Sunday, May 01, 2005

Question four of the interview:

Q4. Apart from the Walter Ong Project, a site hosted by Saint Louis University, there does not seem to be much information about Ong available on the Internet, as compared to many other media thinkers. Why do you think this is so?

This is a hard question and one I'm not sure I can really answer. What ever I'm going to say is going to be speculation on my part, and maybe even wild speculation at that. But here goes. In part it may be because Fr. Ong never developed the cult of personality many other media thinkers have. Or it might be better to say that a cult of personality never developed around Fr. Ong. Or maybe it's even better to say that the cult of personality that developed around Ong was of a different kind, rooted more in personal presence and the dialogism of personal interaction. Whether or not that answer reflects reality, it's very fitting, very Ongian. Presence and dialogue are key Ongian terms.

What I mean, I think -- I've never really thought about it even though I've noticed it -- is that Ong doesn't work overly well as a media figure because media figurization (if that's a word) requires mediation and Ong works on a personal level even if you've never met him personally (he did have an infectious personality, which drew its strength, at least in part in the personal -- he genuinely cared about people). One of the consequences of this would be that Fr. Ong was never popularized and is therefore not as well known as many other media thinkers. Consequently, those who know of Fr. Ong's work are more likely to spend their time using it in scholarship rather than making Web sites about him. Which isn't to say that we shouldn't have much more information about Ong on the Web. We should. He needs to be better known than he is outside the academy and outside of American Catholic circles. One of my hopes for the Ong Collection is that there will be much digitization of it. That won't happen for some time, however, as we still haven't even looked at everything in the collection yet, and I probably won't have much of a role in it as I'm supposed to graduate and get a job as a professor at some other university.

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