Saturday, March 19, 2005

A few days ago (March 16), I participated in the 2005 Research Network Forum at CCCC. My work-in-progress presentation was titled "Notes from the Walter J. Ong Archives." Here's the text from my handout:

"In July 2004, I began a two-year project assisting the Saint Louis University archivists in processing the newly acquired Walter J. Ong collection. The collection contains hundreds of books, both books he authored, edited, and to which he contributed (both archival copies and copies annotated for revision and lecture) and books by others (many with annotations and/or gift inscriptions; files on all his publications (including off-prints, typescripts, notes, correspondence, reviews, and news clippings); unpublished works; correspondence to and from family, friends, and colleagues; off-prints given to him; class lecture notes; hundreds of pictures; library cards from libraries where he did research; homilies; audio and video recordings of lectures; awards; drawings and sketches; personal files (including a route book/diary of his dissertation research in Europe); and professional files (readers' reports, commissions and committee work, etc.). As Fr. Ong intended to give everything to the archives, it is all well organized. Mainly, my job consists of processing the collection and writing a finding guide. Both the University archivist and I want to get some of material digitized and on the Web before my two years are up so there is a precedent of doing so. We'd also like to publish some of the material in the collection, and I have been encouraged to use material in my own research.

"Today, what I'm particularly interested in are comments on the feasibility of and/or suggestions for publishing the following:

"1) There are a number of unpublished materials from the 1990s which include items such as the polished article "Time, Digitization, and Dali's Memory" (at a journal's suggestion, Ong wrote this in response to an article on "inventional mnemonics" by Mary Carruthers. While thoroughly Ongian, the result was something the editors believed too far outside the scope of the journal to publish. Among other things, Ong regards Dali's painting as a symptom or sign of digitization in the same way he regarded Ramus' charts as a symptom/sign of print), and the unpublished lectures "Secondary Orality and Secondary Visualism" and "Orality, Textuality, and Electronics Unlimited," all of which are from or are related to Ong's unfinished book Language as Hermeneutic: A Primer on the Word and Digitization.

"Should I try to publish some of the polished material as is (as Ong's work, of course)? Try to publish it as unfinished/unpublished archival material with introductions and notes to contextualize? (I know PMLA accepts archival material. Anyone else?) Try to publish these and a number of other items as a collection of Ong's unpublished works?

"2) Working through a number of articles from the 1950s and 1960s, I've come to understand the role both "knowledge in time" and "revealed religion" play in Ong's thought. In short, Ong believed that knowledge is revealed in time (for instance, that we need to understand Newtonian physics before we can understand special relativity) and that knowledge reveals to us God's creation. An important implication of this which a number of Ong's critics don't realize is that he never saw himself developing theories. Instead, Ong believed he was describing, to the best of his (our) ability, God's creation as we currently understood it. For him, new knowledge didn't pose a threat to old ideas, but instead provided a better understanding of creation with which old knowledge needed to conform.

"I've thought about writing an article explaining these ideas and their implications for understanding Ong's work.

"3) In addition to the work in the Ramus book, I found additional lecture notes and unpublished material indicating Ong had been thinking about rhetorical memory well before Yates published The Art of Memory, which is not surprising considering the review essay he was able to write in response to Yates' book. While usually not explicitly stated as such, memory played a central role in Ong's thought, and I've thought about writing an article that explores his treatment of memory. (I've been working with memory for a number of years now, both in my dissertation which looks at memory in Old English literature from linguistic, rhetorical, and social perspectives, and in terms of contemporary rhetorical practice and pedagogy.)

"Is there a place for a survey of memory in Ong's work, from his early lecture notes and the chapter "Hollows of the Mind" which was cut from his dissertation to the treatment of memory in published works such as The Presence of the Word, Orality and Literacy and the review essays of Yates' The Art of Memory and Carruthers' The Book of Memory? Would you recommend writing such an article more as a survey of Ong's own work, or should contextualized within the larger discussions of memory over that has taken place over the years?"

Peter Elbow was in one of my small groups and he's working on a cool project, on writing that "feels right in the mouth and sounds right in the ear."


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