Thursday, December 09, 2004

From McDonough, Peter. Men Astutely Trained: A History of the Jesuits in the American Century. New York: The Free Press, 1992.

"A persistent focus of Ong's work has been on the developing technological base of the diffusion of knowledge. In this respect and also in regard to the attention given to popular culture, his early writings anticipate the interest of modern literary criticism in the social context of artistic production. Ong has stressed how the medium — for example, vocalized speech as compared to written documents — in which rhetorical presentations are imbedded conditions not only the substance of communication, as his former teacher Marshall McLuhan insisted, but also how it constrains the characteristic ways of framing and storing ideas: how technology structures consciousness and identity. It is not only the content of information that is amplified, clarified, or restricted by the medium of expression; the conventions and paraphernalia of the media also influence the mental universes of communication and receivers.

"Two claims are fundamental. One stems from the emphasis on the evolutionary nature of the material underpinnings of rhetoric. Technological changes revise sempiternal understandings of objective truth just as political developments undermined, for [John Courtney] Murray, the vision of hierarchical government, changing it from a permanent standard to a temporary condition. The cyclical word of oral cultures, rooted in the turning of the seasons and agrarian ways of life, and the analytical world of print cultures, conveying a sense of permanence and categorical, virtually static truth, or of linear advance, have been layered on one another, and both are undergoing a secular process of further layering by new technologies.

"The second idea is an extension of the first. A latter-day transition from printed to electronic forms of expression and transmission has contributed to a restructuring of the adversarial style built into classical rhetoric. The invention and spread of these channels of communication has meant not only general change in 'cultural tool kits' but also a reorientation away from the presumed certainties and deceptive linearities — 'the artificial securities of typography' — enshrined as canonical by combative, characteristically masculine modes of discourse" (446).

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