“Achebe is a writer, but he remains in some ways very rooted in oral traditions.”
Professor Joseph Mbele
There has been a marked resurgence of orality in modern times, especially since the mid-twentieth century. Many indigenous, ancient peoples of the Third World have, with the collapse of Colonialism, regained the freedom to go back to the orality of their oral literatures and scriptures.
In Africa and Asia billions of peoples have gradually began to appreciate and even engage in the memorization and recitation of their oral traditions and the memorization and recitation of their religious scriptures. Prominent among these are the Muslims, the Hindus, Buddhists and Asian, Native American and African traditional religionists all of whose religious rituals and forms of worships are centered on orality.
These same people vigorously employ the use of orality in their spiritual and religious activities. The return of these ancient peoples to orality is due to their subliminal disappointment with the white man’s secular civilization of literacy. Everywhere we see the ancient peoples of the Third World gradually beginning to appreciate the psychological and spiritual effectiveness of orality and the long term dangers of literacy.
Throughout the Third World a new type of literary movement that combines literacy with orality began to emerge. It was a compromising genre that clearly demonstrates the desire on the part of Western educated Third World intellectuals at going back to their orality roots. In Africa, for instance, the novel titled ‘Things Fall Part Apart’ by Chinua Achebe has been point out by many researchers to be an oral story told through a literacy medium.
This development in the Third World reminds one of Professor Rosalind Thomas who, in the words of Carol Thomas of the University of Washington, “argues persuasively that societies are not purely literate or oral but rather, since oral communication and writing are not incompatible, the two overlap. Thus, to understand the nature of a particular culture, it is necessary to examine the interaction of these two techniques with one another and with the several basic aspects of that culture.”
If despite all the supposed civilizing powers of literacy, the history of Europe and North America can not be any thing but a roll call of vicious wars and worldwide inhumanity then there should be nothing fascinating about literacy that form the lifeline of Modern civilization.
At the beginning of the twentieth century the reality began to dawn on the generality of humanity that Modern civilization, built on the foundations of secularism and materialism, is not only a total failure but was also about to come to an end. The two World Wars only accentuated this realization by adding a new dimension, to wit, that Modern civilization will most probably come to an abrupt end through manmade artifices like, maybe, a thermonuclear Third World War.
If there is any worthwhile lesson Modern civilization had thought mankind it is namely that secularism and materialism can never lead mankind to anything but shameful destruction. That was the message of Colonialism; that was the message of the two World Wars; that was the message of USSR Communism; that is the message of American Democracy.
It is because of all these failures on the part of the West that most of the peoples of the world are dissociating themselves from anything to do with the West – anything to do with the West; including the art of writing and reading. Of course so entrenched today are the values of the West that virtually nobody can today do without writing and Reading.
But our focus is on the increasing number of people who are rediscovering the power of orality. In the past so much Westernized was everybody that the only thing that everybody did was to write and read – nobody recited. But today more and more ancient peoples of the Third World are adopting orality.
Interestingly enough, the Third World peoples resident in First World countries have also developed their own inner city cultures of orality. A good example here is that of the African Americans in the ghettoes of the United States. These people have developed a peculiar type of orality culture deriving mainly from their strong African antecedents.
Professor Walter Ong wrote regarding this: “The highly oral culture of our black urban ghettos as well as of certain isolated black and white rural areas is basically a primary oral culture in many ways, although it is more or less modified by contact with secondary orality today.”
Return to Orality in 20th Century West
Albeit, it should be noted that the return of mankind to orality is not restricted to the Third World alone; even in the West there is an ongoing resurgence of interest in the power of orality. During the twentieth century, for instance, several popular and influential publications, movements and groups emerged and were very influential in initiating an orality culture in the West. Dame Frances Yates book, The Art of Memory, Professor Walter Ong’s ‘Orality and Literacy: Technologizing the Word’, Professor Eric Havelock’s ‘The Literate Revolution in Greece and It’s Cultural Consequences’, appeared in the twentieth century and became one of the most influential book of this revivalist genre.
And there is also Professor Umberto Eco whose works, most especially his ‘Il Nome Della Rose’ (The Name of the Rose), has created public and international attention as to the power of memorization and recitation.
Return to Orality in Renaissance West
According to the cultural historian Baron Frances Yates, this trend has, et literatim, been around since the beginning of the Renaissance, it was only interrupted by the sudden rise of Europe with its accompanying Modern civilization which was built on the secular and materialistic media of writing and reading and not on the psychological and spiritual media of orality.
