Friday, April 29, 2005

Here's the third interview question and response:

Q3. What is it about Professor Ong's work that particularly fascinates or inspires you?

The breadth and depth of his knowledge, which was truly staggering in its scope. That and his sense of wonder. It's clear to me, from what I've seen in his files and from talking with people who knew him much better than I, that he never lost the wonder that children have. The two, I'm sure, are related to each other. It lead him to make connections between and among ideas that can seem disparate upon first glance or even third or fourth glance.

One example: As part of processing the collection, I had to flip through every single page of the 1000+ books and periodicals he had in his rooms to note any annotations, gift inscriptions, inserts, etc. Sometimes it was fascinating, but it was also quite boring. Any way, I was excited when I came across Ong's copy of J.R.R. Tolkien and E.V. Gordon's edition Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which I was sure he used as a textbook while at Harvard. I was looking forward to seeing what he'd written in the book. I opened it up and inserted at the title page was an old newspaper advertisement for the Green Giant brand frozen corn. The advertisement was a picture of the Green Giant holding a package of the corn and the caption read "Frozen corn-on-the-cob that tastes like fresh? Shucks, yes!" Beside the caption Ong had written "Live even though it's dead." Now as a medievalist and one who loves the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, I've long known that Green Knight has his origins in the Green Man legends, and having learned about the Green Man, I'd made the connection between the Green Man and the Green Giant of Green Giant brand frozen vegetables. I'd just never thought at the same time about the Green Giant company and their "fresh frozen" vegetables and the Green Knight who doesn't die even though his head has been chopped off.

When I opened the book and saw the ad, I immediately burst out laughing, and when I read what Fr. Ong had written, I laughed even harder. Until that moment, I had never made the connection Fr. Ong had made. For me, frozen vegetables and Middle English literature just don't cross mental pathways. But they clearly did for Fr. Ong, and I think it did so because of that sense of wonder.

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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Yesterday was my intern's last day. She has been a great help. She's worked through over 2/3 of the books, entering their bibliographic information into a computer. I still don't know the exact number of books in the collection, and it will ultimately depend upon whether or not some of religious books (such as books on the Spiritual Excersises; rules of the Jesuit Order; handbooks for the various rituals, rites, and ceremonies priests perform; Bibles; etc.) go back to the Jesuits or the Midwest Jesuit Archives, but either way the books number well over 1,000. She's also translated a number of pieces in French, and she's done a wonderful job helping put the exhibit together.

The BBC has a piece on how parents play a role in their children's internet literacy. Thanks to tengrrl for bringing this to my attention.

And, finally, here's the second interview question and response:

Q2. In your research, what have you discovered about him as a person?

First and foremost, I think, what I've already mentioned about how he saw himself as a Jesuit always working for the greater glory of God. I've also learned that he was incredibly well organized, which has made my task of processing and describing the collection that much easier. His files include the 23 articles he wrote for a Kansas City newspaper in 1929 when he attended the Boy Scout World Jamboree in Birkenhead, England. At the age of 16! He also saved the class notes he took from Marshall McLuhan's classes in the late 1930s and early 1940s as well as the exam questions Marshall McLuhan gave them. (While at Saint Louis University, McLuhan, who was himself fresh from studying under F.R. Leavis at Cambridge University, taught Practical Criticism/New Criticism rather than media studies.) There are also thousands of note cards in the collection. He used note cards for research, as syllabi, for class lectures, as an address book, and to keep a record (place, date, topic, and what happened) of every public talk he gave. And the amount of correspondence in the collection is huge. Often he has not only letters sent to him but his responses to those letters as well.

I've also learned about his hobbies and his interests. He loved nature and considered himself a biologist at heart. He loved bird watching and fly-fishing, and he has well worn field guides of both flora and fauna. He also loved plants and was well known for caring for plants in both the Jesuit residence and in the University library. In fact, I've come across a cartoon from the student newspaper, dating to the 1970s, in which Fr. Ong is in the library dressed as a farmer. The caption reads "Don't worry, that's just Fr. Ong!"

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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

I was interviewed by Eira Joy Aringay, a Media Studies student at RMIT University in Melbourne, for a course project she is working on -- an Ong Wiki that I'll link to once it's finished. She sent me six questions to answer, and I'll post them and my responses over the next few days. Here's the first:

Q1. How did you first come across Walter Ong?

