for the ongoing evolution of the eAgora. There are immediate prospective gains: universal...

    • Contingency
      (pp. 60-66)

      Contingency is everywhere, if we’re willing to look: in politics, in economics, in philosophy, in social identity, in the plans we make, even in the plans that others make for us.

      Here is a brief but perhaps representative litany. Political successions often consist of a nest of contingencies. Home-buying is often made contingent on various related issues such as appraisal, loan qualification, home inspection, and so forth. Philosophers15 define contingency as “the study of propositions that are not necessarily true or necessarily false.” Some people understand the very bedrock of personal identity as a contingent social function subject to many...

    • Culture As Network
      (pp. 66-69)

      It’s a stubborn, recurrent, and seemingly unanswerable question. How can oral traditions, which live to morph and morph to live, ever provide suitable, sustainable support for the unimaginably rich and complex embeddedness we know as “culture”?

      You know the objection: OTs just involve too much variation and not enough stability over time, too many nagging loose ends in an ever-fraying fabric. And of course there’s the more recent version of what amounts to the very same complaint—namely the charge that the Internet just isn’t stable or dependable enough to trust for really important cultural purposes. Again the specter rises:...

    • Culture Shock
      (pp. 70-74)

      Three stories to start—the first of them generically true to life, the second adapted from personal experience, and the last an actual series of intertwined events.

      You’re seated quietly in the corner of a cozy little brasserie in Paris. You’ve struggled through the menu (there’s no English version available), lodged your order, and the food and drink you requested have been delivered. But there’s a problem: you can’t begin to eat because you’re lacking a fork and spoon. Easy enough to remedy the situation if you could resort to your native language, but try as you might you just...

    • Distributed Authorship
      (pp. 74-76)

      For most of us who spend substantial time in the tAgora, authorship is an unambiguous term and idea. Hardly a mystery in common usage, “to author” means to create and thus to own a work-become-item. So deeply woven into text-making is this idea of sole, exclusive agency and ownership that we have trouble even imagining a text without an author. Look no further than our transparent attribution of uncertain creations to that prolific author “Anonymous,” a practice that says much more about our desperate need to force a work into the default marketplace of the tAgora than about the luckless,...

    • Don’t Trust Everything You Read in Books
      (pp. 77-79)

      Let me get this straight—Don’t trust everything you read in books, eh?

      Curious phrase. And considering the thousands of libraries and bookstores packed with ton after ton of these apparently untrustworthy artifacts, a more than mysterious sentiment. So it’s only fair to step back and ask: Why in the world did we invent such a dismissive, nay-saying proverb (Proverbs)? Although cliché-driven wisdom of this sort is famously anonymous, at least three credible explanations present themselves.

      First, many of us have personal experience of being scolded by family members or friends disdainfully rejecting an indisputable fact (Just the Facts) or...

    • eAgora: Electronic Networks to Surf
      (pp. 79-95)

      An agora is a verbal marketplace (Agora As Verbal Marketplace)—a site for creation and exchange of knowledge, art, and ideas. The Pathways Project recognizes three agoras, or arenas for human communication (Three Agoras). This node is devoted to the IT arena, the eAgora.

      The true currency of exchange in the eAgora is eWords (eWords)—coded, virtual, and linked words. Not typographical prompts, but an actual, clicked-on, in-context performance experienced at that moment and in that place by a present audience. You participate in the electronic marketplace via real-time, directly engaged transaction, not by swapping texts. Everything happens “in the...

    • eCompanions
      (pp. 95-96)

      eCompanions provide support that can’t be housed between the covers of a book, whether due to media disparities or to publishing priorities. They can contain audio and video files (whether streaming or downloadable), photographs, supplementary texts, databases, links to other pertinent Internet resources, and so forth. eCompanions are critical for the presentation and understanding of oral traditions because they promote the user’s understanding of oral performance as a living event to be experienced in its traditional context.

      The first eCompanion to be built accompanies a general book on oral poetry, How to Read an Oral Poem. This online facility includes...

    • eEditions
      (pp. 96-96)

      eEditions promote the resynchronization of oral performance by recombining the parts that appear only separately—if at all—in the book format. The audio or video of the performance plays alongside a transcription and translation, and the apparatus (commentary, glossary of idioms, and other contextual materials) is linked to the translation. Clicking on those links makes the relevant material visible in a scrollable box on the same page, so that audio/video, text and transcription, and multidimensional context are reassembled into an integral experience for the user. The first eEdition to be built accompanies a South Slavic epic recorded in the...