During the Renaissance the art of memorization and recitation became lauded and revered to the skies. The Renaissance was not only a return to the cultures and values of the ancients; it was also a determined rebellion against the preceding era of Aristotelian rationalism. In these two capacities it is no wonder that the Renaissance became in essence obsessed with the spiritualism and mysticism of the ancient.
Memorization and recitation was the main form in which the oral cultures and civilizations of the ancients were established – the Renaissance Man, accordingly, became obsessed with recitation and memorization.
John Michael Greer discussed the Renaissance alchemists and magicians, another fascinating people of that period, in the following words: “Steeped in Neoplatonic thought, the Hermetic magicians of the Renaissance saw the universe as an image of the divine ideas, and the individual human being as an image of the universe; they also knew Plato’s claim that all ‘learnin’ is simply the recollection of things known before birth into the realm of matter. Taken together, these ideas raised the Art of Memory to a new dignity. If the human memory could be recognized in the image of the universe, in this view, it became a reflection of the entire realm of memory created by several Renaissance Hermeticist, and above all those of Giordano Bruno.”
Even before the Renaissance there were proponents and apostles of the revival and return to orality in Europe. One of the most popular of these was Giordano Bruno.
Baron Frances Yates argues that mankind was totally dependent on the use of orality, which he had used to establish his high cultures and to built his mighty civilizations, before the invention of writing and the advent of the modern ages.
Then we shouldn’t forget that throughout the ages, secret societies and esoteric lodges in both Europe and North America have continued to assiduously employ the use of orality to safeguard their secret knowledge and wisdom from generation to generation among high degree members. In this regards the Freemasons are well known as those who use orality to document and communicate their secret information. In line with the wisdom of the ancients, the freemasons acknowledge the orality over writing and reading.
Mankind will Reject Writing and Return to Orality
The trend we see today is a gradual reversion of mankind back to orality. Both in the West and throughout the Third World we see a growing interest on the part of all and sundry to identify with the subtle communicative powers of orality and to dissociate themselves from the evils and inefficiency of literacy. In a general perspective we see the Return to Orality gradually gathering momentum on the global scene.
But while there has been such a conscious action on the part of mankind to revert to orality and to reject literacy as we have described above, a new type of subconscious attack on literacy and even a stronger form of resurgence of orality have been set afoot by the Information Revolution which became formidable in the latter half of the twentieth century.
First the Information Revolution came about with the radio which was a powerful marriage between Western technology and orality. Before the invention of the radio everybody in the literate West thought they have seen the last of orality in the modern ages. But then the radio brought back orality with such a full force that nobody can deny the fact that orality has staged a permanent comeback as a human culture.
Then the Information Revolution came about with television. Television simply came to accentuate what radio has began in terms of the re-conquest of mankind by orality.
Mankind had hardly finished absorbing the staggering orality effects of television when the Information Revolution came about with the computer which, as yet, is the greatest technological tool that orality has used to subjugate the entire world and to dealt literacy and writing a fatal blow.
In brief we may state that mankind is gradually reversing back its over-dependence on orality and its rejection of writing and reading. This subtle phenomenon is not only restricted to the Third World but is also taking place throughout the West.
Throughout the world people are gradually dissociating themselves from the evils and inefficiency of reading and writing and are increasingly coming to embrace more and more orality cultures and practices. The Information Explosion and the Information Technology revolutions have also both contributed significantly to this gradual reversion of mankind to orality and its gradual rejection of reading and writing.
Rejection of Literacy by Third World Superpowers
“Many of the features we have taken for granted in thought and expression in literature, philosophy and science, and even in oral discourse among literates, are not directly native to human experience as such but have come into existence because of the resources which the technology of writing makes available to human consciousness. We have had to revise our understanding of human identity.”
Professor Walter J. Ong
Now that Europe is dead and Western civilization is also in its throes of death, we can see that the interruption of literacy is over and the non-Western civilizations of the East (Asia) and the South (Africa) are gradually coming back with their psychological and spiritual values centered on orality.
We witness today three simultaneous events each of which is of great historical import. The first is the gradual fall of Western civilization. The second is the rapid rise of Eastern civilization and the third is the gradual rise of African civilization. Please read my book, titled Orientania: Eastern Civilization, for details on this topic.
Here we will only note that the rise of both Asia and Africa is a reality today and also that the civilizations of Asia and Africa will eventually reject writing and reading will ultimately reestablish orality as the supreme form of psychological and spiritual means of documentation and communication.
