In this Spanish work from the beginning of the 19th century (José Gómez Hermosilla, Arte de hablar en prosa y verso, Madrid 1826), expression is still speech.

Literacy, orality, family systems, and ideology

I study literacy and orality, as well as family systems, and how those elements correlate with ideology, modes of expression, politics, and the economy. I will here publish studies which are relevant for those themes.


David Hallbeck, ancien élève de l'École Normale Supérieure


Russia and residual orality

It is striking, how modes of expression vary between different times and places. Some are more repetitive, formulaic, perhaps also pompous than others. Is this just a fashion, just clichés like any other cliché, or does it correlate with other things? Is this just old-fashioned and is there a general progression in the world from the formulaic to the more individualised? Do different types of expression coexist in the contemporary world? Does expression correlate with different possibilities of what can be thought and with different forms of thinking? Do they correlate with the presence and the form of ideology?

Those questions struck me when I, knowing Russian, arrived in Russia and noticed that the Russians seemed to speak like the Europeans long ago. Now, this is not as simple as it seems, because the Europeans are not in any way uniform in this sense.

Many, although not very many answers have been given to those questions, although very little has still been said about Russia in this context.[1]

The American philologist Milman Parry (1902-1935) was struck by the formulaic style of Homer and came to the conclusion that the Homeric works were, perhaps, a late transcription of motives and formulas which had been transmitted orally between illiterate bards. The stereotypic themes and the repetitive, formulaic style seemed to indicate this. Milman, in order to have material for comparison, studied illiterate bards in Bosnia in the 1930s and came to the conclusion that their songs had the same structure as those of Homer. Milman Parry died young, but his results were used by his assistant Alfred B. Lord (1912-1991) in The Singer of Tales, published in 1960. Although this is nothing Milman Parry and Alfred B. Lord particularly attend to, one can already here draw the conclusion that some themes and some modes of thought are possible in an oral culture and others not. The hero who leaves home to reconquer the lands of the forefathers is a possible theme, a discussion about a constitution with its checks and balances and perhaps also the psychology of the electorate is not.

Walter J. Ong (1912-2003) studied in Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word first published in 1982,and many other writings how the formulaic style and its gradual disappearance correlates with the acquisition of literacy and how what he referred to as residual orality, that is the remnants of the formulaic style persist for long even after a population’s acquisition of literacy. Ong also, which is probably the most interesting aspect of his work, described how orality and residual orality correlated with other qualities, such as an agonistic approach and a difficulty to develop advanced political thought. He considered that ”an oral culture does not put its knowledge into mnemotechnic patterns, it thinks in mnemotechnic patterns”, which also affects everything else it does or conceives of. Here the correlation starts to be discernible.

Eric A. Havelock (1903-1988) described in Preface to Plato (1963) how ancient Greece developed from a purely oral into a culture were a certain thinking based on literacy was possible. Plato’s rejection of the poets was, according to Havelock, not a rejection of poetry in any modern sense, but of poetry and poets as the transmitters of oral thinking, formulaic, non-abstract, without introspection and self-analysis. The “ideas” of Plato are the breakthrough of a visualist mode of thought based on literacy.

This concept of poetry is important to remember. When one speaks about poetry in oral and residually oral societies it is a phenomenon which is very different from poetry in a contemporary Western, highly literate society. It is the bearer of knowledge, of an “encyclopaedia” as Havelock says. It is a central phenomenon, and in residually oral societies poets are often political leaders. The remaining formulaic, associative perhaps, mode of thought makes it central. It is not meditative; it is agonistic, laudatory or blaming.

Walter J. Ong, Eric A. Havelock, Milman Parry and Alfred B. Lord are almost a “school”. They are often quoted together, and Walter J. Ong abundantly quotes his predecessors. Although they clearly see the correlation between qualitative developments of thinking with a phenomenon which is at least theoretically possible to seize in quantitative terms, they rarely have recourse to statistics on literacy. Their contribution on the qualitative field is immense, indeed.

Emmanuel Todd, born in 1951, has written many books on several themes, One of his two main themes is, however, the correlation between literacy and ideology and political revolutions. His second important theme is the correlation between family structures and the type of ideology dominant among various populations. He has exposed his hypotheses and proofs concerning the influence of family structures on ideology in many books, among others La Troisième Planète - Structures familiales et systèmes ideologiques, published in 1983.

He claims that ideology starts playing a role in society and often leads to revolutions when 70 percent of the young men are literate. This was the case in France in 1789 and in Russia in 1917. Ideology could, in Emmanuel Todd’s system be paraphrased as a form of residual, formulaic orality. The ideological slogans take the place of the formulaic expressions well-known to non-literate populations, to recently or elementarily literate people, les mots sont des choses, as he writes in L’invention de l’Europe(1990). Todd’s system is based mostly on quantitative studies and his qualitative studies on ideology, which are not absent, are problematic, but it seems to me not absurd to assume that quantitative changes in literacy can provoke qualitative changes in ideology. If one studies what precedes what Emmanuel Todd describes as the ideological breakthrough one often finds among the elites a play with Platonic concepts and among the illiterate masses a waiting for a saviour from outside like in cargo cults. This development has been seized quite well buy Amilcar Cabral in an essay about the development of the poetry of Cabo Verde, Apontamentos sobre a poesia caboverdiana (1952) and unconsciously and purely descriptively by Emanuel Sarkisyanz in Russland und der Messianismus des Orients (1955).

It is worth quoting one of the few places (it is not the only one, though) where Emmanuel Todd discusses, from a qualitative point of view, the impact of writing and literacy on ideology:

"L'alphabétisation de masse crée donc une société réceptive a l'idéologie. La maitrise de la lecture donne aux peuples les moyens d'identifier, dans la prolifération des doctrines modernes, celles dont les valeurs fondamentales coïncident avec des valeurs portées par leurs systèmes familiaux traditionnels. La culture primaire permet l'identification des formes ; elle ne mène a aucune réflexion critique sur ce qui est possible et ce qui ne l'est pas. Isolée, la capacite de lire conduit a une structuration des rêves indépendante de la réalité. Les peuples simplement alphabétises accordent a l'écrit une valeur absolue. Les mots sont des choses. Les cites idéales décrites par les textes existent en un sens réellement pour les populations de niveau culturel primaire. Au commencement était le verbe : l’alphabétisation de masse étend a des populations entières l’illusion de la puissance du mot écrit, aberration magique qui commence avec l’invention même de l’écriture. L’Invention de l’Europe, 441.

My translation: "Mass literacy thus creates a society receptive to ideology. The capacity to read furnishes the means which allow the peoples to identify, among the panoply of modern doctrines, those which coincide with the values the bearers of which are their traditional family systems. This elementary knowledge allows people to identify forms, it does create any reflection on what is possible and what is not. Isolated, elementary literacy creates a structure of dreams which is independent of reality. The elementary literate consider writing to be an absolute value. Words are things. The ideal societies described in texts do, in a certain sense, really exist for populations with an elementary level of knowledge. In the beginning was the word: mass literacy spreads to whole populations the illusion of the power of the written word, a magical aberration which begins with the invention of writing."

