September 10, 2012

Fictionalize this post...

Walter Ong's article, "The Writer's Audience Is Always a Fiction" plays with a variety of concepts concerning: audience, authorial intent, reader reception, and the transmission of meaning. Specifically, I found interest in his comparison of the oral and written tradition. Ong begins with the origination of rhetorical practice to illuminate its evolution, "rhetoric originally concerned oral communication...gradually extended to include writing more and more" (9). Rhetorical approach to oration, Ong argues, is more straightforward than rhetoric that encompasses the written word. Not only does the codification of speech/thought distance the reader and writer (in time and space), but it also causes a fragmentation of audience. This presumption is much like Barthes' in the fact that it acknowledges an alteration of an authors original intent once thought has been confined to text.

To demonstrate this phenomenon, Ong uses the example of a lecturer addressing an audience (an audience equip with specific text). When addressing the crowd, the orator can speak directly to the collectivity of his readers, directly to all who will be influenced by the speaker's rhetoric. However, "if the speaker asks members of the audience to silently read a paragraph out of the text...The audience immediately fragments" (11). The argument here is that the reader/writer relationship does not create a single unit, "there is no collective noun for readers" (11).

Ong reasons that reading creates a multiplicity of meanings per text, that one reader could find completely different significance in a text than another. Is this why, in his perception, the author fictionalizes his audience? Since readership does not constitute a complete unit (an audience), to accurately envision a collective reader audience, must a writer fictionalize/create an imagined audience to write successfully?

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