chapter  8
Oral Memory and the Teaching of Literacy: Some Implications from Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon
Pages 12

In early discussions of the Western oral-literate tradition, the concept of oral memory is frequently cited as the storage mechanism of the Homeric bard. Eric Havelock's The Greek Concept of Justice (38-53) offers an especially useful analysis of the psychology of oral memorization. Similarly, in other ethnic, nonWestern oral traditions, the human, oral memory stores and passes on cultural knowledge without ever writing it down. Using oral memory as a category of talking about language, I will show the ways in which the evolved Western literate tradition not only abandons the historical canon of memory in classical rhetoric-an inattentiveness that is fairly familiar, 1 but I will also articulate the

less familiar ways in which this Western literate tradition poses conflicts for cultural oral memory and orality as Toni Morrison illustrates this in Song of Solomon. I will also show the ways in which oral memory gave African Americans a means to acquiring literacy as illustrated in Frederick Douglass's "Narrative." This illustration reveals strong links to Havelock's arguments about orality as an essential means to literacy for all of our students. Stating that a dichotomous view of orality and literacy is a mistake, Havelock writes in a late essay that the relationship between orality and literacy is

one of mutual, creative tension, one that has both a historical dimension-as literate societies have emerged out of oralist ones-and a contemporary one-as we seek a deeper understanding of what literacy may mean to us as it is superimposed on an orality into which we were born and which governs so much of the normal give and take of daily life. ("Oral-Literate" 11)

I will conclude this chapter with an open-ended discussion about the significance of teaching memory, orality, and literacy together, with a specific focus on two scholars, Kathleen Welch and David Bleich, who are articulating these pedagogical strategies.