Orality vs. Literacy

In Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy, he noted the differences between literate and illiterate cultures. Ong emphasized speech being the primary and more vital language used as opposed to written texts. Although speech is still prominent over writing, this current “high technology” age gives writing more weight on a scale of importance. This ability to write and record gives us a wider range of accessible knowledge than oral cultures.

            Literate cultures exist in a world where a great amount, if not most, of our knowledge can be stored inside computers. Literacy provides more convenience in accessing all this information, yet it is also encouraging a more hushed way of living. While using our physical voices will never fully fade, it is an oddity if someone in our society shies away from technology. Although we can now expand our minds silently, the lack of physical conversation could stagnate other types of learning.

In relation to literature, books and recordings aid us in a way in which we can teach ourselves independently. We do not have to rely on mentors to teach us certain skills or practices. Literates could also have the closest replica to the sound and writings of significant works that could have been falsely remembered by those of oral cultures. Our anatomical memories are, at times, not the most reliable. This increase in independent learning could also be seen as a negative in a society where people need to learn from each other, which can turn into a preference of social detachment over time.

        Being able to capture art, literature, and music in a tangible form helps it become more diverse. Writers, musicians, and artists can be influenced or inspired by each other without having to meet in-person. Even with artists who have passed away, we can still have access to their work. Oral societies may have a more difficult time diversifying their literature and art because of a lack listening ears or a gradual changing of the original stories over time.

Ong emphasized throughout his book that oral and literate cultures use different types of learning and storing information, which is not to say that one culture is superior over the other. It is more a separation of the types of learning, like auditory and visual, which are all present in our society today. Throughout his book, it became apparent that literates and illiterates hold valuable information that they can teach each other.

Song Analysis: “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of a Bay” by Otis Redding

Otis Redding has been noted as one of the greatest soul singers and composers of all time. Also known as the “The King of Soul,” he is remembered mostly because of his powerful voice, soulful lyrics, and who he inspired.
Redding did not only influence the masses, he influenced many famous musicians. Some artists that Otis Redding have inspired or have covered his songs include The Grateful Dead, The Doors, Willie Nelson, Al Green, Pearl Jam, Etta James, Rod Stewart, and Kanye West. Even if Redding had a seemingly-short career, his sound will carry on for many generations.

The song I chose to analyze lyrically is “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of a Bay.” The reason I chose this song is that it is unlike his many romantic and love-centered tracks. This song is more introspective and discusses an inner battle as opposed to having problems with a significant other. Although it could be thought of as a song he wrote in a moment of happiness and peace, my impression was more pointed towards defeat. Redding wrote it after being influenced by The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. He listened to the album during a week he spent at a houseboat in California while performing at San Francisco’s Fillmore West Theater in 1967.

There are some noticeable influences The Beatles had in this song when comparing to Redding’s former music. Like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, there were moments of musical simplicity and lyrics that mostly talked about oneself, instead of a proclamation of love. He was unable to finish writing the last verse though, as he passed away just four days after recording began. His co-writer Steve Cropper decided to fill in the last verse with Redding’s whistling. Before learning this, I thought the whistling was intentional and fit perfectly, representing how the meaning of a song could be understood without words being spoken.

“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” sold over one million units and was Redding’s first number one single on Billboard Magazine’s pop chart. The song also won two Grammys in 1968. This song is credited with further influencing the soul movement by combining R&B and folk.