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--Literacy to post-literacy

As I noted elsewhere, in the first two weeks of the semester, we focus on three modes of communication--orality, literacy, and post-literacy (or, more specifically, hypertext)--and semiotics. We read Bolter's "The Computer as a New Writing Space," three chapters from Jack Goody's Domestication of the Savage Mind, Chandler's "Semiotics for Beginners" and "Observing the Ordinary," in Donald McQuade and Christine McQuade's Seeing & Writing.

We begin with Goody's Domestication and find that his text serves the following purposes: 1) it summarizes the movement from orality to literacy; 2) it offers a good introduction to the idea of binaries. Goody tells us that the categories by which we may judge others "are rooted in a we/they division which is both binary and ethnocentric" (p. 1); 3) it provides an anthropological description of the consequences of literacy on non-literate societies; and 4) it allows us to consider Goody's challenge: "we must abandon the ethnocentric dichotomies that have characterised social thought in the period of European expansion" (p. 9). Essentially, in looking at Goody, we are able to understand "man's intellectual life" today, "where the human mind [is free] to study static 'text' (rather than be limited by participation in the dynamic 'utterance'), a process that enabled man to stand back from his creation and examine it in a more abstract, generalised, and 'rational' way" (p. 37). Domestication allows us to consider the transition from orality to literacy and the consequences of that movement--the development of systems of classification--which perhaps have lead to binary and hierarchical oppositions. As the quotes indicate, classifications are not only racialized, but they are also gendered. We discuss at length binary oppositions in terms of gender and race.

Following Domestication, I introduce the students to Ferdinand de Saussure's theory of semiotics through Daniel Chandler's "Semiotics for Beginners." Having learned that literacy involves systems of classification, students learn three things about semiotics: 1) it is "concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign," which is "something [that] stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity" (p. 3); 2) semioticians study how meanings are made and commonly refer to films, television, radio, and advertising as "texts"; and 3) semiotics is generally regarded as "the study of signs, signification and signifying systems." In assigning Chandler after Goody, my hope is that students will understand just how thorough and elaborate systems of classifications and signs can be and that binaries and ethnocentric dichotomies are largely part of our language system. We then begin to see how images might play a role in classifications.