It is here also worth comparing what Ellul says about the influence of propaganda on literate populations.

What is understood from the ideological texts, probably often read in abridged or simplified versions, is mostly a sequence of fixed formulas, which stay in memory if they correspond with the values implicit in the family systems of a population. The constant calls for a new poetry in times of ideological upheaval from central actors would also confirm this (cf. Cabral). The ideological formulas will not constitute a coherent system around which one can argue, and, of course, many ideologies are in the first place not coherent. It will be a selection of phrases which are possible to fit into a mnemonic, residually oral way of thinking and correspond with certain earlier non articulated values.

What Todd here does not take into consideration is the role of what Ong refers to as to residual orality, see above for the definition provided by Ong. The preliterate way of thinking and speaking, in formulas with a certain mnemonic structure, is adapted to the world of ideology, which has enormous political consequences. If we suppose that pre-modern, pre-literate societies might be accompanied by those formulas when fighting about territory and resources (cf. Alfred B. Lord and Milman Parry), the redistribution about which one can in the end agree, the conflict is now transposed to the domain of ideology, which is absolute. This is the reason for the exceptionally violent character of ideological wars. It does not mean that they are not also conflicts about resources, but a dimension is added, which makes agreement much more complicated.

My research consists in applying those approaches and concepts to contemporary Russia, a society, as I claim, with a high degree of residual orality and, simultaneously, a very high degree of literacy. This correlates with the political behaviour and the economic structure of the country. I am, in this context, but a heuristically viable concepts does, of course, have to be applicable in all similar contexts, introducing the concept of elite (residual) orality.

I claim that, in all societies, the elite’s degree of orality and literacy will, only on a much higher level, reflect that of the masses. In an oral or residually oral society, the elites will be oral or residually oral, in a highly literate society the elites will be highly literate, which does not mean dedicated to letters, rather the opposite.

Among the societies we know, which were for obvious reasons, at least to some extent, literate, the most common has been a correlation between oral, illiterate masses and highly residually oral, literate elites. An exception would be the Homeric world, possibly extremely oral altogether.

[1]The best, but unfortunately very short treatment, seems to be Golobokova, Yulia, Literacy and Democracy in Russia, ETC: A Review of General Semantics, Vol. 68, No 1. (January 2011), pp. 50-55.

Russia and elite orality

I claim that in oral and residually oral societies the elites will always reflect the complete or residual orality of the masses. They will adapt consciously or unconsciously to the oral character of the masses in order to keep their power. With an approach based purely on literacy they will be marginalised. This, however, paradoxically means that they will be extremely literate from a poetical, rhetorical or oratorical perspective, which is just the development towards the exquisite of mass orality. They will in the period of extremely low literacy have a clear literary Pantheon of classical writers establishing or expressing rules which are perceived as eternal and objective.

A very good example of this phenomenon in a lowly literate society, Spain in the 1820s, is Hermosilla’s work Arte de hablar en prosa y verso (Madrid 1826).

Literacy, residual orality and world conflicts

The idea of the end of history seems to be abandoned for the moment (August 2022). Directly and indirectly it was influential in the 1990s and is still worth discussing, although the interpretation Fukuyama furnished seems very simplistic. Fukuyama does not seem to have furnished anything else than an indirect definition of history. History ends where liberal democracy begins and the battles for purely ideological motives cease. This indirect definition could probably be extended to say that history is the domain where people fight for ideas and territories because of representations, the practical use of which is irrelevant. One can indeed say that there is a radical difference between fighting for territory and fighting for ideas. The pure struggle for territory can be subsumed under practical considerations and one can negotiate when it becomes too costly. However, it very often takes place under the auspices of an idea or a representation of past greatness which easily becomes metaphysical and thus non-negotiable. Here, we are indeed close to ideology. There also is, indeed, a pre-modern fight between principalities for territory which becomes negotiable, and at least in practice, is devoid of ideas. This, however, is possible only when you have a population with a certain thinking or, rather, the absence of a certain thinking. I am here going to relate conflicts, and especially world conflicts to the development of literacy and especially to the present of what Walter J. Ong. referred to as residual orality. The conflict between residual orality and literacy is indeed present within many societies too, probably especially in Russia, a country with a fundamental, wide-spread residual orality but with a strong, but demographically limited influence of oral modes of thought from some countries of Western Europe.

Countries with late alphabetisation like Russia are still the bearers of a historical mode of thought. They start wars for abstract ideas, which also tend to be wars for territory and resources, although one has to bear in mind that this is not as essential as it might seem. The point is the formulaic, ideological idea. The outcome in prosperity or the satisfaction of practical ends is, essentially indifferent. In a feudal society and a feudal economy, and the economy is feudal because thinking is feudal, there is no interest in those things, deemed to be essentially base and irrelevant. It does not matter much that those interests might sometimes be mentioned with a certain reverence in solemn speeches, the real behaviour of the elites, accepted and promoted by the masses, shows the real status of those interests.

Book review

David R. Olson, 2016, The Mind on Paper, Reading, Consciousness and Rationality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Many scholars in intellectual history, literary historians and media theoreticians have provided brilliant and insightful research on the effects of literacy on thinking and, subsequently, on how the changes in thinking have affected society, the most famous being certainly the representatives of the so-called Toronto school Marshal McLuhan, Eric A. Havelock, Harold Innis and Walter J. Ong. The French historian and demographer Emmanuel Todd is rarely or perhaps never cited in this context, although he has established striking correlations between the development of literacy and the rise and structure of ideologies. This, however, is a part of the problem. Those theoreticians established, and did indeed brilliantly establish correlations between literacy and other phenomena, correlations which are often convincing, although especially McLuhan remains highly speculative. With some exceptions, they rarely analyse how literacy specifically affects thinking from a psychological perspective.

David R. Olsen is trying to do this in his book The mind on Paper. Using examples from school and children’s acquisition of literacy as well as some studies on preliterate children, as well as examples from adults’ different degrees of literacy he arrives at the conclusion that literacy creates a reflective consciousness of language, which has implications for thinking. It is important to remember that this does not really account for the historical “time lag” (Havelock) described by both Havelock and Walter J. Ong between purely oral thinking and gradually more literate modes of thought, which seems, as empirical studies perhaps show, to imply the succession of a few generations. Accounting for this does not, however, seem to be a part of the author’s ambition either.

The point the author is making is that writing creates or essentially strengthens a person’s ability to maintain a reflexive stance on language itself. Only through (alphabetic) writing is a formalized logic possible. In most cases this does not lead to people developing advanced formal logic on their own, but it implies that people can perceive words and, increasingly, sentences as entities which one can analyse and perceive of from outside without remaining absorbed by the situation where they are used. It becomes possible to state whether a statement or a sentence is formally true. The term the author uses is metarepresentation, which is perhaps not a necessary neologism, but which seems to quite well render the meaning of what the author wants to say. This metarepresentation is necessary for modern science and many other phenomena of contemporary society, argues the author. However, the author is not completely clear concerning whether the change brought about by writing is one of degree or of species. It is worth to cite one of the places which introduce such an uncertainty:


Children enjoy word play including play with nonsense. Moreover, there is considerable evidence that young pre-literate children notice and comment on numerous features of their own and other’s speech (Olson 2016:59).


