Thursday, September 02, 2004

I'm working through a number of off-prints Fr. Ong has, looking for annotations. While skimming his essay "Recent Studies in the English Renaissance" in Studies in English Literature: 1500-1900 4.1 (1964): 163-194, I notice the subheading "Interpretations of Literary History: The Long View." This immediately caught my eye because I've been using the phrase "the long view" to describe what I believe is one of Fr. Ong's greatest contributions to scholarship, his historicizing contemporary culture. I presented on this for a Ong colloquium in the fall of 2003 in a presentation titled "Taking the Long View: Digital Culture and the Legacy of Walter J. Ong and Marshall McLuhan." And here, at the end of this essay by Fr. Ong, I find him using Marshall McLuhan to advocate the same theme:

"I venture to close this account of recent Renaissance studies with The Gutenberg Galaxy because the new perspective which it opens regarding the relationship of literature to the whole of human culture are badly needed. Literary scholarship, necessarily involved in more and more detail, as is this year's harvest of English Renaissance material alone makes clear, must of course justify this involvement by continued return to the literary works themselves on which the detail bears. But this return is not enough. If scholarship cannot rest on a limitless sequence of details, neither can it rest on a limitless sequence of great aesthetic moments. It calls for some kind of overall wisdom, if not as prerequisite at least as outcome.

"Wisdom is reflective, and the state of affairs today intensifies reflection in two ways, among others. First, there is more to reflect on, immeasurably more than earlier ages have known, because of unprecedented accumulation of information and scholarship to which we are heir and which we are augmenting at always accelerating speeds. Secondly, there is our awareness of the historical dimension of the accumulation. Because we know what we do of the history of literature and scholarship, we not only savor the knowledge which we have but we also sense the existence of a trajectory along which we are moving. We thus need an account not only of literature in a static sense, but also of literature in its patterned, evolutionary movements: where has it been and where is it going? The development of scholarship is influenced by the development of literature, but does not parallel it: there has always been contemporary literature, but no previous culture has been so deeply involved with its own contemporary literature on reflective, scholarly grounds as is our own. Under these circumstances, we need more efforts like The Gutenberg Galaxy, enabling us to see both literature and the study of literature, together with a great many other things, in terms of the total venture which is mankind" (194).

I also came across a letter to Fr. Ong from Francis Yates.


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