George Archer

“In the World to Come, You Will Be Able to Read: A Translation Riddle on the Colonialism of the Literate Mind”

George Archer, Speaker Photo SORAAAD 2019We want to read artifacts as if we are in their primary audience; to pull back the blanket of history and culture and see what “they” see. We are perpetually stuck in this translation process. Can we make the foreign familiar without colonizing, bastardizing, tokenizing, or appropriating it? Can we study the Other? This discussion will expose a small conundrum of whether and how we are to examine a foreign artifact. The artifact in question will be the Qurʾān.

The Qurʾān appeared in the 7th century world of Arabic speakers in which there is no evidence for advanced literature. Indeed, the Qurʾān, certainly one of the most influential books in world history, comes from a milieu otherwise free of books. It is a document from a world without documents. And therefore, it is not designed for the literate mind, but for the oral mind. Scholars of orality have repeatedly noticed that the long shift from pure orality to high literacy is more than just learning a new skill. Oral peoples organize and comprehend texts in drastically different ways from us, many of which are highly unexpected. What does it mean to discuss the Qur’ān when the milieu in which it appeared has radically different visions of text, language, definition, memory, order, and structure? How can we read this important document, when it isn’t made to be read at all?


Archer, George The Oral World of the Quranic Mind,, release date, November 2, 2019

  • Walter J. Ong. Orality and Literacy. York: Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1982.
    • The most significant overview of the study of orality. While quite readable and approachable, it is somewhat out of date and often generalizing.
  • John Miles Foley. How to Read an Oral Poem. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002.
    • A slightly more nuanced study of orality and oral performance, using more specific studies of Tibetan, South African, Greek, and American orality.
  • Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. New York: Harper, 2008.
    • A introduction to the history of literacy and its polygenesis from a physiological point of view.