This seems to invalidate the hypothesis of a radical psychological change introduced by writing, at least as to the perception of words as entities and the possibility to speak about words and sentences from an outside perspective. However, the author also argues that children usually acquire the concept of word or phoneme only when adults introduce those concepts to them (p.31), which would not invalidate the theory that they are concepts as such introduced by writing. A convincing argument is, however, introduced when the author discusses why the invention of the alphabet took so long from the initial representation of things and numbers by signs:


The earliest writing served a narrow set of purposes, primarily keeping records of business transactions. But business transactions were verbal agreements. Why not represent the actual verbal expressions?

One reason, as I mentioned above, is that an appropriate set of concepts about the properties of language that could be visually represented was not available to the inventors. In inventing and borrowing writing systems, they were discovering the properties of the language they spoke (Olson 2016: 23).


This does not, strictly speaking imply, that writing is the source of those concepts, but only that in order to invent and develop writing, they need to be present. It does seem clear, though, that those concepts at least correlate closely with the invention of writing. One can, indeed, object that antique and medieval texts do not have spaces between the words and thus no concept of a separate word, but this does not seem so essential to the conceptual framework, since classical authors have no problems discussing words as separate entities, cf. Aulus Gellius.

The argument, that those metarepresentational concepts are necessary for modern science and modern bureaucracy seems convincing, since they always, at least as long as they are real science and real bureaucracy, imply putting oneself outside of specific situations and using concepts which can be applied in various situations which superficially seem very different. It is also clear that this type of advanced thinking always correlates with literacy, which is, of course, a commonplace to say.

Although the author does this to a certain extent, the question is whether it is not better to insist on a gradual intellectual detachment from specific situations which takes many generations, but which does indeed closely correlate with literacy. If some abstract concepts are introduced to preliterate children by literate parents, but not by others, this implies that those concepts are psychologically possible to conceive of without writing, but that they will only remain in a literate environment, and, above all, those children will develop those concepts to a higher degree of abstraction than their parents were able to do. This is a process which, although prevented by some events, is currently going on, especially in the third and second worlds. One can thus draw the conclusion that writing is above all a Wechselwirkung; certain concepts arise, i.e., above all the concept of a phoneme, those concepts are preserved by writing and make the transmission and preservation of even more complex concepts possible. As do indicate, but for the moment not more than indicate, the researches of Aleksandr Lurija, some capabilities, like solving syllogisms, seem to be possible only when writing is introduced, even in a society were a certain pre-literate abstract thinking is present. We can, however, not exclude that the syllogism is similar to the concepts of words and phonemes; they can be understood by pre-literate children and non-literate adults perhaps too, but they can only be preserved and transmitted in a literate environment.

The relative, not complete, neglect of the historical and cumulative aspects of writing seems the be the major lack of this work. It’s basic tenet about the close correlation between writing and concepts about language and their effects on society is, however, convincing when further historized.

22nd of October 2022

Short article about contemporary Russia appeared (in Swedish) in the Finnish journal Ny Tid:

Alfabetisering och muntlig kultur i Ryssland |

Jan Myrdal

The Swedish intellectual Jan Myrdal (1927-2020) tells in one of his many and very interesting autobiographical writings, Ett andra anstånd how, in the middle of social democratic Sweden, he received the education of a young nobleman of the 18th century. Was not this type of culture and upbringing one reason for the fascination with the Third World of the European tiersmondistes? In the Third World they found a society with a cult of the word and of poetry, with illiterate masses and a small elite with exquisite literacy, but with the same formulaic, structurally oral way of thinking as the masses had, and which was present in Europe in some cases a hundred years ago, in some cases several hundred years ago.

Ajouté le 22 juin 2023


Un tiers-mondiste assez particulier fut l’éditeur et l’écrivain Dominique de Roux (1935-1977), vers la fin de sa vie relativement courte fasciné par l’empire portugais en voie d’effondrement et auteur du roman Le cinquième empire, fondé sur ses expériences lors de la révolution des œillets, et, en plus, lié à l’homme politique angolais Jonas Savimbi.[1] Le tiers-mondisme est, certes, souvent associé à la gauche. Dominique de Roux, éditeur des Cahiers de l’Herne, était issu, par des liens familiaux, de la droite de l’Action française. S’il était, lui-même, de la droite de l’Action française est évidemment une question beaucoup plus complexe. Il est, cependant, clair qu’il était assez éloigné des mouvements conventionnels de gauche, les soixante-huitards etc.

Or, il développa la même fascination pour le tiers-monde que Jan Myrdal et, peut-être, Limonov.

Ceci n’indique-t-il pas que la vraie corrélation intellectuelle avec le tiers-mondisme n’est pas vraiment la gauche et la solidarité avec les opprimés de ce monde, mais plutôt la nostalgie d’une société orale, prémoderne, ou les élites cultivent la parole exquise, dont Dominique de Roux fut, lui-même, un maitre, et les révolutionnaires sont encore porteurs de la parole poétique et rhétorique traditionnelle, déjà périphérique en Europe ?

[1] Voir Daniel Ribant, Angola de A à Z, Paris 2019, très brève mention sur la page 146.

Ajouté le 24 juin 2023

En ce qui concerne les élites du tiers-monde qui cultivent la parole exquise, il vaut la peine de citer un entretien avec António Jacinto, où il parle de l’Angola aux années 30 du 20eme siècle, cité dans Robert Simon, To a Nação with love : The Politics of Language through Angolan Poetry, p. 33 :

“Havia uma tradição ali de uma burguesia nacional que estudava -que tinha ido estudar até em Portugal -, com um culto pelas letras…”

Agostinho Neto

The literary journal Sinn und Form, January/February 1977, edited in the German Democratic Republic, contains translations of a few poems by Agostinho Neto, the president of Angola, and an interesting text on “The poems of Agostinho Neto” by Brazilian writer Jorge Amado. It begins as follows:


“Jorge Amado: Die Gedichte von Agostinho Neto:


Im Kampf um die Unabhängigkeit Angolas war die Dichtung eine mächtige Waffe in den Händen Agostinho Netos. Genau wie Maschinengewehr, Gewehr und Buschmesser hielt die Dichtung den Geist der Guerilleros im Urwalddickicht aufrecht.“


In English:

In Angola’s independence struggle poetry was a mighty weapon in Agostinho Neto’s hands. Just like machine guns, rifles, and knives it kept up the spirit of the guerrilleros in the jungle. (My translation).


This is characteristic of how poetry is perceived in oral and residually oral societies. It is worth comparing a statement by Walter J. Ong in Fighting for Life: “Ancient oral performances and ancient literature associate oral and physical bravado…”

This is why revolutionary movements are always obsessed by poetry, and often led by poets. The receptiveness for revolutionary formulas arises at a certain stage of development of literacy (cf. Todd), and this stage is still profoundly oral, although increasingly residually oral. The Angolan revolution as such and how it was perceived by a Brazilian author, also a representative of a deeply residually oral culture, is one example.

