In ABC... philosopher and cultural analyst Ivan Illich and medieval scholar and literary critic Barry Sanders have produced an original, meticulous and provocative study of the advent, spread and present decline of literacy. They explore he impact of the alphabet on fundamental thought processes and attitudes, on memory, on political groupings and religous and cultural expectations. Their examination of the present erosion of literacy in the new technological languages of 'newspeak' and 'uniquack' and they point out how new attitudes to language are altering our world view; our sense of self and of community.
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.