    • ePathways
      (pp. 96-98)

      Pathways sport a double identity: individually, they lead from one node to another; but corporately, they constitute an interactive network with innumerable built-in possibilities. The idea and term stem from the oAgora, the arena (Arena of Oral Tradition) in which Homer describes the qualities that an ancient Greek oral epic singer must possess in order to be a successful bard. Here’s a hint—he doesn’t mention a loud and clear voice, a fine memory, or a large repertoire:

      For among all mortal men the singers have a share in honor and reverence, since to them the Muse has taught the...

    • eWords
      (pp. 98-99)

      eWords are the designated means of exchange in the eAgora, the default currency of the IT marketplace. More to the point, given the performative power of this special code, eWords are customarily the only currency that IT surfers hold and spend. On the other hand, given the control exerted by textual ideology (Ideology of the Text) in most aspects of our daily lives, it can be difficult to imagine any medium other than tWords (tWords). Agoraphobia (Agoraphobia) is so powerful that it’s hard even to conceive (Culture Shock) of a nontextual communicative unit for our verbal transactions. But we need...

    • Excavating an Epic
      (pp. 100-103)

      Sometimes the oAgora—like the eAgora—presents us with puzzling phenomena that seem to defy ready explanation. Often the puzzle stems not from the phenomenon itself but from a misguided reflex. We try and fail to fit the new reality into our default frame of reference, based as it almost always is (for this historical moment, at least) on the deeply embedded ideology of the tAgora (Ideology of the Text). Sometimes, in other words, we encounter an event or situation that doesn’t match our entrenched cognitive predispositions. We may be fascinated by the collision, or we may experience a mild...

    • Freezing Wikipedia
      (pp. 103-106)

      In July 2008 the German publisher Bertelsmann announced what has been called a first in print publishing history: a one-volume encyclopedia with 90,000 authors45 made up of the 25,000 most popular articles from the German Wikipedia (Wikipedia: Die freie Enzyklopädie).46 Published in September 2008 and planned as an annual series, it offers the inimitable riches of the online networked resource between the covers of a conventional book. Or does it?

      Conversion from web to book—a case study in the perils of agoraphobia (Agoraphobia)—has crippling implications for Wikipedia as a dynamic entity (that is, as it was meant to...

    • Getting Published or Getting Sequestered
      (pp. 106-113)

      You’ve spent the last six years hidden away in a small, sparsely furnished walk-up in a dilapidated old brownstone in Brooklyn. You live alone, except for an elderly cat, and you don’t go out much. Your friends and acquaintances are remarkably few; you seldom meet, phone, email, or text them, and you can’t even remember the last time you Tweeted or checked Facebook. You clearly don’t measure up to Aristotle’s vision of a social being.

      So why this reclusive behavior? Well, because you’ve been otherwise engaged, crafting an object for the ages. You’ve been deep into the splendidly solitary business...

    • Homo Sapiens’ Calendar Year
      (pp. 113-115)

      Sometimes it seems as though writing has been with us forever in one form or another. Pre-Gutenberg media such as the rich manuscript traditions of the ancient and medieval worlds, not to mention even earlier inscribed tablets from the Middle East, are commonly thought to offer evidence of writing systems coeval with the development of civilization as we know it.

      But perhaps that’s the point—just how do we “know it”? Our default notion of history is founded on documentation, that is, on textualized knowledge. And what precedes documentable reality? Although archeology can extend our knowledge further—albeit by resorting...

    • How to Build a Book
      (pp. 115-117)

      Long before there were commercial or university presses, or even printing presses for that matter, there existed a highly developed technology for making texts (Texts and Intertextuality)—that is, for making manuscripts and for combining manuscript pages into collective codices. Of course, every step of this process— from finding and preparing the basic materials through actually writing out and gathering the texts—required enormous labor and know-how, and as far as we’re aware there weren’t any help desks54 available.

      In early medieval England manuscripts and codices were the products of monastic scriptoria, where clerical orders could devote the time and...

    • Ideology of the Text
      (pp. 117-125)

      Ideologies preempt considered judgments. They short-circuit critical thinking by automatically defaulting to familiar, comfortable, predesignated positions.