23rd of November 2022

Article about orality in contemporary Russia appeared in the Czech journal Advojka (in Czech):

Básníci jdou do války | | A2 – neklid na kulturní frontě (

27th of November 2022


Emmanuel Todd, Russia, Slovakia

I want to draw a parallel between two articles. One by Emmanuel Todd, published in Marianne the 28th of September 2022, entitled “Emmanuel Todd : « Entre l’Occident et les Russes, le reste du monde risque de choisir les Russes » » and an article by sociologist Dominik Zelinsky in the Czech journal Advojka (20/2022) entitled “Žela si Slovensko rusky triumf?“ (Does Slovakia wish a Russian victory?).

Emmanuel Todd argues that the rest of the world, because of its patrilineal and patriarchal family structures, which it has in common with Russia, although Russia is a special case, is susceptible of supporting Russia in the war between Russia and the Ukraine. Dominik Želinský writes, that according to a sociological investigation a considerable part of the Slovak population supports Russia, even when one takes into consideration certain deficiencies in the investigation which seem to exaggerate the support.

If one takes into consideration two aspects, which Emmanuel Todd uses to analyse, this result is perhaps not so astonishing. Slovakia has approximately the same collective, patrilineal family structure as has Russia and much of the rest of the world. It also has, as much of the Hungarian parts of Austria-Hungary (Länder der Ungarischen Stephanskrone) a relatively late alphabetisation, which also applies to Russia. This implies that today’s Slovakia, as well as Russia, is much more residually oral than for example today’s Czechia or much of today’s Western Europe. This combined with family structures probably makes today’s Slovak population sensitive to the same kind of rhetoric as today’s Russians and many people outside of the Western world, this, of course, as long as the war between Russia and the Ukraine is seen as a symbol for a war between Russia and the West and thus makes the support for Russia in parts of the world with certain structures which are closer to those of Russia than to those of the dominating Western countries wide-spread. That the Ukraine has structures which are partly similar is, of course, not very essential from this perspective.



Želá si Slovensko ruský triumf? | | A2 – neklid na kulturní frontě (

Emmanuel Todd : "Entre l'Occident et les Russes, le reste du monde risque de choisir les Russes" (

Added the 24th of June 2023

It is worth commenting on what I said above about the partly similar structures of the Ukraine. It is true that the Ukraine has a history of alphabetisation which is relatively late and thus similar to that of Russia, Slovakia and Hungary. However, when it comes to family structures, most of the Ukraine is different, with systems which are more based on the nuclear than the collective family. Compare Emmanuel Todd, L’origine des systèmes familiaux, Paris 2011, p. 318:

« Mais du côté ukrainien, ce que l’on observe est, dans le cadre d’un système globalement patrilinéaire, une famille nucléaire a corésidence temporaire et ultimogéniture, acceptant une fille dans le rôle de dernier-né en l’absence de fils. Le rituel d’une brève corésidence temporaire matrilocale entre les fiançailles et le mariage est observé. « 

2nd of January 2023

Elite residual orality in Iran

I want to draw the attention to a very interesting article by Sara Abdollahi, published in Svenska Dagbladet the 31st of December 2022.


Varför läser Irans ayatolla Khamenei kontroversiell litteratur? | SvD


The theme is the extensive reading of Khamenei, his interest in poetry and, as the author writes, also of the poetry of contemporary female authors. He also seems to take a deep interest in Victor Hugo and Alexey Tolstoy. She describes how his twitter account mixes poetry, philosophy, and ideology in a very beautiful language.

As a teacher of Islamic philosophy, Khamenei, according to the author, took a considerable interest in poetry, reviewed it and organized and participated in readings with famous poets.

According to the author, this undermines the perception of reading as of something that enlarges intellectual and emotional perspectives and creates empathy.

It is here interesting to draw the attention to some statistics quoted by Emmanuel Todd in la diversite du monde (Paris 1999), pages 395-398.

Iran had, in the 1970s, a rate of illiteracy of 63 %, with considerable differences between the sexes. The degree of literacy of 70 % for men between 20 and 24 years was attained in, approximately, 1980, that is, right after the Islamic revolution. The difference with the years when the revolution took place is probably negligible.

This would imply that the revolution took place in a largely oral and residually oral society and with a demand for a certain orality of the elites. The revolutionaries probably satisfied this demand much better than the Shah. The revolution, as Sara Abdollahi writes, also implied a presence of mural paintings and other expressive means of propaganda, just like in the early Soviet Union. When one uses the word propaganda one has to be cautious. This is, of course, conscious propaganda, but one has to remember that this type of propaganda is exactly what corresponds to the wishes of a recently literate, and largely residually oral population. This also accounts for the presence of poetry and an exquisite language among the elites. Recently literate populations keep, for long if the external influences are limited, a mystification of writing and of exquisite language. This is probably still the case in present-day Iran. If one looks at contemporary Russia, this approach to the word and to writing persists for many generations, largely dependently on the capacity of isolation and autarchy of the country in question.



All oral and residually oral cultures are cultures of initiation, and this indeed in religion, but this is the least important factor. Estates and classes are preserved by an oral initiation, only be growing up in them can you belong to them, traditions, even the most intellectually advanced are oral and you cannot acquire them only by reading, that is by absorbing a purely abstract content.

There is always a mystical essence which goes beyond the content as such. This is the essence of orality. That this essence then does not exist as such or matters as such and that the mere idea about it is a structural necessity in a residually oral society much more than a real content does not matter for this society as such. When the idea of this essence slowly disappears, modernity can appear.

Oral communication is stereotypical and formulaic in content, but unique in form and performance. This is the reason why you can only belong to a certain community by being exposed to this elusive uniqueness.

 22 janvier 2023


Bois Brésil

Oswald de Andrade, Bois Brésil, poésie et manifeste, Editions de la différence, Paris 2010, Traduit du Portugais (Brésil), préfacé et annoté par Antoine Chareyre.


Dans le Manifeste du Bois Brésil, publié la première fois en 1924, Oswald de Andrade critique « Le côté docteur, le côté citations, le côté auteurs connus », le « langage recherché » du Brésil (p.257). Il veut « des ingénieurs au lieu de jurisconsultes » (p.261), une « langue sans archaïsmes, sans érudition. Naturelle et néologique. » (p.261).

Il déclare qu’» il n'y a pas de lutte au pays des vocations académiques. Il n'y a que des costumes. » (p.261).


Commentaire :

Le manifeste du Bois Brésil contient le même rejet des jurisconsultes et du langage classique comme chez Marinetti, et une analyse du passé un peu similaire à celle de Cabral dans Appontamentos sobre a poesia caboverdiana. Cependant, l'obsession avec la langue est la même chez De Andrade et Marinetti que chez les parnassiens qu'ils récusent. Ce qui change est la forme.

Pour comprendre l'association des jurisconsultes avec le passé il faut comprendre ce que c'est que des jurisconsultes dans des pays récemment alphabétises.

