September 10, 2012

The Fictionalized Audience in Written Communication

Walter Ong's "The Writer's Audience Is Always a Fiction" focuses on the role of the reader in written communication. Whereas in oral communication, the speaker/listener relationship is direct, the writer/reader relationship is indirect--the writer must fictionalize their "audience" and the reader must assume the role intended by the writer (Ong 12&17).  Ong addresses various writer/reader relationships including the familiar "companion-in-arms" as created by Ernest Hemingway through the use of demonstrative pronouns and definite articles "that" and "the"respectively. The intimacy created by this type of writing is constructed and presented by the writer and separately felt by the reader (Ong 13). This can be compared to the "companion-in-arms"relationship of fictional characters to the reader that is presented in epics (Ong 14).

Constraints on communication in written versus oral communication are discussed. Oral communication is constructed around the receptiveness of the audience; written communication can only anticipate potential receptiveness and act accordingly. Oral communication is a two-way street; written communication is one-way (Ong 16).  Ong describes the fiction of one-on-one relationship of letter-writing and diary composition. Letter-writing involves imagining the recipient's mood upon reading said letter and basing the writing on this premise. Similarly, diary-writing involves speaking to some projected form of one's self, while simultaneously removing one's self from it.
As a journalistic writer, I find this fictionalized relationship most bizarre, sometimes difficult to adhere to. I often use the method of stream-of-consciousness writing to combat the constraint of considering my future-self while I'm writing. I feel that such an introspective consciousness of the situation is, as Ong says, a mask that complicates an already difficult focus (versus relaying the same information to a close friend or therapist, which also has a mask). I do sometimes like to imagine I am addressing my collective conscience from the point of my contemplative, reflective self. I feel this method allows me to work through issues and helps me to make sense of my feelings from a detached, yet attached, perspective. I believe this contributes to why I often have a hard time writing when I do not have a dilemma to be resolved. It could be said that by writing in order to reveal some element of my "true" or unrealized self, I am "unmasking" myself (to myself). A feeling of clarity and completion is achieved when I succeed in unmasking an element of myself--an achievement Ong parallels with sainthood or closeness to God (Ong 19&20).

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