I first came across Fr. Ong's work back in early 1995 in an Old English language (Anglo-Saxon) course while working on a masters degree in English literature. To help broaden our knowledge of Anglo-Saxon England and Old English literature, our professor assigned each of us a book to report on, and a class member reported on Orality and Literacy shortly before the term ended. The book sounded great and I got a copy as soon as the term was over.

Orality and Literacy appealed to me on a few different levels. First, Anglo-Saxon England was an oral-chirographic transitional culture and I was deeply intrigued by oral-formulaic theory and the notions of oral and chirographic/manuscript culture. I also had a strong interest in computers and the potential for digital texts. I was first introduced to hypertext in 1989 through Apple's HyperCard program, and during that entire year I was taking Old English, a fellow graduate student and I spent much time talking about the HyperCard's potential to help teach Old English through the creation of hypertext editions of Old English literature. So, as you can see, I was ready to read Orality and Literacy, not in the sense that I needed intellectual preparation to read the book. but in the sense that it spoke to me in a way no other work of scholarship had yet done so.

My second introduction to Fr. Ong came in September 1997 as a Ph.D. student in a composition pedagogy class. While my first introduction to Ong was as a literary scholar, this was an introduction to Ong as scholar of rhetoric, composition studies, intellectual history, and noetics. The professor of this course had written his dissertation on Renaissance rhetoric and had drawn heavily upon Ong's work. Knowing my interest in Ong and my interest in computers as a tool for education and research, my professor pointed me towards scholarship in computers and composition. I was quickly drawn in, and the rest of my graduate career has been negotiating the two poles of being both a medieval literary scholar and a technorhetorician.

My third introduction to Fr. Ong, which really may have been my second, was also in September of 1997 when I met Fr. Ong in person at our department picnic. When I applied to Saint Louis University, I was under the impression that Fr. Ong was already dead. I had heard that he would have been old, and when researching the school, I learned that there was an endowed chair named after him, the Walter J. Ong, SJ, Chair in the Humanities. It wasn't until after I had arrived that I'd learned Fr. Ong was still alive. When I first met him, we only talked for a few minutes, mostly because I was intimidated by my own conception of him. During my M.A. program, I'd had two professors who had met him and both spoke of him with awe, an awe I never heard them use when talking about anyone else, and that awe had brushed off on me. Unfortunately, later that term Fr. Ong suffered a fall, was hospitalized, and subsequently diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

I did meet with him many times before he died, but never as often as I should have. I think we had what you could call one intellectual discussion, about computer-mediated communication, in the dozen or so times I met with him. But by the time I felt confident enough to really talk to him, his health was always hit and miss, and I didn't want to seem like a pest. I do want to point out that this was all really a feeling of inadequacy on my part, and goes back to that sense of awe which had been instilled in me. Fr. Ong was always more than happy to talk, and we always did talk when I saw him at department functions, which was generally once or twice a year, and when a small group of graduate students would go to meet and visit with him at Jesuit Hall (the Jesuit residence at Saint Louis University).

I did once get to go to dinner with him, Kathleen Welch (author of Electric Rhetoric: Classical Rhetoric, Oralism, and a New Literacy), and four other professors in my department. I was the only graduate student at the dinner. I was at the far end of a long table from Professor Welch and Fr. Ong, and as he was hard of hearing, I wasn't able to participate in any real conversation them.

And while this may sound a bit silly, I think it's fair to say I was introduced to Fr. Ong a fourth time beginning in July 2004 when I started the Walter J. Ong Graduate Research Assistantship and began work processing the Walter J. Ong, SJ, Collection for the Saint Louis University Archives. This time around I was introduced to Ong the Jesuit priest and Ong the man.

Of course I was aware of Fr. Ong as a priest. It's hard to miss something like that when you're at a Jesuit university. But not being Catholic, I hadn't really processed this fact. I knew that some of his scholarship dealt with religious issues and themes, but I never realized -- and I don't think enough people do -- just how deeply rooted in religion all of his scholarship is. It took a while for me to realize that Fr. Ong saw all of his scholarship as part of his Jesuit ministry, and I see from looking back through my blog Notes from the Walter J. Ong Archives, that it wasn't until November that I began blogging about this notion.