Ce sont surtout des orateurs capables d'avoir recours à des loci communes ("citations"), des formules, des stéréotypes, des orateurs attribuant un caractère magique au langage et aux mots.

Or, cela ne change pas radicalement avec des révoltés comme Marinetti et De Andrade. Quand la vraie modernité commence, le monde perd l'intérêt pour le langage tout court, également pour le langage des futuristes. L’obsession avec le langage à cette époque est due au faut que, pour les masses, les mots sont encore des choses (comparez Emmanuel Todd). Voilà d’où provient l’intérêt pour les néologismes d’Andrade, si caractéristique également de Marinetti, et relevant non pas d’une indifférence par rapport au langage, mais d’une obsession avec la langue.

Le mot "Costumes" dans le texte rend le caractère stéréotypique et expressif que tout doit revêtir dans une société orale. Avec Andrade et Marinetti finit le règne de l'oralité et commence l'empire de l'oralité résiduelle, encore de nos jours dominant, par exemple, en Russie. Ce qui change est la façon dont la société est obsédée du langage.


Comparez Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Tuons le clair de lune, L'âge d'homme 2005, p. 40, extrait de « Le mépris de la femme », publié la première fois en 1911 :


« Presque tous les parlements d'Europe sont de bruyantes basses-cours, des auges ou des égouts.

Leurs principes essentiels sont: 1 l'argent corrupteur et l'astuce accapareuse, qui servent à conquérir un siège au parlement ; 2 l'éloquence creuse, grandiose falsification des idées, triomphe des phrases sonores, tam-tams de nègres et gestes de moulins à vent.

Ces éléments grossiers donnent, moyennant le parlementarisme, un pouvoir absolu à la horde des avocats. »


Il me semble qu’il n’y ait pas la même critique virulente des jurisconsultes au début du 20eme siècle aux pays plus anciennement alphabétises. Si, dans ces pays, on n’a pas ressenti le besoin d’attaquer des avocats obsédés de loci communes, cela est probablement dû au fait que ces sociétés avaient, en général, un caractère diffèrent, et que, entre autres, ces jurisconsultes étaient déjà minoritaires.

Le 23 janvier 2023

Quelques données statistiques


L’Italie a un taux d’analphabétisme de 22.9 en 1931. Le même chiffre est de 59.8 % pour le Portugal en 1930[1]. Cela est dit uniquement par intérêt comparatif. Le nombre d’analphabètes en Italie en 1871 est de 69 %, en 1905 de 38 %.[2]

En ce qui concerne le Brésil, le taux d’analphabétisme est de 34 % aux années 1970s, au Nordeste il est de 69 %, également aux années 1970s.[3]

Aux Brésil les hommes âgés d’entre 20 et 24 ans auront atteint un taux d’alphabétisation d’approximativement 70 % en 1955, le même niveau ayant été atteint en Italie en 1905.[4]

Ce genre de données peuvent être partiellement contradictoires, étant puisées de sources différentes et incertaines. Il est clair, aussi, que les variations régionales sont énormes. Il faut également tenir comte du fait que ce genre de statistiques ne mesurent pas toujours exactement les mêmes capacités.

Il est cependant clair que l’Italie et le Brésil ont, il y a environ cent ans, des taux d’alphabétisation très bas par rapport à l’Europe du Nord à la même époque.

Au Brésil, le Nordeste a eu un taux d’alphabétisation assez bas, de même que le Sud en Italie. Il est normal qu’il y ait des variations régionales. Je suis enclin à voir des pays avec des régions à des taux d’alphabétisation très variés comme des systèmes intégrés, ou tout est lié et tout influence la totalité, les régions les moins développées autant que les régions les plus développées. Une capitale ou une région qui dévie considérablement de la moyenne ne change pas considérablement la donne au total.

Il est clair que, quand Marinetti[5] et De Andrade formulent leur manifestes, le Brésil est encore majoritairement analphabète et l’Italie le fut il n’y a pas longtemps.

[1] Emmanuel Todd, La diversité du monde, Paris 1999, pages 405-406.


[2] Carlo M. Cipolla, Literacy and Development in the West, London 1969, p. 127.

[3]Emmanuel Todd, La diversité du monde, page 400.

[4]Emmanuel Todd, La diversité du monde, pages 400-401.

[5] Le Premier Manifeste du Futurisme date de 1909.

27 janvier 2023

Encore quelques données statistiques

Armelle Enders, Histoire de Rio de Janeiro, Fayard 2000.

Armelle Enders fournit dans cet ouvrage quelques brèves statistiques sur le suffrage au Brésil aux années 1890s. Le Brésil introduit, certes, le suffrage universel, mais il « exclut les analphabètes (ainsi que les ecclésiastiques et les simples soldats) c’est-à-dire 80 % de la population en âge de voter » (p. 220-221).

Selon Enders, la participation à l’élection présidentielle dans le district fédéral de Rio de Janeiro est de 2.7 % en 1910 (p.221).

28th of March 2023


Some characteristics are common to all societies of low literacy or without literacy at all, that is completely oral societies, societies where no one is able to read or write. Although something seems to change in the way of thinking already when a person learns to read on a very elementary level, as the studies of Aleksandr Lurija have shown (cf., among others,  Luria, A.R. 1976, Cognitive development, its Cultural and Social Foundations, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: Harvard University Press), some elements seem to persist for a few generations.

The main characteristics of oral and semi-oral societies, which Walter J. Ong call “residually oral”, seem to be a thinking in formulas and stereotypes, a lack of abstraction, which makes it extremely difficult to perceive of the state as a legal person and not only as the property of a specific ruler, an antagonistic, conflictual approach to social and political questions, an obsession with rhetoric and poetry, a certain lack of introspection and a stereotypical perception of personalities types. In residually oral societies, one could add a mystification and cult of writing, of arts, letters and science for their own sake, as well as, under certain circumstances, of classical languages, be it Latin or Sanskrit.

However, not only degrees of literacy seem to be decisive for the development of communities and societies. Historical family structures seem, as Emmanuel Todd has pointed out, to be decisive for, at least, the ideological orientation of societies, as well as their perception of freedom and authority. Many of today’s societies, which, in spite of a high contemporary degree of literacy preserve the characteristics of oral societies have had the communal, collective, patriarchal family type. A hypothesis I would formulate is that societies with this family structure preserve characteristics of orality longer than others, that is, they remain residually oral for very long. Examples would be Russia, China, Iran, perhaps to some extent Angola. An example of the opposite, a society with relatively recent literacy, with more liberal family traditions, which have preserved less of oral characteristics would be Brazil.

In order to investigate and test this hypothesis it would be necessary to isolate the characteristics evoked above in a stringent way and probably use artificial intelligence to go through an enormous material. This is, however, as soon as one has adequate definitions of the phenomena to be studied, possible.