      Political ideologies provide perhaps the most familiar example in our everyday world. Instead of confronting social realities as the complex, many-sided phenomena they actually are, we often settle for honoring our subscription to this or that ideology. In the process we terminate open-minded consideration before it begins. We cast ourselves as Democrats, Republicans, progressives, or independents, and sign ourselves up as members of an ideologically based—and therefore dependably like-minded—group of adherents. In many cases, membership in such a group excuses us from...

    • Illusion of Object
      (pp. 125-127)

      Sometimes even the most basic assumptions prove illusory, and we can profit by taking a step back and reexamining what seemed like an utterly straightforward situation. Here’s a case in point:

      Fieldworkers interviewing oral epic singers (guslari) in the Former Yugoslavia were often puzzled by the singers’ failure to understand which stories they were being asked to perform. Citing titles like “The Wedding of Smailagić Meho” or “Alagić Alija in Captivity” usually elicited only blank stares, in spite of the fact that such designations were regularly associated with published versions of these narratives. Only when the investigators framed their requests...

    • Illusion of Stasis
      (pp. 127-130)

      Sometimes even the most basic assumptions prove illusory, and we can profit by taking a step back and reexamining what seemed like an utterly straightforward solution. Here’s a case in point:

      Fieldworkers interviewing oral epic singers (guslari) in the Former Yugoslavia were often puzzled by the singers’ stubborn insistence that they told their stories exactly the same every time, “words for words” as they put it, and that these stories were doubtless “the truth.” Well, different performances of the same story—and even performances by the very same singer—varied significantly in length, detail, and sometimes in pattern and content...

    • Impossibility of tPathways
      (pp. 130-131)

      tPathways don’t and can’t exist. They represent an impossible formulation, a nonconcept.

      Why? Because in-text references can’t foster instantaneous and continuous access beyond the text. Because textual citations can’t engage a network; all they can designate are other static things. Because any strategy that breaks the spell of the textual experience (Ideology of the Text) by shifting the reader’s attention away from that text must by definition amount to a counterproductive strategy. And it isn’t only that pathways can’t work in a textual environment. Even if we could somehow install them, they’d actively subvert tAgora communication.

      The tried-and-true tAgora strategy...

    • In the Public Domain
      (pp. 131-133)

      To the book-bound mentality, such a strategy may appear at best unlikely and counterintuitive, at worst simply wrongheaded (Ideology of the Text). But it accurately (Accuracy) describes how oral tradition and the Internet operate in their versions of the public domain—the oAgora and the eAgora—the arenas in which each thought-technology thrives most naturally. Despite what our default cultural reflexes encourage us to believe, OT and IT prosper not via the textual program of fixation-through-capture, but via morphing (Variation within Limits) and regeneration. For both pathways-based media, it’s rule-governed, ongoing evolution—rather than the dead end of tAgora fossilization—...

    • Indigestible Words
      (pp. 133-135)

      Sometimes, curiously enough, textual words provide no nourishment whatsoever. We don’t expect that, of course, since the dominant ideology insists that handwritten or printed or pixel-imaged content is always and forever “there,” ever ready to be consumed and digested (Ideology of the Text). All cultural expectation to the contrary, however, texts and their tWords (tWords) can prove to be merely empty calories.

      Consider one such scenario from early medieval England, from a period on the cusp of OT and textual technology. Riddle 45, as it’s known, was probably composed and perhaps performed orally before being committed to the Exeter Book...

    • Just the Facts
      (pp. 135-138)

      When we want to decrease or eliminate uncertainty or subjectivity, we often narrow our focus to “the facts.” Instead of filtered reality, so goes the ideology (Ideology of the Text), these irreducible verities offer us the unfiltered version—the real story, what actually transpired as opposed to an interpretation. By removing human agency and the fallibility and inaccuracy that are its inescapable trademarks, we gain access to a universal, freestanding level of truth. That’s what happens when we concentrate on just the facts. Or is it?

      Consider for a moment the etymology of “fact,” which derives from the Latin verb...

    • Leapfrogging the Text
      (pp. 138-142)

      Sometimes truth proves considerably stranger than fiction and serendipity more instructive than carefully wrought analysis. What follows is one of those cases: a real-life event that illustrates firsthand the close correspondence between oral tradition and the Internet, between the oAgora and the eAgora. In other words, it amounts to a parable on the confluence of OT and IT (Agora Correspondences) that, remarkably enough, really happened.

