Learned today that the title of the Korean translation of Orality and Literacy is best translated as "Oral Culture Written Culture." I wonder if the book's detractors wouldn't have been so bothered if that had been the English title as well.
Notes from the Walter J. Ong Archive
A commonplace book for my work on the Walter J. Ong Collection, held by the Pius XII Memorial Library, Saint Louis University.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Monday, January 24, 2005
The University Archivist took me to both Midwest Jesuit Archives and the joint Ursline Sisters Central Province Archives and the Society for the Sacred Heart US Archives today. We helped the sisters move some heavy furniture and got a tour of their new facilities. They have some items relating to Ong, mostly notes or transcripts from talks Ong gave to their organizations and notes taken by sisters who took classes with Ong. I then got a tour of the Jesuit archives. Most of Fr. Ong's personal possessions, in so much as a Jesuit can have possessions -- things like gifts given to him, photographs, academic robes, etc. The Jesuit archivist has said that we can look through the collection and either make copies of or have most anything not directly related to Ong's role as Jesuit.
More on Ong's "revealed theology," published in "The Catholic Church's Interest in Knowledge and Research" Hospital Progress June, 1957: 50-51, 102, 106:
"It is spectacularly evident today in astronomy and paleontology that the further we get from the beginnings of our universe and of the human race, the more we are managing to find out about these beginnings. This new knowledge is constantly being consolidated with the old, so that the old is being seen and presented always in new and more illuminating perspectives. Human knowledge involving spiritual activity is cumulative.
"As a spiritual being, man moves always forward, consolidating earlier knowledge with more recent acquisitions. He does not always do this perfectly, of course. Yet, when we compare the present state of knowledge with that of Neolithic man 200,000 years ago, or even with that of the ancient Egyptians only a few thousand years ago, we must say that there is unmistakably a pattern in the development of human knowledge as a whole and that this pattern is unmistakably one of progress, and one of gigantic progress" (50-51).
Friday, January 21, 2005
A partial survey of titles Fr. Ong published from 1941-1947:
"Twenty-two Titles Tell a Tale" (1941)
"Mickey Mouse and Americanism" (1941)
"Spenser's View and the Tradition of the 'Wild Irish'" (1942)
"The Meaning of New Criticism" (1943)
"Historical Backgrounds of Elizabethan and Jacobean Punctuation Theory" (1944)
"A Liturgical Movement in the Middle Ages" (1946)
"Mr. Barnum and the Reader's Digest" (1946)
"Hollywood and Ourselves" (1947)
"Wit and Mystery: A Revelation in Mediaeval Latin Hymnody" (1947)
"Kafka's Castle in the West" (1947)
The medievalist in me is just in awe at a series of letters dating from 1951 which I found in Ong's "The Green Knight's Heart and Bucks" publication file. They are letters to and from Francis Magoun, with whom Ong studied Old and Middle English literature at Harvard and is, or so medievalist lore has it, the model for the cartoon character Mr. Magoo. Magoun suggests that Fr. Ong look up Jess Bessinger, who was in London on a Fulbright. Ong responds that he'd run into Bessinger by accident while visiting the University of London library and that Ong wants to introduce Bessinger to J.R.R. Tolkien. Ong also notes that he didn't know Tolkien directly or met him "facie ad faciem" but that Tolkien was a regular visitor to Chapion Hall at Oxford, which is the Jesuit residence in which Ong lived while staying in Cambridge.
With the correspondence in the 1954 publication "St. Ignatius' Prison-Cage and the Existentialist Situation" is a business card of Prof. Dr. C.G. Jung. There's no indication of why Jung's business card is in the file. I've asked a family friend who has a degree in psychiatry from SLU (and knew Ong) and then went to Europe to study under Jung if he knew whether or not Jung and Ong had met and he didn't. I need to ask around some more.
Thursday, January 20, 2005
I came across an interesting 1947 titled "Reporting Providence" (The Commonweal Jan 24, 1947: 367-369) in which one can find Fr. Ong dealing with what become prominent themes in his work: interiority/exteriority, oral and literate culture, and mentalities. It was originally titled "Providence and the Kibitzers: Aspects of the New Mentality." Here's some experts:
"D-Day had come, and the news commentators were hard at it. Not much to go on, either. Put in the few words in which it was so infrequently couched, the information added up to this: the invasion was on. That statement measured everybody's knowledge from end to end.
"For the rest, the news commentators were simply shuffling through the other facts and scraps of speculation already cluttering the position of the checkers on the board and letting it go at that. It was a fairly satisfactory maneuver, in lieu of something better to do.
"For the fact is that people derive a tremendous amount of psychological satisfaction from simply experiencing the flow at the surface of events with which they are more or less familiar. The news mentality isn't -- as guiless ninetieth-century journalists once dreamed -- charmed only at the sheer spectacle of man biting dog. The commentators who turn up after the biting is over are equally enchanting.
"The audience doesn't want news straight. In great part, it wants to be given the feeling that the news is getting somewhere...." (367).