The 16th of April 2023


The example of Futurism :

Definition: Futurism is a political, artistic, literary and intellectual movement with universal ambitions, authoritarian tendencies, a cult of the practical implications of technology and progress, patriarchal tendencies (le mépris de la femme, Futurist manifesto, 1909), militaristic tendencies (Nous voulons glorifier la guerre, Futurist manifesto, 1909), a presence of the bombastic and a cult of ideology. A feeling of being on the frontline with a general responsibility for mankind (Nous sommes sur le promontoire des siècles, Futurist manifesto, 1909). Futurism is worth studying in France, Portugal, Italy and Russia.

Correlation: Its success seems to correlate with the exogamous communautary family, present in Russia, Central Italy and Southern Portugal and 40-60 percent of literacy, which means a high degree of residual orality, that is a high sensiblity to simplified slogans and essentialized concepts. 

Time and space: Portugal has attempts of Futurism in the 1910s, in France it has a medial success through the publication of the Futurist Manifesto in Le Figaro in 1909, but it is not successful in any of those countries. Portugal, in spite of its communal family structures in the South is not literate, that is ideological,  enough, and France is too literate and does not have the family structures which correlate with Futurism. Soviet Russia, as well as Italy, has both characteristics. Here, Futurism is successful.

The question is if it is possible to find a definition of Futurism which implies a real, constant unity and which can be tested towards other factors in a large material through artificial intelligence.

Similar tests would be applicable to modern intellectual and societal tendencies as well.

Le 29 Avril 2023

La révolution russe

L'idée essentielle de la révolution est de rétablir la structure qui est normale pour le peuple qui la fait. 

La révolution du 24 février 2022 rétablit une société autoritaire et égalitaire, sans classe moyenne, comme en 1917.

Est-il essentiel si l'élite féodale est éliminée et remplacée par une autre, très similaire, comme en 1917, ou reste en place comme en 2022 ? La structure de la révolte contre la classe moyenne reste la même. 

Ajouté le 8 mai 2023

A comparer:

“It makes more sense to interpret what Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin did as not a revolution at all, but rather as a restoration of a previously existing power arrangement”.

Jim Curtis, Stalin’s Soviet Monastery, Peter Lang 2020, p. 44.

“In the same way, what Lenin euphemistically called "democratic centralism" was conceived and matured in the interest of reversing the embourgeoisement that had occurred in Russia in the decades before 1917 and of preserving the power relationships of medieval Russia.”

Jim Curtis, Stalin’s Soviet Monastery, Peter Lang 2020, p. 101.

Un compte-rendu de cet ouvrage suivra bientôt.

The 7th of May 2023


Literary academies in Brazil


Brazil seems to have a plethora of literary academies, the most famous being the Academia Brasileira de letras in Rio de Janeiro. However, the members of those academies do not seem to be the most eminent literati, but rather a kind of honoratiores, politically and socially influential people who, however, have written something and probably are well-read and have an understanding of literature and style characteristic of educated people in a residually oral society, which is rare in Europe outside of the specifically literary circles. It has been noted that no representatives of Brazilian modernism were elected to the Academia Brasileira de letras, although the eminent, more classicist poet Manuel Bandeira was indeed a member. This, at least, reflects what was the case during most of the 20th century. The situation might have changed recently. Those are initial reflections and the subject deserves a much more profound study.

The protagonist of the novel Damas da noite João Oswaldo Albuquerqueby Edgar Telles Ribeiro (Editora Record 2014) is such a member of the Academia Brasileira de letras who in his youth has a scandal success based on a stolen manuscript and then publishes a collection of poems, but who is above all a socialite and a corrupt magnate in construction. The novel describes Brazil from the 1950s and during the dictatorship.

I would formulate the hypothesis: This is what happens in a society with liberal structures, but with a high degree of residual orality. Residual orality makes this kind of academies prestigious; the liberal structures permit local honoratiores to invest them as means of preserving status and influence. In a more centralized and less liberal society (this is not always the same thing) this influence of non-literary persons would not have been accepted.

The 8th of May 2023

Elite residual orality

I often use this expression, derived, obviously, from Walter J. Ong’s concept of residual orality, meaning the permanence of modes of thought and expression characteristic of a completely oral society during a few generations after the introduction of literacy. This means, according to Ong, repetitive and formulaic ways of expression, a confrontational and agonistic approach to life, and thinking in stereotypes and with the help of mnemotechnic devices.

However, it is important to add, that in a society where the majority thinks and speaks as described above, the elites will develop, and perhaps must develop, a certain type of residual orality in order to keep power and influence and the esteem of the masses. It will be characterized by an exquisite variety of the repetitive and antagonistic modes of expression of the majority of the population and, when writing is introduced, by exquisite literacy and a cult of the written word as such. This is probably applicable to the elites of today’s Russia and Brazil, as well as to the elites of 18th century France.

15th of May 2023


Book review: Jim Curtis, Stalin’s Soviet Monastery, A New Interpretation of Russian Politics, Peter Lang 2020


Very few have studied the influence of residual orality on Russian and Soviet society in general. There are a few mentions of the problematic in Walter J. Ong’s and Marshal McLuhan’s writings, obviously concerning mostly the Soviet Union, there is also an article from 2011 by Yulia Golobokova[1], which addresses the issue of literacy and democracy in Russia. It is thus encouraging that we now have a more extensive study of this phenomenon at our disposal. It is a theme which has enormous social, political, and economical implications. Curtis’ study deals mostly with the Soviet period and the pre-revolutionary period, although its thematic has enormous implications also for today’s Russia and for most of the Soviet Union’s successor states.

What is then orality and residual orality? It is quite easy to define what an oral society is. It is a society where nobody or practically nobody can read or write. Given the studies that have been made on such societies, this seems to have decisive consequences for thinking and social structure. Oral societies depend on stereotypes in order to preserve knowledge, they are based on interpersonal relations rather than on abstract rules, which anyway, cannot preserved. They probably do not even have a concept of corruption, since acting based on personal relations is the only possible behaviour, and there are no impersonal institutions, based on impersonal rules. It is not possible to have a modern constitution, nor a discourse on constitutions.

Oral societies also seem to confer a high status to rhetoric and poetry, used to preserve what Eric. A. Havelock called the tribal encyclopaedia of a culture, its general knowledge. To ancient Greece the Homeric eposes were such an encyclopaedia. In modern Russia, the constantly quoted classical Russian poetry might play a similar role, although on a much more modest level.

Residual orality, a concept introduced by Walter J. Ong, describes the fact that even when writing is introduced, which happened late, but relatively speaking very fast in Russia, many characteristics of oral societies persist for a few generations. According to Curtis, the Soviet Union was such a residually oral society. He claims that many of the differences between Russia and the West become understandable when one takes into account the differences between oral or residually oral societies on one side and literate societies on the other.  This is generally true, and it is striking how Russians still often speak in quotations and formulas, and how literature and especially poetry still play a social role practically inconceivable in today’s Western Europe.

