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In Of Grammatology, postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida (Algerian-born French philosopher, 1930-2004) developed a philosophy known as deconstruction. While primarily a philosophy, it has also been immensely influential in literary theory. Deconstruction challenges the very core of Western metaphysical thought, which depends on the creation of meaning via binary oppositions. For example, when one opposes speech to writing (or spirit to flesh, human to animal, nature to culture), the first term, "speech," representing oral communication, is the pure, truer form; writing is secondary, a supplement; that is, it seems not as mediated. Does writing transcribe some ideal concept hidden in speech or is speech really not already a kind of "writing"? Is "speech" like breath—natural, unmediated, utterly presentmdash;whereas writing is not? Derrida's point is to deconstruct the metaphysical premise behind such a notion: "I think on the contrary that oral language already belongs to writing." In other words, to Derrida all speech is contained in a system called writing; there is no access to an unmediated "truth."

Plato and Writing
When exactly the Greeks began to use writing is still under debate, but most agree it was probably sometime in the last half of the eighth century BCE. Plato (Greek philosopher, 428-347 BCE ) was quite interested in the roots of Greek culture in an oral tradition and the effect writing had on the development of rational thought. Plato perceived writing as a tool to advance his notions of the rational mind. He, and Socrates (Greek philosopher, 469-399 BCE) before him, saw Greek society trapped in an oral mode of discourse and learning that was based on emotion, subjectivity, and memorization rather than rationality, thought, and objectivity. No less than the soul of Greek culture and the notion of Western individuality were at stake. Until that time, Greek cultural tradition had been transmitted by means of "rhythmic narratives," according to Eric Havelock (American classical scholar, 1903-88) in Preface to Plato. Rhythm was a means of helping the teller and listener remember what Marshall McLuhan (Canadian scholar and media theorist, 1911-80) called the "cultural encyclopedia," whereby learners had to surrender themselves to the spell of the oral poetic performance. But memorization came at a price—the diminishing of rational in thought and in society.

To break this spell, Socrates developed the dialectic method, a means of philosophical inquiry in which listeners interactively engage the speaker in a dialog. This was a radical tool, but not radical enough for Plato, who turned to the newly developing technology of writing. For him, writing was a battering ram needed to break long-standing traditions of Greek culture; those locked in the poetic traditions that he felt stifled thought and prevented the development of the individual.

Poetic methods of learning depended on certain tools, because the learner had to memorize long texts. These tools—rhythm and emotional identification—take a great deal of psychic energy, which could be redirected and employed for rational thought. By using writing as a means to aid memory, the mind could be freed. Thus education is not only learning knowledge through memorization but also the cultivation of rational thinking facilities of the mind. Plato did not completely abandon oral tradition: In Phaedrus (Greek fable writer, C. 15 BCE-50 CE), he records Socrates as he reasserts the power of oral memory and dialectic as a philosophical tool:

I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves.

Some have interpreted this as an attack on writing, yet it is not. It is merely an assertion that writing is not enough: once written, thought needs to be probed.

But nobler far is the serious pursuit of the dialectician, who, finding a congenial soul, by the help of science sows and plants therein words which are able to help themselves and him who planted them, and are not unfruitful, but have in them a seed which others brought up in different soils render immortal, making the possessors of it happy to the utmost extent of human happiness.

Socrates advocates a kind of living writing, one that evolves through dialog and exchange. This is precisely the kind of writing made possible by the computer, through hypertext and the ability of multimedia to juxtapose image, text, and other media, and for the reader to interact with the text by changing the words in it.