      Let’s start with the OT background. In late 2004 a book entitled The Wedding of Mustajbey’s Son Bećirbey as Performed by Halil Bajgorić appeared as volume 283 in Folklore Fellows Communications, then the latest in...

    • Misnavigation
      (pp. 142-146)

      Pathways (oPathways) permeate and define the oAgora. They constitute its expressive universe, providing rich opportunities to create individual performances within a rule-governed environment. But they can’t guarantee success, or even intelligibility, any more than a knowledge of French guarantees unerringly fluent conversation in a Parisian café. OT, like language in general, sponsors surfing along multiply linked pathways, and such surfing can sometimes go astray.

      After all, OT performance is a process that necessarily involves not only a flexible, idiomatic system of expression but also one or more individuals who actually do the oAgora work. To put it proverbially (Proverbs), “without...

    • Morphing Book
      (pp. 146-149)

      As explained in Getting Started (Getting Started), the overall Project consists of two parts: (1) a website,71 technically a wiki with gatekeeping (Wiki); and (2) a book entitled Oral Tradition and the Internet: Pathways of the Mind. Both aspects share the central mission of analyzing and representing the fundamental homology between oral tradition and the Internet, and the basic contrast of the oAgora and eAgora, on the one hand, with the very different textual marketplace, or tAgora, on the other.

      A book is neither an oral tradition nor an electronic web. It is a species belonging to the textual genus...

    • Museum of Verbal Art: A Parable
      (pp. 149-163)

      [Author’s/wikimaster’s note: What follows in this node is a story. It requires an effort of the imagination.]

      Imagine a museum that houses and displays the core of the literary canon—literature as we know it, or, more to the point, as generations of scholars and students have established its scope and identity.72 Visitors to this privileged edifice have the opportunity to trek through the most treasured of texts, to read and study what Western culture has identified as the very most important verbal art, from the ancient to the contemporary world. Admission is gratis, the stacks are open, and the...

    • Not So Willy-nilly
      (pp. 163-165)

      For many the oAgora and eAgora are venues for indeterminacy, “anything-goes” behavior, and even outright chaos. As media-technologies they seem to license undirected, scattershot activities, with surfers free to blaze their own individualized, unpredictable trails through a maze with far too many options.

      Here’s the often-cited problem in a nutshell: if performers or users can proceed just as they wish—lacking the one-way, exitless highway that predetermines our trek through linear texts—then how can we credit such an itinerary as valuable or valid? Couldn’t they just as easily (and at every step) have chosen differently, whether in the arena...

    • oAgora: Oral Networks to Surf
      (pp. 165-179)

      An agora is a verbal marketplace, a site for creation and exchange of knowledge, art, and ideas (Agora As Verbal Marketplace). The Pathways Project recognizes three agoras, or arenas for human communication (Three Agoras). This node is devoted to the OT arena, the oAgora.

      The true currency of exchange in the oAgora is oWords (oWords)—spoken, heard, and embodied words. Not typographical prompts or even audio or video facsimiles, but an actual, voiced, in-context performance experienced at that moment and in that place by a present audience. You participate in the oral marketplace via face-to-face transaction, not by swapping texts....

    • Online with OT
      (pp. 179-181)

      Let’s start with Corey Doctorow’s neat, succinct contrast between old and new media, taken from a talk on digital rights management88 he gave to Microsoft’s Research Group as early as June 17, 2004: “New media don’t succeed because they’re like the old media, only better: they succeed because they’re worse than the old media at the stuff the old media are good at, and better at the stuff the old media are bad at.”

      In other words, success derives from doing what each medium is meant to support. It’s not about competing media; it’s about using the right tool for...

    • oPathways
      (pp. 181-182)

      Pathways sport a double identity: individually, they lead from one node to another; but corporately, they constitute an interactive network with innumerable built-in possibilities. The idea and term stem from the oAgora, the arena in which Homer describes the qualities that an ancient Greek oral epic singer must possess in order to be a successful bard (Arena of Oral Tradition). Here’s a hint: he doesn’t mention a loud and clear voice, a fine memory, or a large repertoire:

      For among all mortal men the singers have a share in honor and reverence, since to them the Muse has taught the...