In short, Fr. Ong saw himself, and viewed all of his scholarship, as describing God's creation. New knowledge, even knowledge that seemed to contradict earlier knowledge, never bothered him because he believed our understanding of creation was revealed to us by God through time. For a better understanding of this, see his essays "Knowledge in Time" in Knowledge and the Future of Man, "Evolution and Cyclicism in Our Time" in Darwin's Vision and Christian Perspectives, and "Secular Knowledge and Revealed Religion" in American Catholic Crossroads. You can read some passages from "Secular Knowledge and Revealed Religion" in my Nov. 10, 2004 post.

This philosophy, what Fr. Ong calls the "Scotist view of creation" (after John Duns Scotus), is probably root at least in part in Fr. Ong's interaction with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, whom Ong met in the early 1950s while in Europe doing research for his dissertation. The two both lived in the same Jesuit residence in Paris for a period of nine months or so. In fact, they had rooms diagonally across the hall from each other. It's also rooted in the Jesuit motto Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (the Greater Glory of God), which Fr. Ong believed in deeply. For Fr. Ong, all knowledge, "religious" or "secular," gives us a greater understanding of God's creation, the creation into which Christ entered. So, for Fr. Ong, writing about orality and literacy, about Jacobean punctuation theory, and deer in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was as much a part of his ministry as any other work he did.

Monday, April 25, 2005

I came across a videotape today titled "Out of Orbit: The Life and Times of Marshall McLuhan." It appears that Ong was interviewed for the program.

I also found a 16-page booklet titled "An Introduction to the Crayfish of Missouri" published by the MO Department of Conservation. It lists 28 different varieties. It seems that MO has the world's smallest, the American dwarf crayfish, which grows as big as 1.3 inches long. The booklet also includes a section on cooking crayfish and provides recipes for Crayfish Etouffee, Crayfish Salad, and Crawdad Pilaf.

Friday, April 22, 2005

During the summer of 1929, a 16-year old Walter J. Ong, Jr. and fourteen other Boy Scouts, most from Kansas City, attended the 1929 Boy Scout World Jamboree outside Birkenhead, England. The "Heart of America Troop," as they were known, was the only group from the United States to consist entirely of Eagle Scouts. On their way to and from the jamboree, they also visited a number of sites in North America and Europe. Ong served as the troops scribe and wrote 23 articles for the Kansas City Journal-Post. Among their many activities, the Heart of America Troop laid a bronze tablet at the grave of Field Marshall Earl Douglas Haig. The Jamboree file contains a wealth of items, many of which are on display in the exhibit.

Items on display include:

  • a scrapbook of newspaper articles about the Jamboree which Ong's aunt made (on loan from the Midwest Jesuit Archives),

  • a photograph of the troop before the US Capital building (on loan from the Midwest Jesuit Archives),

  • a photo of the troop in front of the steam ship they sailed on (on loan from the Midwest Jesuit Archives),

  • a 1979 Kansas City Star article about the Heart of America Troop's 50th year anniversary reunion,

  • Ong's travel diary, opened to the trip itinerary,

  • an English Tenderfoot badge, a French Scout badge, an English Efficiency Badge for Cooking, and an Arts Crafts Guild Travel Bureau badge,

  • stones from the grounds of Kenilworth Castle,

  • shot dug from trees at Belleau Wood (a WWI battlefield where the American Expeditionary Forces experienced their first heavy casualties),

  • Ong's certificate of attendance at the 1929 World Jamboree,

  • a newspaper picture of Ong that accompanied his last article,

  • and a picture of the troop after they laid the bronze tablet at Field Marshall Haig's grave (on loan from the Midwest Jesuit Archives).

Some items of note which are not on display include all 23 articles Ong wrote, a pamphlet about the Jamboree produced by The Times, a 1930 published booklet about the trip written by one of the scouts, and various maps and brochures Ong collected during the trip. The Midwest Jesuit Archives also have a number of pictures taken by one of Ong's troop members.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

There's a post with a few links at about
the Kaiser Family Foundation's report Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-olds. One of the finds in the report is that because of multi-tasking Generation M's use of newer media is not necessarily reducing their exposure to older media.