However, one has to take into account, and this does not in any way diminish the value of the claims Curtis is making, correctly analysed this rather corroborates them, that Russia’s alphabetisation process does indeed take place late in comparison to the United States, Germany, Scandinavia and later than England or France, but that it is not excessively late. The Russian Empire had an illiteracy rate of 72 percent in the census of 1897.[2] Italy had a comparable alphabetisation process which took place just a little earlier with 48 percent of illiteracy in 1901.[3] The Balkans are similar to Russia in this respect and Portugal has, in 1930, approximately 60 percent of adult illiteracy[4], and, according to some sources, 30-40 percent of adult illiteracy as late as 1980. Those countries also have some structural similarities with Russia, at least for long a more formulaic way of expression and, in the case of Italy a cult of letters expressed through the long persistence of Latin in the educational system. If one compares Russia with the most developed Western countries the difference between residually oral and literate societies, that is societies with already many generations of high literacy, becomes tangible, but in general the phenomenon of residual orality does not distinguish Russia from Europe, but from certain European and Western countries, among others the United States. As an example, Sweden around 1700 already had a literacy rate of approximately 80 percent.[5] All countries or societies have their particular degrees of residual orality, measurable by the presence of formulaic modes of expression, the importance of stereotypes and archetypes and many other elements, and correlating with the history of its alphabetisation.

A characteristic of oral and residually oral societies is also, according to Curtis, thinking in archetypes. This is, of course, very close to what Ong said about the predominance of formulas and stereotypes in such societies, but Curtis furnishes some very interesting examples, claiming with Eliade “that in oral societies, “an object or an act becomes real only insofar as it imitates or repeats an archetype”.[6] He continues, a few pages later: ”…I would argue that no systemic understanding of Stalinism, or of Soviet history in general, is possible without taking these pre-determined oral conventions into consideration.”[7] Curtis relates the traditional Russian archetypes of passion-sufferers to the perception and acceptance of suffering among the Russian population under Stalin as well as some stereotypes of the folk tale analysed by Propp to elements of Soviet culture. Although there is indeed a certain correlation in this case, I think that it is important not to consider those elements particularly Russian or Soviet. Those are elements which have existed among all nations, but which are preserved in the specific cultural situations of orality and residual orality, and which might have a specific character in societies with certain family systems. They are not a Russian “essence”. The author probably does not claim this either, but it is important to mention.

Curtis also mentions three other elements of orality and residual orality which are rarely mentioned, but which, in my opinion are essential. He mentions, again quoting Eliade, that in oral societies the conventional, chronological time seems to be abolished and things happen as repetitions in a mythical, sacred time. I don’t think it is necessary to have recourse to religious or mystical representations to claim this, although the idea as such is important and promising. It is sufficient to take into account that in residually oral cultures what was once relevant is always relevant. Fundamentally, historical consciousness seems to require a few generations of literacy, of distance to residual orality. To many Serbs the battle on Kosovo Polje was relevant not long ago, and for Radovan Karadzic, poet and medical doctor acting in a residually oral society it was important to recreate an eternal Serbia, which was there independently of historical and political changes. Much of the same seems to decide contemporary Russians’ perception of their former empire, both Soviet and czarist.

Curtis also mentions how the modern capitalist did not correspond to any ancient archetype and thus had problems being accepted in Russian society[8]. This is probably true, although other residually oral societies, like France and Britain a few hundred years ago, did not have problems with introducing capitalism. One probably has to add the element of family systems to explain this Russian, but not only Russian particularity, that is the relative absence of the archetype of the merchant. Curtis seems to associate it with religion and perhaps with the monastery, which as such is probably a correct correlation, one just has to go further. In his description of Russian popular literature around 1900, in a period when Russian literacy was rising very fast, Jeffrey Brooks mentions a certain Russian aversion to purely mercantile success, and also contrasts it with the French, English, and American attitudes to the same subject in popular literature in the corresponding period.[9]

When making a quite interesting comparison between the American ante-bellum South and Soviet Russia Curtis notices a reluctance among residually oral cultures to professional expertise. Here, something very important is addressed. Residually oral cultures do not respect education for the sake of practical purposes. They prefer very down-to-earth production based on natural resources or heavy industry and education and knowledge for its own sake. It is interesting that Italy, which in contemporary Europe has a relatively high industrial production kept a heavy presence of Latin and Greek in upper-secondary school for very long. The Soviet economy with its reliance on natural resources and the Soviet cult of pure mathematics, but not of engineering and medicine, is another interesting example. Even purely technical achievement, like the conquest of space, must have a grandeur in itself and not be directly linked to practical utility. This way of thinking, profoundly bound to residual orality, is probably much more a deep structure of Russian science than, for example,  a centralistic dementia or monstrous bureaucracy. It implies a contempt for the practical application of science, which was present also in Renaissance Europe.

This, in conjunction with Russia’s traditional family systems, is probably one very important reason for Russia’s constant difficulty in developing a middle class. Professional expertise is, simply for structural reasons, not appreciated, and this will not change very soon.

A related theme is the magic of writing: Curtis draws, at least implicitly, the attention to the magical qualities which societies in a state of transition from orality to literacy ascribe to writing. He retells a Soviet fairy tale created by Marfa Kryukova where Lenin, by reading the magic book of the Communist Manifest acquires the forces required to defeat the enemy, capitalism[10]. This is what Emmanuel Todd calls « l’illusion de la puissance du mot écrit, aberration magique »[11]. It seems to always be present in this transition stage.

Curtis discusses the role of ideology in Soviet society. He claims that one has to go beyond the idea that ideology mattered directly because of its content: “As long as people believe that the term Soviet ideology” has valid referential meaning that usefully connects official statements with the practice of power by Soviet officials, they inevitably restrict, rather than enlarge, the universe of human discourse”.[12] The claim the author seems to be making is that Soviet ideology reflects socially widespread stereotypes which were perpetuated by residual orality. This is certainly true, given the discrepancy between ideology and its practical application. Ideology is indeed much more a form than a content. Some societies have it, others not. Populations with a low, but not extremely low degree of literacy seem to be sensitive to ideological slogans. It is certainly not a slump that the Revolution took place when, in the Russian empire, approximately 70 % of young men were literate. That this is a decisive stage has been argued, among others, by Emmanuel Todd. Although Curtis furnishes a beginning, it remains to formulate a more elaborate model which connects residual orality with the rise of ideology.

The importance of residual orality is one aspect, perhaps the most important of this work. However, Curtis also attempts to describe the traditional Russian Monastery as a blueprint for the Soviet Union, the Russian centralization of power and for Stalin’s thinking. This, although the correlations between the two phenomena are ingeniously and as such, convincingly exposed, becomes problematic.  Curtis claims that Stalin, as a young seminarist, was inspired by the structures of the Russian monastery, with submissive monks and a sadistic, dictatorial elderly and that this is a structure which pervaded Soviet society. The correlation is, as such, probably very correct. Russian society practically always had this structure with an authoritarian centre and a submissive, and, below the central power structures, relatively egalitarian people. It is certainly true that the Russian traditional monastery as an institution reflects this and thus correlates with the rest of the structures of Russian and Soviet society.

