Historical Rhetorics/Rhetoric's Medieval Resurgence/Schaeffer, John D. “The Dialectic of Orality and Literacy: The Case of Book 4 of Augustine’s De doctrina christiana.” ''PMLA'' 111.5 (October 1996): 1133-1145.
Schaeffer, John D. “The Dialectic of Orality and Literacy: The Case of Book 4 of Augustine’s De doctrina christiana.” PMLA 111.5 (October 1996): 1133-1145.
Schaeffer’s argument centers on his discussion of the important role of orality in Augustine’s treatise: “If book 4 of the De doctrina is read as advice on how to deliver an extemporaneous sermon, Augustine’s recommendations suggest that he is not simply opposing classical rhetoric: he is…returning to the orally based rhetoric of republican Rome, which he is adapting to a textually based religion attended by an emerging sense of interiority” (1134).
Schaeffer suggests that those who see “orality and literacy as a binary opposition” have missed the point of De doctrina’s book 4: “Book 4 makes more sense read according to an ‘ideological’ model…as a product of social institutions that support and incorporate a mixture of orality and literacy” (1135). He argues that the low literacy rates of late antiquity equate to an emphasis on orality over textuality but also reveal important connections between orality and the texts being performed. In fact, he says, “every text involved a performance" (1136). This does not mean, however, that the texts themselves are unimportant, for “the predominance of oral performance…must not obscure the fact that these performances were of and about written texts” (1136).
The same interiority that produces wisdom produces prayer that is at once formulaic, rhetorical, and sincere; it is at once text (read: Scripture) based and extemporaneous, just like the kind of rhetorical oratory Augustine encourages throughout book 4 (1139).