    • Owning versus Sharing
      (pp. 182-185)

      What does it mean to own something? How do we come into possession of an item or idea, and what are the rules for sharing it with others? There’s probably no hotter issue in today’s digital, Internet-enabled world, and yet it’s also an issue that has deep roots in the long history and prehistory of media (Homo Sapiens’ Calendar Year).

      Consider a hypothetical parallel. Imagine a time and place where and when there is no such thing as copyright—either “Big C,” Creative Commons licenses, or any other such arrangement. And the reason such instruments wouldn’t and couldn’t exist is...

    • oWords
      (pp. 185-187)

      oWords are the designated means of exchange in the oAgora, the default currency of the OT marketplace. More to the point, given the performative power of this special code, oWords are customarily the only currency that OT surfers hold and spend. On the other hand, given the control exerted by textual ideology in most aspects of our daily lives (Ideology of the Text), it can be difficult to imagine any medium other than tWords (tWords). Agoraphobia (Agoraphobia) is so powerful that it’s hard even to conceive of a nontextual communicative unit for our verbal transactions (Culture Shock). But we need...

    • Polytaxis
      (pp. 187-191)

      Here’s how Clive James describes the “structure” of his influential 2007 book, Cultural Amnesia, a kind of example-driven inventory of humanity’s brilliant and terrifying creativity. As he assembled his vast compendium over four decades, working from individual parts toward a provisional whole, James started to see that the conventional vehicles of historiography were inadequate to the task of conveying his vision (James 2007, xv):

      In the forty years it took me to write this book, I only gradually realized that the finished work, if it were going to be true to the pattern of my experience, would have no pattern....

    • Proverbs
      (pp. 191-195)

      Real proverbs serve as behavioral guides in various societies, providing generic, time-tested perspectives on the apparent chaos of everyday life. In this node we’ll offer a group of homemade, entirely nontraditional proverbs to help recall how the oAgora and eAgora share similar dynamics (Disclaimer). Originally formulated for understanding OT, these eight “pearls of wisdom” also speak to transactions in the virtual marketplace of IT.

      Several of the proverbs appear without change from their original form.92 Others have been slightly modified to accommodate Internet technology alongside oral tradition (Agora Correspondences).

      1. OT and IT work like language, only more so. Both media...

    • Reading Backwards
      (pp. 195-199)

      Let’s face it: most Western pages are ruthlessly tyrannical. They mandate a left-to-right, top-to-bottom, one-after-another regimen, and there’s simply no appeal to their authority. Words and sentences move eastward, as it were, and paragraphs move toward the south until you reach the frontier of the present reading space and turn the page to cross the next frontier. Even eFiles, like the node-texts in the Pathways Project, follow this demanding convention to an extent, taking advantage of the deeply instilled cognitive habit of linear sequence to streamline communication. Scrolling replaces page-turning, but much else remains the same. Linearity rules.

      But what...

    • Real-time versus Asynchronous
      (pp. 199-203)

      Are you caught up in the moment of surfing through an oral performance (Arena of Oral Tradition) or the web (Arena of the Web), working your way through an evolving, cooperative, real-time process? Are you involved in an emergent partnership that can’t be dissolved and rejoined but requires your ongoing attention and participation? Or, alternatively, are you using an asynchronous medium, holding the communicative process at arm’s length, stopping the proceedings as you see fit and resuming when the time and place are right? Do you have the luxury to pause and restart without destroying the experience?

      Whatever you’re presently...

    • Reality Remains in Play
      (pp. 203-208)

      “Call me Ishmael,” advises the narrator-character through whose voice we hear Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, a recognized masterpiece in the tAgora. Every edition of the novel ever published starts with exactly those three tWords (tWords) and no others, and every edition of that work (except for shortened, expurgated versions like the one I suffered through in high school) continues according to a uniquely plotted itinerary. We meet Queequeg the harpooner, Starbuck the first mate, Pip the eventually crazed cabin boy, and so many other memorable figures. And they act and interact in specific, definite ways not just on the first...

    • Recur Not Repeat
      (pp. 208-212)

      What do we mean by “repeating?” We mean to do something again, and to redo that something as exactly as possible. The smaller the variation (if any), the better; if there’s too much change, the second instance can’t qualify as a repetition of the first. With repetition we strive toward a linear sequence of identical acts, all in a row and each taking its meaning from the foregoing instance(s). Think of n, n+1, n+2, n+3, and so forth.