"But for what we make of news and history, for what we like to feel we have when we have them, there is much les to say. We habitually conceive of what they report as complete reality, deficient only in detail, whereas the story that news and history tells is rather a uni-dimensional plotting measuring only the surfaces, the facets, of an irreducibly multi-dimensional reality -- a plotting with no means of registering the real and live interior of this reality deep within the soul of every one of billions of human beings.
"There have been and are civilizations in which men are not so obsessed with exteriority as they are in ours. These are always civilizations on which the maiden West has not imposed its peculiar psychological complexes and inhibitions. To the former of China, for example, the famine is not so primarily an historical fact, but rather more an aspect of his life: something that does not so much affect history or 'world' as pose a problem for him, and one interior as well as exterior.
"The historical aspect of the matter he is likely to transmit as he resolves it into a proverb or aphorism -- thereby assimilating it to a world which has come to be unconsciously distasteful to the Western mind. for there is no doubt that, compared with other civilizations, the modern West exhibits a curious apathy towards and a positive dislike of proverbial wisdom. It is symptomatic, for example, that collections of aphorism, such as all other civilizations make so much of, are gone from our lives. We are unable to imagine what world prompt people to get together books, whole books, of sententious sayings" (368).
"All men like news and always have, for men like gossip. But if the current rash of news-gathering has a general foundation in the propensities common to all men and in the recently developed techniques, mechanical and rhetorical, for catering to these propensities, it has also a particular meaning on the current scene. It is not a coincidence that never have so many people spent to much time in pursing news as in the modern Western world. The practice has grown up hand in hand with an assumption which our civilization has seen fit to perpetuate in every possible way. The current ascendancy of the news mentality, the mind which finds its chief satisfaction in skimming over the flotsam at the surface of events, is a tribute to -- and no doubt both a cause and a consequence of -- our general psychological state. It is intimately linked with the unbelievably persistent and obtuse exteriority of the modern West" (368-369).
Friday, January 14, 2005
Three excerpts from a letter to Randolph Lump, dated June 4, 1974 (in the folder "Bibliography, personal -- interviews, accounts, etc. 2):
"Someone should do a study sometime of Midwest Thomism from 1930's through 1960's. You will find more about this period at St. Louis University in the review of Marshall McLuhan's collected essays which I did at the request of the Kenyon Review just before the magazine was folded and which, after the Kenyon Review editors returned it with apologies, was published in Criticism a few years ago....As I note there, a great many of the various currents of thought at St. Louis University in the Departments of Philosophy and English and perhaps History centered around and into questions of depth psychology, both of which of course are included in my own preoccupations" (7).
"In Africa I found myself saying more explicitly or perhaps more often what I had said I suppose pretty explicitly before, namely, that when I treat the evolution of the media from oral through chirographic and typographic to electronic media, I do not propose this analysis as reductionist but as a relationist. You cannot reduce everything to the evolution of media, but this evolution is central enough to human experience that you can relate a great variety of things, and perhaps in one way or another almost everything, by this evolution" (8).
"On the other hand, I am not quite sure that the evolution of the media is at the center of my thinking. As a matter of fact, I don't believe it is. What is at the center? Metaphysics, I suppose, and I am sure that metaphysics somehow ultimately rests on aphoristic statements" (8).
Thursday, January 13, 2005
Spent much of the week looking through dissertations given to Ong, either by people whom he supervised or by people who found his scholarship useful. Some of these appear to have never made it into print, either as a book or as articles, which is a shame as some of it's quite fascinating.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
from "The Derring-Do of Walter Ong," a review article of The Presence of the Word and Knowledge and the Future of Man in The Dialogist 1.3 (1969): 70-73:
"Ong assumes varying levels of meaning and significance in cultural communications, which sets his thesis somewhat apart from the medium-is-the-message route of Marshall McLuhan....Whereas one might call the Innis-McLuhan tradition one of "Media Dictating Culture," I woudl call this second school [Ong's] the "Perceptual Meaning" tradition. There is an important distinction here. Innis and McLuhan focused on the principal media of a period to she [sic] how the sensory ratios were thereby adjusted. The second school focuses directly on the activities of the senses themselves (or upon their nearest expressive modes, irrespective of media) to see the connection between one sense and the kind of meaning it tends to assimilate. Perhaps the critical difference lies in teh assumption by Innis and McLuhan that the dominant medium, by being dominant, thereby shapes a culture. The second tradition, however, claims that at all times in all cultures are at work: the important question is, what different kind of work do they do?" (71-72).from "The Derring-Do of Walter Ong," a review article of The Presence of the Word and Knowledge and the Future of Man in The Dialogist 1.3 (1969): 70-73:
"Ong assumes varying levels of meaning and significance in cultural communications, which sets his thesis somewhat apart from the medium-is-the-message route of Marshall McLuhan....Whereas one might call the Innis-McLuhan tradition one of "Media Dictating Culture," I would call this second school [Ong's] the "Perceptual Meaning" tradition. There is an important distinction here. Innis and McLuhan focused on the principal media of a period to she [sic] how the sensory ratios were thereby adjusted. The second school focuses directly on the activities of the senses themselves (or upon their nearest expressive modes, irrespective of media) to see the connection between one sense and the kind of meaning it tends to assimilate. Perhaps the critical difference lies in the assumption by Innis and McLuhan that the dominant medium, by being dominant, thereby shapes a culture. The second tradition, however, claims that at all times in all cultures are at work: the important question is, what different kind of work do they do?" (71-72).
