Saturday, February 04, 2006

Ong on Rhetoric (1972)

From Ong's review of Classical Rhetoric in English Poetry, by Brian Vickers. College English 33.5 (1972): 612-16.

I have recently suggested in Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology that Western culture can be conveniently divided into two periods, the romantic age (in which we still lie and are destined to live for the entire foreseeable future) and the rhetorical age, which reaches back in full view for two thousand years and beyond that has excavatable roots extending indefinitely into the primitive oral culture of all mankind. If rhetoric has the potential thus to divide all human history, how can it possibly be understood as simply a curriculum subject in our present sense of this term? Can it truly be domesticated as one of the seven subjects in the trivium and quadrivium which are popularly supposed to have governed medieval teaching? (I say popularly supposed because I have never been able to identify a single real curriculum in medieval Europe which in fact was organized to teach all of these seven ‘liberal arts’ as they are enumerated in the educational mythology inhereited from Martianus Capellas.) Rhetoric does indeed occur in the curriculum in association with grammar and, more loosely, with logic, but what appears in the curricula as rhetoric is obviously only the tip of an iceberg, the other eight-ninths of which float well beneath the surface of Western culture” (613-14).


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