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Literacy Does Not Erase Orality

            In his article "Caught in a net of words" (2000), McKenzie Wark examines the fate of Aboriginal culture in a society where it seemingly must adopt European forms of writing in order to exist. A theme prevalent in the article is that while writing is an important and necessary tool of communication in Western society, for Aboriginal people, writing has been a historical enemy. He maintains that it has been an instrument of Colonial oppression, and that when Aboriginal people are forced to adopt European forms of writing in order to communicate, their culture is subordinated in Australian society. While he admits that Aboriginals have successfully adopted writing as a means of communication, he asserts that by doing so, they are erasing the inherent orality of their culture. As a whole, Wark's argument seems to be not without merit. Writing has indeed been utilised as a means to administer and control the lives of Aboriginal people in the past, and to an extent, still is to this day. It is also the case that in order to exist and have a chance to survive in a predominately Western society, Aboriginal culture seems to have little choice but to adopt numerous Western societal attributes. However, to say that adopting writing as a primary means of communication is detrimental to Aboriginality as a culture, could be a problematic assertion. While it would seem there is validity in Wark's reasoning, some of the notions in his argument implicitly presented as fact seem to leave substantial room for interpretation, and require careful analysis. For instance, Wark's assertion that Aboriginal culture is an oral culture seems to be based on a preconception that only European forms of literacy count as writing. Another idea that he puts forward is that by changing a culture, in this case by changing its primary means of communication, that the culture itself is necessarily diluted or erased.

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