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ABC: Alphabetization of the Popular Mind [Paperback]

Barry Sanders , Ivan Illich


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Book Description

May 14 1989
An intense examination of the effects of technology on literacy and language. The authors argue that there is a phenomenon transforming modern culture--language is becoming part of a technology of "information systems" with an emphasis on control, rather than human exchange. As a result, all language is becoming debased.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 187 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (May 14 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679721924
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679721925
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 13.2 x 2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 249 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #765,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Maverick social critic Illich (Medical Nemesis) and medievalist Sanders have teamed to write a dense, frustrating essay on the way written language affects our perception of ourselves and the world. They claim that the modern self is an "alphabetic construct": each of us weaves a cocoon of stories about ourselves, and we can only do so because of narrative literary traditions of the past several centuries. Ranging over the history of alphabets, intriguing word lore, a comparison of the Iliad with Serbian epics, the origins of autobiography and Huckleberry Finn, the authors reach sweeping, ill-defined conclusions. Lying and moral feigning, they argue, are possible because memory is like a mental text. Human culture, in their ethnocentric view, was made possible by alphabetic writing. They fail to consider societies based on ideographic or hieroglyphic scripts. The final chapter, on Orwellian newspeak, pinpoints the dangers of applying computer terminology to human interaction.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The authors argue that the relation that has bound speaker to speech and made discourse whole and meaningful disintegrated with the invention of the alphabet, leaving streams of separate words detached from any context of utterance. After the alphabet, some unity was maintained by style and grammar, and by ties between vernacular languages and the communities using them; but this unity is threatened by information processing that strips the texts into their component bits. Librarians and everyone else concerned with the fate of books should read this one, though readers who like to stay calm may still prefer O. B. Hardison, Jr.'s urbane and judicious Entering the Maze (Oxford, 1981). Leslie Armour, Univ. of Ottawa, Canada
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Transformative Book March 31 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Is it true that the first Spanish grammar was intended as an agent of state control? Is it true that all writing up until Aquinas was dictation plucked from the air, without opportunity or perceived need for revision? Is it true that the priest reading the written Latin words in Spain, France, Burgundy and throughout Europe pronounced the words in a way that the worshippers understood? I don't know if these and other surprising assertions in the book are true, but having believed them I have found that this book has had a transformative effect on my experience of worship, language and oratory. I hightly recommend this book to priests, educators, and language professionals, and to any one interested in Christianity, language and schooling.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Is it true? Feb. 17 2010
By Librum - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The title of my review is addressed to the other reviewer on this page. Like that reviewer, I too thought ABC was full of fascinating hypotheses and insights. Judging from the voluminous annotated bibliography at the end of this slim book, many of the ideas it sets forth come from elsewhere. The obviously deep scholarly underpinning of ABC gives me some confidence that the ideas it treats are legitimate ones legitimately treated. But much as I was, throughout, fascinated with this extended essay, the question "Yes, but is it true?" was never far from mind. ABC is a challenging read for anyone unfamiliar with the history of the printed word; of the relationship between the printed and the spoken word; of classical and medieval literature; and of critical theory in general. It is all the more challenging for its completely ad hoc style of exposition. ABC is more of a riff on scholarship than it is itself in the scholarly tradition. At times its meanderings and leaps of imagination -- and of prose -- left me wondering whether I was struggling with a truly profound piece of writing or a complete piece of gibberish. That said, from start to finish, I enjoyed the struggle. ABC raised a lot of questions that will have me thinking (about language in history, the language that surrounds me, and about my own use of language) for a long time to come. A very interesting read.
5.0 out of 5 stars Illich's writing is from an intensely personal perspective, but there is no gibberish here.... March 22 2014
By Laurence R. Hunt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I knew Mr. Illich personally. Yes, he is not really looking for research, evidence or even prior scholarship on which to rest his arguments. He is establishing a point of view, and has thought carefully and meditated over every word written. There is definitely no gibberish. There is, however, a strongly taken critical position, with which one may choose to agree or disagree. Few of us would agree with Mr. Illich on all points. But you CANNOT ignore any stance he has taken. He is just too erudite, wise and thoughtful to be dismissed. Mr. Illich is right much more often than wrong, and we ignore this at our peril.

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