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
In a NPR Morning Edition commentary yesterday, Susan Stamberg gave "A Fond Farewell to Audiotape" in which talks about materiality of audiotape and discusses the differences between producing a news story with analog audio recordings and digital recordings.
I finished off the last of the boxes yesterday and have started in on the filing cabinets. I'm working through the publications first as they are organized chronologically, which inherently makes sense. What I'm getting at is that this first run through the files is really all about getting a sense of how Fr. Ong organized them, and organizing publications in chronological is inherently structured. For example, a 2001 letter from Ms. Joan Smith regarding the 1967 In the Human Grain goes with all other letters in the In the Human Grain section, and all of it can be found after the 1966 publications and before the 1969 publications. In contrast, when it comes to the General Files, does the medal from Fr. Ong's knighthood from the French government go under "Awards"? "Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Palmes Academiques"? "Knighthoods"? "Medals"? Unlike with publication related material, it's not clear. (It's in a folder labeled "France" in case you're wondering). For these reasons, the publications files look less complex and, therefore, should provide an easier introduction to Fr. Ong's patterns of organization.
From a review of The Barbarian Within, And Other Fugitive Essays and Studies, published in The Cambridge Review, Dec. 1, 1962 (written by Robert R. Bolger):
"Communication's law lay hid in night
God said, "Let Ong succeed! and all was light."
Friday, January 07, 2005
I met with John Waide and Chris Harper today to discuss the next stage of the project as I'm on the last of the boxes. Fr. Ong organized his files well, so I'll be using his organization for the most part. I'll probably change the category Ong labeled "publications" to "scholarship" with subcategories along the lines of "publications," "lectures," and "sources" to better integrate the lecture typescripts and various research materials he sent over years ago.
We're not sure what we are going to with the books yet, but it looks like we'll probably only keep books of particular interest or importance, which probably means a many of his working/revising copies, heavily annotated books, and probably gift-inscribed books from people like McLuhan. (We will keep all of his books he kept for archival purposes.) All annotations, bookmarks, and inserts will be photocopied, recorded, and/or kept. Books which Pius XII Memorial Library doesn't own will be integrated into the library's collection, and books that the rest of the books will probably be given away. But nothing's been decided yet.
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
Quoted for future reference.
Ong, Walter J., SJ. "Breakthrough in Communications." In the Human Grain: Further Explorations of Contemporary Culture. New York: Macmillan, 1967. 1-16.
"The breakthrough from oral communication to script, as we have seen, occurred only around 3500 B.C., and seemingly occurred under the stimulus provided by the need for keeping records as society become more concentrated and highly organized in the urban centers developing at this time on a limited scale. By script we mean a system of writing which in some way represents words, not merely things. Many scripts originate in picture writing and maintain some sort of immediate link with pictures, as Chinese script does. These mark advances, but not the great advance. For pictures do not refer to words as such, but to things. A picture of a bird can elicit any number of words, depending on the language the viewer speaks. The great breakthrough came not with picture-writing but with the alphabet.
"Something of the psychological revolution involved in alphabetic writing came to be sensed from two facts. First, the alphabet came into being only around 1500 B.C., which means that it took around 500,000 years to invent it. Secondly, the alphabet was invented only once: There is, strictly speaking, only one alphabet in the entire world. All alphabets in use or known to ever have been in use -- the Hebrew, Greek, Roman, Cyrillic, Arabic, Sanskrit, Tamil, Korean and all the rest -- trace in one way or another to the alphabet developed, perhaps in some way out of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing, in the Syria-Palestine region" (7).
Yesterday, I came across Ong's copy of A Literary and Historical Atlas of Europe. In it, he has marked the routes he took for the following trips:
- Europe: July 26-Aug 26, 1929
- Europe: March 21, 1950-Nov. 17, 1953 (dissertation research trip, detailed in "Route Book," which I've come across)
- Europe: April 1, 1962-Sep. 9, 1962
- Europe: July 15, 1968-Aug. 14, 1968
- Europe & Middle East: May 11-June12, 1969 (Ong has files for Egypt, Israel, Greece, and an unpublished travelogue about his time spent in Egypt and Israel. The legend in the atlas refers to a 1969 pocket diary, which I have not yet found)
- Italy: Sept 3-7, 1969
- Europe: Aug 18-Sept. 1, 1972
- Zaire, Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal: Apr. 14-May12, 1974
- Stockholm, Tunisia, Morocco, Azores: May 25-June 1, 1975
- Europe June 19-July 4, 1979
Monday, January 03, 2005
The University of Chicago Press has republished Ong's Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason, with a forward by Adrian Johns.