Sunday, November 07, 2004

[The following are the talking points from my M/MLA 2004 presentation "The Walter J. Ong Archive: A Preliminary Report," which was given 6 Nov. 2004.]


I am here today to talk about the Walter J. Ong Collection, which is held by Saint Louis University’s Pius XII Memorial Library, Department of Special Collections.

In this talk, I will give a brief overview of the collection, explain what is currently available, what our future plans are, and share with you a few of the interesting items I’ve found so far.


Over the years, until 1990 or so, Fr. Ong gave to the library a number of personal items including books, papers, and letters to be housed in the University archives, and many years ago he requested that all his personal papers and his personal library be donated the University Archives upon his death, which the Missouri Province of the Society of Jesus did do this past August.

This summer, the library hired me as an English Ph.D. candidate with an interest in Ong’s scholarship to work over the next two years as a graduate research assistant to help the University archivists organize, preserve, and describe the collection.


The Walter J. Ong Collection currently consists of two parts, what I’m going to call the public collection and the non-public collection.

The public collection consists of 12 boxes of material Fr. Ong gave to the library up to, I think 1990, as well as some Ong related items donated to us by others. While this material is publically available, it is not yet cataloged.

The non-public collection consists of all of Fr. Ong’s files, papers, books, and computer files which were donated to Saint Louis University this past August by the Missouri Province of the Society of Jesus.

To some extent, the distinction between the public and non-public collections is arbitrary and reflects the fact that the material Fr. Ong had sent over prior to 1990s had been available to the public.

The plan is to eventually integrate both collections together, catalog them, and make the entire collection publically available by the end of summer 2006. An online finding guide and a collection Web site should be available at that time as well.

Public Collection

The publically available collection consists of some 12 boxes of material which break down as such:

-3 boxes of book typescripts, including
  • Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue,

  • the Ramus and Talon Inventory,

  • In the Human Grain,

  • The Presence of the Word,

  • Knowledge and the Future of Man,

  • Interfaces of the Word,

  • Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology,

  • Fighting for Life,

  • Hopkins, Self, and God,

  • Milton Logic, and

  • Orality and Literacy.

-3 boxes of works, mostly off-prints, but also some typescripts of papers, lectures, an account of a trip Ong took to Leningrad in 1968, and his annotated copy of the Ramus and Talon Inventory.

-3 boxes of off-prints given to Fr. Ong by other scholars.

-A box of lectures and address, many with handwritten notes and corrections. Most, but not all, of these have seen publication in some form.

-A box with two index-card boxes which contain note cards for Orality & Literacy, Milton Logic, and Fighting for Life.

-A box with miscellaneous items, including audio recordings of some lectures and radio broadcasts, and 7 slide boxes.

6 of the slide boxes were taken while Fr. Ong was in Europe working on his dissertation and include pictures of the only known oil painting of Peter Ramus.

The 7th box includes slides is of Fr. Ong’s 1968 trip Europe, which includes a conference in Finland, a trip to Leningrad, theWenner-Gren Foundation conference in Austria, and some time spent in Paris.

Non-public Collection

39 cardboard boxes
4 four-drawer file cabinets
1 two-drawer file cabinet
4 2-drawer stackable metal boxes
2 metal index card boxes

The boxes mostly contain Fr. Ong’s personal library. Books he’d collected, been given, as well as archival, working copies, and revising copies of the books he authored. There are also journals, off-prints, dissertations given to him, audio and video recordings, a McLuhan CD-ROM, some papers, etc.

The filing cabinets are all well organized. The four-drawer files contain both “general files” and “publications.” General files include everything from general correspondence to his Rockhurst diploma to sketches and doodles to course syllabi to work on local and national committees.

The Publication files are chronological and contain such things as typescripts and off-prints, related correspondence, audio recordings, and the like.

-The two-drawer filing cabinet has off-prints given to Fr. Ong and information regarding Ong related conference sessions.

-The stackable metal boxes have note cards used for class lectures and, I think, some sermons.

-And the index card boxes contain note cards for the Ramus projects.

Handout [note: I may scan the handout and post it online at some point. If I do, I'll link to it from this blog.]

-As I said, there are a number of syllabi, lecture notes, etc. in Fr. Ong’s files. I include on your handout a lecture note card on Sylvia Plath as an example.


