Kelber observes that current studies of orality have exposed a mentality among scholars who consider communication and tradition in terms of literature, while ignoring oral elements.. On the contrary, the ideas of "text and intertextuality, author and tradition, reading and writing, memory and imagination, logic and cognition" are all related ot orality, when seen in their historic context (Kelber 1995, 410). For this reason, Kelber sets out to investigate the oral context of text traditions, particularly in religion and technology.
Kelber notes that Gorgias distinguished between pain and pleasure in the hearers who receive communication. It is the reception which governs the effectiveness of a presentation (Kelber 1995, 411). Kelber understand this is counterintuitive to some in the modern West. However, Gorgias sees the speech as effective not only due to its truth, but also due to its poetic power.
In a similar manner, Plato did not wish to have poets in the ideal state. In Republic 605-607 Plato speaks of the emotive reception of petic words as a womanly characteristic, as opposed to a manly type of strength. The drama of the presentation is considered powerful, even if the concept is not (Kelber 1995, 413).
Kelber does consider whether a literate mentality has distanced our thought processes from oral messages. Yet, regardless of that fact, Plato, who did typically consider literacy to hinder mental processes, did engage in writing. Yet he considered the power of poetic presentation of ideas to be much greater than that of written materials (Kelber 1995, 414). Interestingly enough, Kelber recognizes Plato as considering dialectic as a primarily verbal activity, and thus a powerful form or lotical and almost poetic persuasion (Kelber 1995, 415). Knowledge was sought after, but the most effective use of dialectic, in Plato, was not involved with the emotions, but "by thought itself" (Kelber 1995, 416).
Kelber notes that Plato's exclusion of senses from thought was contradictory to other ancient conceptions of knowledge (Kelber 1995, 416). What is more, Plato himself uses many metaphors of seeing. He appears not to be able to engage in thought without some sort of imagery. This is not unique to Plato in any way. Kelber illustrates the idea by the mytho of Mnemosyne, the mother of the Muses, who were literally the daughters of Memory. They always used sensible, verbal, auditory, and pictoral means to carry on their work (Kelber 1995, 417).
Aristotle also, in his Memory and Recollection, describes the use of images to enable us to think (Kelber 1995, 418). This is further illustrated in the classic works of rhetoricians, who speak of memory as a collection of images, which are ideally arranged and connected with one another.
Within Christian culture, the same pattern can be observed. Kelber, noting that Augustine was a "practicing rhetor and trained rhetorician" (Kelber 1995, 419) and that he spoke of the eloquence of the apostle Paul, whose argumentations were regularly very visual in nature. They do not pursue abstract truth, but truth as learned through dialectic and observed in real, concrete settings (Kelber 1995, 420). Above all, the rhetorical presentation is situational. "The casuistry of his rhetoric runs counter to theological and logical premises, prompting charges of inconsistency, even of intellectual inferiority. But rhetoric, not logic, is the key to Paul" (Kelber 1995, 421). The interaction is with the one idea or the one audience. The dialectical elements are governed by the rhetorical goal. Kebler sees this as an oral orientation. The goal of communication was tomotivate individuals toward a particular outcome, rather than to explore theoretical forms (Kelber 1995, 422).
Kelber observes that the first five centuries of the Christian era were full of debate, including debate about the proper use of rhetoric in Christian proclamation (Kelber 1995, 423). Some of the Fathers were trained rhetoricians. However, they did ask whether engaging in rhetoric would be contradictory to the gospel proclamation. An additional matter of controversy was the recognition of canonical Scripture, which effectively legitimized a written text as the rule of teaching and preaching (Kelber 1995, 424). This did not mean that memory was irrelevant. In fact, Augustine was a very strong proponent of the role of memory in the Christian life, even though he was also a prolific writer. Kelber cites reflections of Augustine which indicate he valued memory greatly, but would have to go beyond the power of memory and reflection to reach effective contemplation of God (Kelber 1995, 425).
In Augustine the distinction between classical oratory and the authority of Scripture proves to be very important. Kelber analyzes the idea of teaching in Augustine's De Doctrina Christiana. Augustine found an appropriate place for eloquence in Christian proclamation (Kelber 1995, 426). Yet, counter to classical rhetoricians, Augustine assigned authority to the Bible, not to the rhetoric used to explain it. The eloquence is, in some ways, irrelevant. What matters is the authority of the biblical text (Kelber 1995, 427). Kelber identifies this as a view of rhetoric appropriate to presentation of ideas, but a hermeneutic which is based on a specific text. The words of Scripture were signs of realities, but the signs bore an authority in themselves, and that authority was not to be violated (Kelber 1995, 428).
Kelber goes on to speak of a miniature from prior to 1000, depicting Gregory the Great interacting with a Bible but listening to the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Meanwhile a scribe is paying attentino to the interaction. Kelber understands this to suggest that the hermeneutic is something requiring divine inspiration, and that there is some sort of need for additional mediation before the scribe can understand what to write (Kelber 1995, 431). The oral symbolism is clear. Although manuscripts were becoming more important from the time of Gregory the Great to the time of the miniature, there was nothing anachronistic about the idea that truth would be expressed verbally and not entirely in the form of a text (Kelber 1995, 432). Reading was considered an oral process, not necessarily a reflective process. This continued throughout the Middle Ages (Kelber 1995, 433).
The use of Latin in sacred and philosophical texts may have contributed to a phenomenon of orality. Kelber observes that it was used as the primary scholarly language in the West for over a thousand years. The texts, read, re-read, and commented on through many generations, became part of a cultural and religious memory. It was easy, especially within Scholasticism, to reflect back upon the ancient rhetoricians and their consideration of memory as a collection of images. This is evident in Bernard of Clairvaux, among others (Kelber 1995, 435). Likewise, the scholastic collection and arrangement of ideas in different earlier voices bears a striking similarity to the rhetorical arrangement of the classical world. Kelber sees this as akin to dialectic, but slightly different from Plato's. In Plato's dialectic the goal was to have a discourse which would develop something. By the time of Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae, the dialectic is "characterized by a nonemotional, stylized quality of thought and a severe asceticism of language" (Kelber 1995, 436). it is much more theoretical in nature than the dialectic of Plato. At the same time, memory, rather than serving primarily in a role as the governor of rhetoric, became the guarantor of ethics. "Thomas recommended it as a helpmate of prudence based on considerations of practical reason" (Kelber 1995, 438).
Kelber takes one further step to the thought of William of Ockham. Ockham "refused to admit that there was anything in the experienced world that corresponded to the universality of a concept" (Kelber 1995, 439). For this reason, demonstrating the being of God was extremely difficult. God could not be known from propositional truth, but must be known based on faith. Logical demonstration simply would not work. It could only point to some attributies of God, not to the entire person.
Ockham's emphasis on what was evident through propositional truth, took Christian doctrine to be based very strongly on the written word, something which was demonstrably in existence and remarkably stable (Kelber 1995, 441). The language was not intended to be interpreted emotionally, but logically. The linguistic sign is, however, merely a sign. It does not bear emotive force in itself. The scribal thought, most clearly articulated in early Christianity by Augustine, bore fruit in Ockham. The stage was set then for scriptural authority and the human cognitive abilities as an appropriate interpreter of the text (Kelber 1995, 443).
Kelber's conclusion is that memory, and rhetorical use of memory were broadly seen as arbiters of cognition in antiquity, and as a lasting concept until even the later part of the Middle Ages (Kelber 1995, 444). It is important to bear that in mind when we attempt to interpret ancient communications.