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The Limits of Textuality: Mobility and Fire Production in Homer and Beowulf

Guillemette Bolens

Oral Tradition Volume 16, Number 1

Brian Stock has explained in The Implications of Literacy how “ways of thinking associated with orality often survive in a textual environment” (1983:12), and Paul Zumthor has underlined the importance of vocality in the performance of texts that were read at times such as the Middle Ages when illiteracy was the norm. However, Stock has also stressed the change in mentalities due to the advent of literacy: “The new use of texts is not merely ‘the graphic counterpart of speech.’ It has a structure and logical properties of its own. In societies functioning orally the advent of the written word can disrupt previous patterns of thought and action, often permanently” (18). For, in orality “the form and content of knowledge, whose logical properties are not differentiated as in textual tradition, are passed on in a series of face-to-face encounters. Such meetings are rich in gesture, ritual, and ceremony: men communicate not only by what they say but by how they behave” (14-15)

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