-In the general files is a folder labeled “artwork” which has a number of sketches and doodles. In that folder is an envelope labeled “1931-32 done during German class Rockhurst College.” Most of the sketches in that envelope are of hands and heads.
Personally, however, what I’ve found most interesting are a number of sketches of flora and fauna, which include the three on your handout.

In addition to these sketches, I’ve come across some field notes of flora and fauna Fr. Ong saw while exploring an area he was visiting. I find all of this is quite interesting when considered in conjunction with the following comment Ong wrote in a letter:

"Regarding your question as to why with so much of my educational background in Latin and philosophy and theology (and science -- I've always been a biologist at heart, in study and hobbies), I took up with English for my MA and PhD, I might say that English seemed intellectually and culturally roomier and more open than other subjects. It could encompass what they did and more -- could open the way into almost anything."


-In the publication files, in part of the section on Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue and the Ramus and Talon Inventory there is a folder of correspondence detailing the ordeal Fr. Ong went through in getting the two works published.

In these letters, I learned that Harvard UP was concern with the length of the two works, and it’s my impression they would have been quite happy to drop the Inventory altogether. To get both published, Fr. Ong had to revise and cut heavily.

Also of interest in this file is the minor fallout from the scathing review one of the two outside readers Perry Miller had suggested gave the work. In it, the reviewer accused Ong of writing an intellectual history with a Jesuit bias, and of being both anti-Renaissance and anti-Protestant, and strongly recommended Harvard UP not publish it at all. Harvard UP, it’s quite clear, didn’t give the review much credit, but they had to bring in additional readers before they could accept the work.

My favorite says something to the effect that all intellectual histories have a bias and that he didn’t see why a Jesuit bias was worse than any other, and that while the work may be anti-Protestant and anti-Renaissance, he had been unable to detect it.

Not part of this file, but directly related to it is the second page of your handout, which is a working draft of the TOC of Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue.

*note original title: "The Clunch Fist of Method: Ramus, Topical Logic, and the Hollows of the Mind.”

*Ong contributed the paper “The Clunch Fist of Method” to the 1952 English Institute at Columbia University. Philip Wheelright delivered the paper for Ong because he was still in France doing dissertation research thanks to a second Guggenheim Fellowship. The paper was published in the 1952 English Institute collection under the title “Ramus: Rhetoric and the Pre-Newtonian Mind.”

*“Hollows of the Mind” was one of the chapters cut from Book IV

*I have not yet been able to find a copy of Ong’s dissertation. However, unlike all the other book typescripts of which we have one copy of each, all identified as “press copy,” we have two copies of Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue and the Inventory, a revising copy and a press copy. I’m beginning to suspect that Fr. Ong used his copy of the dissertation as a working revision draft. These typescripts are publically available.

While the artwork and the file on Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue are not currently publically available, I do want to draw attention to one item that is: Fr. Ong’s heavily annotated “revising” copy of the 1958 Inventory. Ong’s annotations, mostly additions and corrections, have never been published. I specifically mention this because I think it’s a project someone ought to investigate.

Other Cool Stuff

-A teaching copy of Presence of the Word in which passages he appears to have read in class have had "or her" and "or she" written in. Notes in the margins seem to suggest that this was in 1991/92.

-Inserted at the beginning of the "Talked Book" chapter of Interfaces of the Word is a Family Circus cartoon in which the two boys run up to their grandmother, one of them holding a book above his head. The caption reads "Would you talk us a book, Grandma?"

And, finally, there’s a gift inscription in a book from McLuhan that reads:

Greetings Walter old horse,
'Some of my best friends are Jesuits but I wouldn't want my daughter to marry one.'

At the beginning of the Handout, I list three URLs. The first is to the St. Louis Room, which is the Rare Book Room and University Archives where the Walter J. Ong Collection is held.

The Second is the URL to my blog, “Notes from the Walter J. Ong Archive,” where I’m posting selections from of my working notes, thoughts and ideas related to Ong and Ong’s work, and occasionally news. I don’t update the blog every day but rather I tend to do multiple entries a couple of times a month.

Lastly, the third URL is to the Walter J. Ong Project, which includes information about Fr. Ong and, soon, the most comprehensive bibliography available.

SLU will host Ong Conference this April and the St. Louis Room will have items from the archive on display at that time.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home