With the increasing globalization of Asian and African cultures, most especially African cultures, we see a silent resurgence of orality cultures on a global scene. And, of course, the rise of the Hinduism, Buddhism, international Islam, and African traditional religions is spreading these ancient religions, which are oral religions, over the world.
There is no doubt, in fact it is undeniable, that Islam is going to spread orality as a culture and civilization over the entire world of the future. Similarly the ancient religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism are contributing their own parts in the resurgence of Memorization and Recitation over the world of today. The world is being prepared today, for the global conquest by Memorization and Recitation in the far future.
The Omniscient Superman Again The Omniscient Superman Again
Immortal men imagine the gods are begotten and that they have human dress and speech and shape . . If oxen or horses or lions had hands to draw with and to make works of art as men do, the horses would draw the forms of gods like horses, oxen like oxen, and they would make their gods; bodies similar to the bodily shape they themselves each had.
The power of oral lies in its saturation of the human mind with cyclopedic knowledge and the saturation of the human spirit with almighty spiritual powers.
Neurologists and psychologists have long been trumpeting into our ears that the human brain is capable of accommodating infinite amount of information and that the knowledge that the human memory can retain is unimaginably infinite.
In fact psychologists had to come up with something they call the ‘subconscious’ in order t illustrate that the human psyche or mind is in fact capable of such abilities that it, the human mind, is literarily a god. The only problem here is that Writing and Reading can not tap or develop these latent abilities of the subconscious to the fullest. This even the psychologists lamentably admit.
And that is why modern man is such an idiot: that though the capabilities of his mind are limitless, his abilities are limited by the means of documentation and communication, that is writing and reading, that he himself has chosen to use. But the Ancients have long ago known that Memorization and Recitation is saturating both the human mind or psyche and the human spirit to the fullest of these capabilities.
Modern mankind, especially the psychologists, may find this incredible, but that is simply due to their own psychological and spiritual retardations. Whether modern mankind believes it or not, the fact remains that Memorization and Recitation has produced the omniscient superman in the pat.
By the omniscient superman we mean the human being whose intellectual, psychological and spiritual powers have been so refined that he is literarily a god. The subconscious mind that today’s psychologists talk about is potentially a god, but the omniscient superman that we talk about is a god – not potentially a god.
As Frederick Nietzsche rightly observed, all the attributes of perfection we humans attribute to God almighty are nothing but the ideals of human perfection, viz, man made God in his own image.
The right thing to do would have been to ascribe the attributes of perfection to god (the human psyche) and not to God Almighty. God the Almighty is above perfection. Please read my book titled ‘Who Is Allah?’ for details on this intricate topic.
God is far above perfection and what can, word for word, be perfect is a god. Ascribing the attributes of perfection to God Almighty can be demeaning or even blasphemous. Perfection being itself a creature can only be the attribute of a creature, say, a god.
On the other hand it is very clear that, of all creatures, the only being that can be a god is man himself. In plainer terms only man can be perfected into a god. It is this god, the perfect human being, that we refer to, in the present context, as the ‘Omniscient Superman’.
In a few words we may note that the remarkable thing about orality is that it has a powerful influence in saturating the human mind with virtual omniscience and its saturation of the human spirit with absolute spiritual abilities.
It is a well known psychology fact, for instance, that the human brain and the subconscious mind are both capable of incredible and extraordinary retention of intellectual and psychological information and powers.
The Omniscient Superman in Prehistory
To the Ancients the gods or omniscient supermen were living realities that interacted freely with and even lived among the mundane human beings. The idea of the gods or titans isn’t far-fetched to even the secularly minded Westerner as we find the gods repleting Western epics like those of the Iliad, Odysseus, Beuwolf, the Arthurian legends, etc, etc..
The gods of the Western world died out long ago with the rise of the Renaissance Man and the Scientific Man at the beginning of the Modern Ages.
But for the rest of the world, and the virulent spread of Modern civilization over the world, the omniscient superman or the gods lived on in the Ancient Oral Literatures of folklores, folktales, sagas, legends, wise sayings, and so on and on.
It is among the Ancient peoples of the Third World that we find the most pristine and most enduring memorization and recitations that graphically describe the omniscient superman otherwise known as the god. In these ancient Memorization and Recitations we see the gods as those human beings who have become perfect either through death (as ancestors) or through intuition (as sages).
In both cases the god is portrayed as an extraordinary type of human being who could do what ordinary, mundane human beings can not do. In most oral traditions they are represented as the intermediaries between ordinary men and God Almighty. In Yorubaland they are known as the Orishas. In Islam they are known as the Awliya (sing. Wali), etc, etc.