The question is, however, if the monastery, as well as Soviet and contemporary Russian society, does not reflect another central element in Russian history, the communitarian, thus collective, and patriarchal, thus authoritarian family, widespread in pre-revolutionary Russia, not necessarily dominating everywhere, but much more frequent than in Western Europe, where it is practically absent, except for Central Italy and Southern Portugal. It is, historically speaking, also frequent in Slovakia, Hungary, and the Balkans, and in China and the central parts of Eurasia, of which Russia is, indeed, a part. As Emmanuel Todd has shown, this family structure tends to correlate with a relatively high communist vote, which is the case in Central Italy and Southern Portugal, and as is the case in Russia and China, with the real seizure of power of Communism. In today’s world (May 2023), there seems to be a certain sympathy between those countries: Russia, China, Slovakia, Hungary, in the Balkans at least Serbia and Montenegro and to some extent also Italy. It is interesting to note that Western Ukraine has a much more nuclear structure, closer to what, historically speaking, was very frequent in France.  

I would claim that the structure, both of Soviet and contemporary Russia, reflects this family structure. In such a society, there simply is a demand for authoritarian leaders. However, the gradual, and largely autonomous changes in the degree of residual orality also have to be taken meticulously into account. In residually oral societies there is also a demand for leaders who speak and write in a certain way and reflect certain stereotypes linked to orality. Today’s Russia does preserve many characteristics of residual orality although it is certainly a less residually oral society than pre-revolutionary Russia.

The question whether one has to study the institutions, which are perhaps created by earlier structures and then their immediate repercussions on other phenomena and institutions is, of course, very complex. Some studies, more economically, than politically and culturally oriented seem to indicate that the gain of studying institutions other than historical family structures when it comes to economic outcome in contemporary Europe is small.[13]

Further studies have to be undertaken in order to understand whether this is also relevant for ideology, politics and culture, which phenomena basically form one phenomenon, to which the economy also belongs. Some studies seem to neglect, however, one factor which is an indirect effect of family structures, and that is the educational level created by various family systems, which to some extent modify the initial values connected with family systems, since a few generations of literacy seem to radically modify thinking and create a, to some extent, autonomous process of development. If we consider “residual orality” a phenomenon or an institution, it can, indeed, commence a trajectory which after a few generations has its own dynamics. However, it is, from a synchronic perspective, closely linked to family systems. The communitarian, patriarchal family generally has a late educational take-off, with late alphabetisation both for Russia, Italy, China, Slovakia and Hungary. This also implies, that those countries are still, to some extent, residually oral.

The interaction of other factors, such as family systems and other institutions with residual orality is something that deserves to be further studied. Such studies will probably show complex relations, perhaps with a tendency of certain social systems to preserve elements of residual orality longer than others. We have to remember, though, that residual orality is a stage of development that all societies go through, independently of other institutions. In the contemporary world, Brazil is probably a residually oral society with more liberal structures than Russia. Which interrelationships this creates remains to be studied. It is an enormous progress that we now have one, relatively global study of the importance of residual orality in the Soviet Union. It is of considerable value that Curtis mentions aspects of residual orality which are very rarely taken into account, such as the attitude towards professional expertise, among others. The attempt to relate residual orality to other institutions is also very fruitful, although, as I have said, one has to go further in this respect. In general, this is an enormous contribution to the anthropology of Russia, and not only of Russia.



[1]Golobokova, Yulia, Literacy and Democracy in Russia, ETC: A Review of General Semantics, Vol. 68, No 1. (January 2011), pp. 50-55.


[2] Carlo M. Cipolla, Literacy and Development in the West, Penguin books 1969, p. 128.

[3] Carlo M. Cipolla, Literacy and Development in the West, Penguin books 1969, p. 127.

[4] Emmanuel Todd, La diversité du monde, Editions du Seuil, 1999, p. 406.

[5] Emmanuel Todd, L’invention de l’Europe, Editions du Seuil, 1990, p. 137.

[6] Curtis, p. 37.

[7] Curtis p. 41.

[8] Curtis p. 126.

[9]Brooks, Jeffrey, 2003, When Russia learned to read, Evanston: Northwestern University Press. Brooks observes, among others, the following about Russian popular literature in the period from 1861-1917: “The fact that fame was most often achieved in the arts may have been a result of Russian attitudes toward wealth gained from business or commerce” (Brooks p. 278) and that “The English and French heroes are also more comfortable with their well-deserved wealth than are the Russian, and the deeds that lead to their success often win the acclaim of the community” (Brooks p. 293).  


[10]Curtis p. 40.

[11]Emmanuel Todd, L’invention de l’Europe, Editions du Seuil, 1990, p. 441.

[12] Curtis p. 22.

[13]Cf: Gilles Duranton et al. Family types and the persistence of regional disparities in Europe, November 2008, p. 40: “Finally, when regressing family structures together with other ‘proximate’ factors, such as demographic structure, education, labor force participation, social capital, or sectoral structure on economic performance, the family structure factors are more robust than any of the ‘proximate’ factors”.

The 4th of June 2023

For those who read Russian, I here publish links to three articles, both from the press inside and outside of Russia, about a new discipline which will be taught in Russian universities; “The foundations of Russian statehood”, "Основы российской государственности" in Russian. This seems to be very similar to a new state ideology, although, according to the present Constitution, The Russian Federation ought not to have an official ideology. This will, probably change. I will, myself, this autumn, publish an article about those efforts in a general-interest journal.


Когда введут государственную идеологию? (

Как преподавать в вузе "Основы российской государственности" - Российская газета (

«Молодые должны понимать, куда идет Россия» Как выяснила «Медуза», в вузах появится новый предмет, где будут изучать «российскую идеологию». Ее суть в Кремле описали так: «Запад загнивает, а у нас большое будущее» — Meduza

The 26th of June 2023


Walter J. Ong and society 1


Walter J. Ong correctly stated that orality and literacy do not explain everything. His followers have mostly used his work in the field of comparative literature. The consequences of the understanding of orality and literacy, especially of residual orality and the intellectual history he, to a certain extent, wrote, do however go far beyond the field of literature, although literature is, of course, very relevant as such. Here and there, Ong’s writings contain scattered remarks which enter into the domain of a general science of culture or society, although he never developed a system.

He is relevant from the point of view of gender studies too, furnishing an understanding of phenomena in modernity which, perhaps, correlate with deep changes in the perception of gender.

Ong writes about the “decline” of grammar: “Of recent years persons who in another age might have become grammarians have manifested very little inclination to do so. Grammar itself has lost its appeal and its nerve. Walter J. Ong, Grammar in the twentieth century (1956), reprinted in An Ong Reader, p. 247.

This constatation has deep sociological repercussions. The drift towards the periphery of phenomena which were earlier, that is in residually oral societies, central: poetry, rhetoric, quotations and at least the cult of and essentialisation of correctness of language, which is close to grammar, and the lack of interest of elites in highly literate, highly modern societies for those things have profound consequences for the social structure as a whole. Elites which are bearers of residual orality will have values which are completely different than those of elites in highly literate societies.

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Toto je popis bloku. Chceš-li tento popis upravit, klikni na text a nahraď jej vlastním obsahem. Tento prostor použij pro převedení návštěvníků stránky na tvé zákazníky pomocí promo akce