      In looking at how repetition works in its home marketplace of communication, the tAgora, let’s consider a few instances, ranging from simple...

    • Remix
      (pp. 212-213)

      As the Wikipedia entry99 advises, remixing occurs in literature, art, music, and other media. More broadly, cultures are constantly interleaving old and new, domestic and foreign resources—combining religious beliefs and symbols, adapting governments and laws and customs as they encounter “new” cultural environments. The resulting remixes can be frozen into tAgora documents, and the process that produced them is thereby halted and fixed, at least for a while. In this fashion a remix becomes a thing in itself—a freestanding item, but with obvious debts to its constituents.

      The possibility of remixing has come into clear focus with the...

    • Responsible Agora-business
      (pp. 213-218)

      Here’s the scenario, doubtless only too familiar to all of us. A colleague, friend, family member, or student—or even, perish the thought, one of us—gets “cyberdetoured.” In the midst of serious, sustained investigation of Internet resources, navigating through networks and cocreating an experience, he or she (or we) illogically veer(s) offtrack, abandoning the pertinent and productive in favor of the irrelevant and time-wasting. Likely interruptions can include incoming email, updated weather reports, the latest news from RSS feeds, an episode of online gaming, a Facebook encounter, an irresistible Tweet, and myriad other distractions.

      Depending on the severity and...

    • Resynchronizing the Event
      (pp. 218-220)

      About 200 years ago William Wordsworth put it this way in a poem he entitled “The Tables Turned”:

      Sweet is the lore which nature brings;

      Our meddling intellect

      Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—

      We murder to dissect.

      A serious charge: “we murder to dissect.” Exactly whom or what was he accusing?

      The answer? In Pathways Project terms, this appears to be a tAgora crime.

      From the beginning of the poem on, the principal object of the poet’s criticism is in fact none other than the book, which he unconditionally disparages as a source for wisdom. Wordsworth’s complaint against books...

    • Singing on the Page
      (pp. 221-225)

      The oAgora and tAgora are not sealed off, wholly segregated marketplaces. Nor are oral traditions and texts always and everywhere isolated from one another, impervious to influence from the other technology. Recall as a first principle that three of the four types of oral tradition either may or must involve texts in some way: voiced texts are composed in writing, albeit solely for oral performance; voices from the past involved both technologies in some now undeterminable fashion; and written oral tradition simply cannot be either composed or received without a textual vehicle. The old-fashioned idea that oral tradition and texts...

    • Spectrum of Texts: Five Types
      (pp. 225-234)

      Both over its relatively brief history and at the present time, the tAgora has proven a complex arena for communicative exchange (Arena of the Text). To reflect that complexity, this node briefly examines five major species of text that have lived and thrived within its confines: Symbols of/on clay, Greek letters on papyrus, Latin and runic letters on sheepskin, Typography on paper, and Static eFiles in pixels.

      Within the tAgora we focus exclusively on what transpired from November 22 onward in Homo sapiens’ calendar year, the maximum time frame for textual concerns (Texts and Intertextuality). Recently the much-debated connection between...

    • Stories Are Linkmaps
      (pp. 234-237)

      Oral traditions amount to cultural intranets, complex and ever-ramifying networks of options that the performer effectively clicks into being. When a teller performs a story, he or she surfs through a shared intranet, following a series of oPathways (oPathways) and activating certain nodes in the process.

      This model can offer a fresh perspective on two long-standing and stubborn questions in OT studies: (1) What does a story consist of? and (2) What happens when a living, performed story is textualized?

      In short, and in the OT/IT terms we espouse throughout the Pathways Project, stories are linkmaps (Linkmaps). Just like the...

    • Systems versus Things
      (pp. 237-238)

      The oAgora and eAgora are linked systems of potentials; conversely, the tAgora amounts to an assembled collection of things.

      The first two of these gathering places consist of sets of intangible pathways activated by navigators making their own decisions and choosing among ever-contingent realities. The other is an expansive, generously stocked warehouse of already-finished items accessed by clients seeking an “objective” reality.

      The oAgora and eAgora present multiform possibilities, and only in the act of speaking or clicking do potentials produce unique instances. And notice that we said “instances,” most decidedly in the plural, not in the singular and epitomized....

