The Writing Lesson: From Africa to Ancient Greece
'The writing lesson' is a seemingly elementary scenario that has been staged by very different schools of thought across many disciplines. In reconsidering several classic versions of this scene as it appears in anthropology, history and literature, from Herodotus to Lévi-Strauss, Derrida and Certeau, this paper will explore exactly what is at stake for class, race and culture in these constructs. The point of departure will be an address delivered at Berkeley in 1999 – and published around the time J. M. Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (2003) – in which Coetzee reopened some of the questions that have made the subject of orality and literacy so controversial and so fiercely contested. In the light of a complex history, and at a certain critical distance, new questions might now be posed, such as why the juxtaposition of Africa and Ancient Greece has both alarmed and assuaged Western conscience, and exactly what it means, in the twenty-first century, to order the world in terms of 'people(s) of the book.'
Keywords: 'People of the Book, Writing Lesson, Orality and Literacy, Coetzee, J. M., Ancient Greece – Literacy
Dr Michael Lynn-George
Associate Professor, Department of History and Classics, University of Alberta