Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Weather permitting, we hope to bring the collection over tomorrow. We'll see.

While reading "System, Space, and Intelect in Renaissance Symbolism." (Bibliotheque d'Humanism et Renaissance 18 (1956): 222-239. Rpt. Faith and Contexts: Volume Three Further Essays 1952-1990. Ed. Thomas J. Farrell and Paul A. Soukup. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995. 9-27), I realized that even if "Hollows of the Mind" [title of a chapter cut from Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue"] ultimately refers to Book X of Augustine's Confessions (and I'm not completely sure it does), it also refers to a specific idea Ong expressed earlier:

"With the invention of printing, this notion [of the book] itself undergoes metamorphosis. Rather than a record of something one had said, a book now became an object, belonging more to the world of things and less to the world of words [....] Book titles change from addresses to the reader to become labels like the labels on boxes, for, with the spread of printing, books become items manufactured like tables and chairs. As objects or things, they obviously 'contained' knowledge. And since knowledge could be 'contained' in books, why not in the mind as well?

"At this point the whole intellectual world goes hollow. The mind now 'contains' knowledge, especially in the compartments of the various arts and sciences, which in turn may 'contain' one another, and which all 'contain' words" (16).

The whole essay is quite worth reading. It's one of those key texts Ong critics ought to read before leveling their charges. In this article, Ong makes it clear that the cognitive shifts which he discusses aren't a "great leap" (to use Daniel's term) but a slow development through time connected with but not necessarily the cause of changes in communication.

Noting that Copernicus's De revolutionibus was published at the same time as Ramus' work, he writes:

"The rise of the notion of system as applied to the possessions of the mind is only one in a kaleidoscope of phenomena that mark the shift from the more vocal ancient world--truly an audile's world--to what has been called the silent, colorless, and depersonalized Newtonian universe" (25).

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