    • tAgora: Exchanging Tangible Goods
      (pp. 238-253)

      An agora is a verbal marketplace (Agora As Verbal Marketplace), a site for creation and exchange of knowledge, art, and ideas. The Pathways Project recognizes three agoras, or arenas for human communication (Three Agoras). This node is devoted to the textual arena, the tAgora.

      The negotiable currency of exchange in the tAgora is tWords (tWords)—written or printed or onscreen bytes of information that we identify by inserting white space between them and enshrining them in dictionaries. Unlike oWords (oWords), which are spoken, heard, and physically embodied, tWords promote and enable asynchronous communication (Real-time versus Asynchronous), whether they’re scratched on...

    • Texts and Intertextuality
      (pp. 253-255)

      For the purposes of the Pathways Project, the term “text” refers to a tAgora item, an objective and static thing. It is ownable (Owning versus Sharing) and available asynchronously (Real-time versus Asynchronous) as a whole entity. It is exchanged under applicable rules, very often under stringent copyright laws rather than Creative Commons licenses or open-source agreements. A text does not vary within limits. It supports trekking through lines and pages and volumes, not surfing through networks as in the oAgora and eAgora (after all, even morphing books can morph only to a limited degree). It is conventionally the creation of...

    • Three Agoras
      (pp. 255-262)

      The following table demonstrates some fundamental similarities between the oAgora and the eAgora—between OT and IT—as well as their mutual differences from the tAgora (Agora Correspondences).

      To start with our current cultural default (for the moment, at least), tAgora technology lives and functions not in a virtual but in a brick-and-mortar world. Books and pages provide tangible vehicles for word transactions; ideas are inscribed in actual objects you can hold in your hand (or so goes the accepted fiction) (Ideology of the Text). Textual exchange then depends on swapping these objects, whether by purchasing, borrowing, photocopying, scanning, or...

    • tWords
      (pp. 262-263)

      tWords are the designated means of exchange in the tAgora, the default currency of the textual marketplace. More to the point, given the control exerted by textual ideology over most aspects of our daily lives (Ideology of the Text), tWords are customarily the only currency we hold and spend. Agoraphobia (Agoraphobia) is so powerful that it’s hard even to conceive (Culture Shock) of any other communicative unit for our verbal transactions.

      How are tWords defined? Chiefly in three ways: typographically, lexically, and linguistically.

      Typographically, we identify and delimit text bytes by inserting white spaces between them. It wasn’t always so,...

    • Variation within Limits
      (pp. 263-269)

      Suppose our foundation myth celebrating completeness (Illusion of Object) and fixity (Illusion of Stasis) didn’t explain the world of communication in all its diversity. Suppose there existed an alternate mythology, heretical to the tAgora faithful but defensible and applicable in its own right. Suppose further that this alternate media-story offered a better explanation (Responsible Agora-business) of the expressive dynamics typical of the oAgora and eAgora. What would such an explanation look like? What features would it support and maintain? What assumptions would it make? Just how would that story go?

      We can begin to answer these questions by highlighting core...

    • Why Not Textualize?
      (pp. 269-271)

      Why aren’t oral traditions always immediately written down or otherwise recorded just as soon as text-making becomes an available option? Why not take advantage of the newest, most advanced, most secure technology?

      Imagine a smoothly functioning oAgora, with its interactive web of links connected and functional. Performers and audiences conavigate along pathways established by earlier performers and audiences, constructing their shared reality as they go. The system of pathways (Systems versus Things) provides both a framework of established connections and the freedom to surf. It offers, in other words, both an idiomatic vehicle for tale-telling, healing, lamenting, or recounting history,...

    • Wiki
      (pp. 271-272)

      Derived from the Hawaiian word for “fast, quick,” the web term wiki133 names an electronic site for collaborative activities. In its most open form, it is a compendium to which anyone can contribute by adding or editing existing materials, subject to approval (reediting) by the community of contributors. Wikipedia is perhaps the best-known example.

      The Pathways Project wiki is evolving along a trajectory toward an open-access facility. In its beginning stages, all of the contents were created by one person, John Miles Foley, but even from the very first entry (or node) onward the network has been open to and...

  12. Further Reading
    (pp. 273-280)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 281-286)
  14. Index
    (pp. 287-292)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 293-294)