In conclusion we should note that to the ancients the gods were real beings that interacted and had social intercourses with ordinary human beings. In fact to the ancients the gods were not some ethereal spiritual beings; to the ancients the gods were actual human beings who, through the powers of orality in the form of memorization and recitation, have acquired extraordinary powers and have became supernatural beings.
Even to the modern mind the idea of supernatural human beings isn’t that far fetched. Ancient Western traditions are replete with recurrent references to supernatural human beings that are the same that are referred to as the gods in the traditions of other peoples and nations. It is just that the emergence of Europe out of the Middle Ages and the advent of the secular world order led to the abandoning of the belief in the gods on the part of the Europeans.
The Omniscient Superman in History
As we have hinted above, the gods still exist in the Oral Literatures of the Third World that have survived into History. So, as far as the Ancient peoples of the Third World are concerned the gods, otherwise referred to as the omniscient superman, lives on.
But even in the West where the gods are better presumed dead, the gods or the omniscient supermen lives on. Our best case for illustration here is that of Frederick Nietzsche who is famous for philosophically declaring the death of God Almighty.
What Frederick Nietzsche is, however, not famous for is that he reinvented the gods for the West. It is the Ubberman, Nietzsche’s unique invention, that becomes the English superman, the Marvel comics superman, Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Scientology’s Transcendental Man, Psychology’s ‘Subconscious mind’, Krypton, etc.
That the West is so secularly obsessed with those fictional gods and superman is a great indicator of the fact that the consciousness of the West is gradually warming up for the spiritual acceptance of real gods and actual supermen.
There is an ongoing revival of the superman syndrome and gods in popular movements throughout the West in current times. In scientology the superman is known as the ‘Thetan’,
Apart from the fictional gods and supermen of the West, however, the Third World is also awash with real gods and supermen in the form of spiritual media, saints, and psychological geniuses. These people are literarily venerated and worshipped as gods.
The Third World is far ahead of the West in terms of the readiness for the forthcoming emergence of the prototype god, the omniscient superman. By the prototype god we mean the type of the omniscient superman that was once obtainable during the era of Prehistory and ever before then. Modern man can hardly ever be perfected into the prototype omniscient superman because he is so dependent on Writing and Reading.
Modern man is an illiterate, his illiteracy being as a result of his addiction to Writing and Reading. But the Ancients in the days of Prehistory and ever-before, were literate because they rejected Writing and Reading and, instead, relied solely on Memorization and Recitation.
It is Memorization and Recitation that can produce the prototype omniscient superman. That is why today’s modern man, who is so hooked on to Writing and Reading, can not be perfected into an omniscient superman. But with the gradual resurgence of Memorization and Recitation and the eventual decline of Writing and Reading, the world is gradually warming up for the ultimate emergence of the prototype omniscient superman.
The Omniscient Superman in Post-History
The present dispensation of History is heading for an end. There is no doubt about that. This current dispensation called History will, however, witness two hallmarking events, namely, the Death of Writing and Reading and the re-establishment of Memorization and Recitation as the singular means of documentation and communication. Of course these two will take place in the far future, probably on the eve of Prehistory and during the death of History itself.
But before the advent of Post-History, Writing and Reading will definitely come to an end and become totally extinct. And, in the stead of Writing and Reading, Memorization and Recitation will be ‘re-discovered’ as the best form of communication. We see this trend today, though in a very inchoate manner: the ancient peoples of the Third World, constituting the overwhelming majority of mankind, are gradually realizing the inefficacy and the destructiveness of Writing and Reading while they are at the same time discovering the efficacy and the constructiveness of Memorization and Recitation.
That is the state of affairs today. But that is just the very beginning of the trend, and we indeed have a long way to go before mankind will ultimately reject Writing and Reading and adopt memorization and recitation as a singular form of documentation and communication.
As the trend continues to gather momentum and accelerate along the time gradient, so will the attention of man be gradually shifted from Writing and Reading to Memorization and Recitation.
More and more people will begin to acquire real Literacy as they adopt Memorization and Recitation as an alternative to Writing and Reading. So much more will the people of the future resort to Memorization and Recitation that, at a stage, some will come to rely solely on Memorization and Recitation and totidem verbis make do without Writing and Reading. When that stage is reached in History, the possibility of the emergence of the prototype omniscient superman will then begin to become a reality. The trend will continue until the omniscient superman, the god, emerges.