Friday, November 26, 2004

On Tuesday (23 Nov.), I came across Ong's 3rd edition (1899) of Bright's Anglo-Saxon Reader. My first graduate class in Old English used the 3rd ed, second corrected printing (1971) with the modern title of Bright's Old English Grammar & Reader. (I used Mitchell and Robinson's A Guide to Old English 5th ed. in my undergraduate independent study and in my 2nd quarter OE class at Portland State and in my OE class here at SLU, not that anyone will care). Any way, pasted into the first page of section of Ohtere and Wulfstan's voyages is a map, complete with Old English names, Ong had adapted from Bosworth's map in 1854 edition of Alfred's Orosius. I've already talked to John Waide about scanning this and putting it up on the Web site once we begin doing such things. And I plan on including it in the exhibit I'll be putting together in mid-April.

I also came across Ong's copy of J.R.R. Tolkien and R.V. Gordon's Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (still the standard scholarly edition of the poem), which is also heavily annotated. According to Ong's notes, annotations include notes from Francis P. Magoun, Jr.'s lectures. I never realized Magoun was one of Ong's professors, and it's likely Ong also took Old English and Beowulf from Magoun, a fact which I'm looking into.

This Magoun connection is quite fascinating. Not only is Magoun the supposed source for the cartoon character Mr. Magoo, he's also the first scholar to apply the Parry-Lord approach to Old English poetry with the 1953 publication of "The Oral-Formulaic Character of Anglo-Saxon Narrative Poetry" (Speculum 28: 446-67), which I know because it through this article that I was introduced to oral-formulaic theory and, in turn, Ong's own work. According to Foley, while Magoun first published the article on oral-formula in OE in 1953 based upon Lord's recently finished dissertation (which was published as The Singer of Tales in 1960), Magoun was close "to conceiving of an oral tradition of Old English poetry fully twenty-four years before his seminal article of 1953" with the publication of "Recurring First Elements in Different Nominal Compounds in Beowulf and in the Elder Edda" (Studies in English Philology: A Miscellany in Honor of Frederick Klæber. Ed. Kemp Malone and Martin B. Ruud. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1929. 73-78).

While it was not oral-formulaic theory itself that sparked Ong's first insight into the increasing visual turn connected to print culture, and it's no secret that Ong has relied heavily upon Parry and Lord as early pioneers in the technologizing of the word, I wonder just how much Ong's own insight while reading Rudol Bultmann in the Bibliothèque nationale would have occurred without the classes from Magoun? Something we'll never know, obviously. Or it might be more accurate to reflect upon the milieu at Harvard while Ong was there -- Milman Parry and Albert Lord working on oral-formulaic theory, Magoun working on it independently and then adapting the Parry-Lord approach, Parry Miller and his knowledge of Ramus.... I mention all of this because when Ong asked McLuhan for advice on Ph.D. programs, McLuhan suggested Ong go to Yale to study under Wimsatt.

Any way, back to Gawain. As I turned over the flyleaf of Ong's SGGK, I was greeted by the face of the Jolly Green Giant. I unfolded the large ad to find an advert for frozen corn from the 60s or 70s. At the top read "Frozen corn-on-the-cob that tastes like fresh? Shucks, yes!" Beside that, Ong had written "Live even though it's dead." I've seen the Jolly Green Giant thousands of times. I've loved and read and reread and even taught 3 times SGGK, but I'd never made the Jolly Green Giant=Green Man=Green Knight connection before until I turned that page and saw the JGG looking up at me. Ong, I'm told (and can see), was quite open to popular culture and made such connections all the time.

Near the end of the day, I took a break and peeked into the back recesses of some of the smaller filing cabinets and found:

  • An envelope of 20+ library cards from North American and European libraries (I didn't work through them systematically so it's possible there are card from other parts of the world as well).
  • 5 or 6 passports (again, I didn't look at them systematically, but I'm assuming it's all the passports Ong had over the years).
  • A pocket sized journal which Ong had titled "Route Book showing travels in the course of work in Europe March 1950-Nov. 1953: A record of places visited and of little else." I spent a few minutes flipping through it and It's pretty much what it claims to be, though it often mentions how he got from place to place and makes note of where he said Mass.


And, finally, I opened up what I thought was a box of books and found a number of files. Mostly it's drafts of and letters concerning Dennis L. Weeks and Jane Hoogestraat's Time, Memory, and the Verbal Arts: Essays on the Thought of Walter Ong and Bruce E. Gronbeck, Thomas J. Farrell, Paul A. Soukup's Media, Consciousness, And Culture : Explorations Of Walter Ong's Thought, but there's some work by Ong as well. I really didn't get time to look at them, but there was at least one folder labeled "inactive" and one folder labeled "doubtful but not inactive." In the "doubtful" folder was a series of lecture note cards from the 1950s and 60s, a two-page annotated list of possible chapters, and some other publications (not Ong's) for, I'm assuming, notes. The possible chapters pages were titled "The Apostolate of Discovery: The American Catholic Intellectual." I'm sure this will be more fodder for the idea I've been detailing here and there in this blog which I'd already begun calling "Ong's Theology of Discovery."

While Ong annotated extensively, he didn't annotate everything, and it's days like this that make up for the drudgery that scanning page after page of annotated text can be.

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