Browsing through files for a quick break -- something I do less and less these days -- and I found a small file for Alice B. Toklas. There's a small note and an audio cassette. Fr. Ong visited, and it appears interviewed, Toklas while in Paris in 1953.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

I came across Ong's Guggenheim Fellowship and renewal applications today. An interesting bit of history.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

More finds from Ong's English files.

-Old English folder has notes from the Beowulf course Ong took from Francis Magoun. Jess Bessinger was Magoun's assistant and the two alternated teaching the course.

-Middle English folder includes notes from a class on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight which Ong took from Magoun.

(As mentioned earlier, the archives also have both Ong's annotated copy of Klaeber's Beowulf and the Tolkien and Gordon's Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. We may have enough material here to make an interesting, if short, study of Magoun as teacher. I ought to see what Harvard has on hand.)

I also found two photographs of Gerard Manley Hopkins which have been given to Ong, in the "English, Nineteenth Century" folder, and notes from Perry Miller's course "American Religious Expressionism."

Monday, April 18, 2005

Back to the archives today after a week of vacation. I finished off the last of the correspondence files and quickly worked through the rest of the C and all of the D files. I found the E files, which include English classes Fr. Ong both took and taught, quite interesting. Some highlights:

-Ong's Harvard Ph.D. exams and notes ("English, Miscellaneous" folder).

-course material from a 1998 intro to graduate studies course titled "The Origins and Study of Literature." The two major texts were Richard Altick's The Art of Literary Research and Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory: An Introduction. Ong referred these as the "old" and "new" orientations ("English, Miscellaneous: 152-600 The Origins and Study of Literature" folder).

-notes and old exams from classes Ong took from Marshall McLuhan here at SLU. They include McLuhan's courses "Rhetoric and Interpretation" and "The Practice of Interpretation: Prose" ("English Interpretation 152-481" folder), and "Special Graduate Reading Course (Renaissance)," "Studies in English Renaissance Literature: Poetry Exclusive of Spenser," and "Studies in English Renaissance Literature: Spenser" ("English, Renaissance 152-431" folder.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Notes from the Walter J. Ong Archives is now syndicated.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

One of the coolest things I heard during the Ong conference was John Miles Foley's new Center for eResearch at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Cooler still is Foley's new project The Pathways Project which "consists of a book-in-progress, Pathways of the Mind: Oral Tradition and the Internet, that will exist at the center of a suite of media including webcasts and podcasts, linked websites, streaming audio and video, blogs, bulletin boards, and an aggregator designed to capture future developments." The supporting blog, "Oral Tradition and the Internet" is up and running and is most definitely worth checking out.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

A great conference. The entire thing was video recorded and that will become part of the Archives. There are plans, or talk of plans, to create an edited DVD from the footage. Both the Ong Project local committee and the national advisory board met during the conference (I'm on neither). I've heard, but still need to confirm, that Saint Louis University's president has donated a University owned house just off campus to house a soon to be established Walter J. Ong Center. I'd heard earlier rumors of this house and I've heard much talk about a Center, so I'm pretty sure this is true. The house would need extensive renovation, however, before it can be used. I've also heard -- not from a member of the local committee or national advisory board so it's second hand -- that the Center will be named The Walter J. Ong Center for Media, Consciousness, and Culture.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Exhibit's finished and the conference starts today. Once this is all over, I'm going to crash and then take a week off and focus on my dissertation.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Finishing up the display today. My intern's been doing a wonderful job making sure everything looks good and will appeal to a much broader audience. That means not as many edited typescripts as I want to include, but that's a good thing.

We'll take pictures of the whole exhibit soon and I'll put up a Web site. I'll post a link to it here once it's up. I've also talked to John Waide about an official Walter J. Ong Archives Newsletter, once every 3 or 4 months between now and when I finish. He likes the idea. The first one will probably be about the exhibit.

Monday, April 04, 2005

I've been working on the exhibit. It's close to set up and I'll need to start writing descriptions of everything. I've been to the IMC and made color photocopies of old photos on card stock. They look really cool, like originals, and we can have them out on poster boards without worrying about someone walking off with them.