Thursday, February 16, 2006

Ong's Review of The Interior Landscape

Ong reviewed scores of books over the years, often writing insightful review essays rather than simple reviews. A collection of his published reviews would be an education in and of itself. A few of Ong's reviews are reprinted in An Ong Reader: Challenges for Further Inquiry and are well worth reading. While I'm sure having to choose which to include was difficult, I really wish the review of Yates' The Art of Memory was included, and not just because I have a fondness for all things memory. Looking in the reader, I see that Ong's review of The Interior Landscape: The Literary Criticism of Marshall McLuhan, 1943-1962 is reprinted there, but I'll share what I'd intended to share anyways.
Those who have known McLuhan since he was completing this dissertation [on Thomas Nash] in the later 1930's have been aware of these roots of his all along [Ong is here referring to McLuhan's own statement that his work "began and remains rooted in" I.A. Richards, F.R. Leavis, Eliot, Pound, and Joyce as well as Nash]. For he has [page break] never made a secret of what he reports here, the shock he received at Cambridge after his earlier 'conventional and devoted initiation to poetry as a romantic rebellion against mechanical industry and bureaucratic stupidity." Cambridge University of the 1930's showed him, largely through the work of these just named, how poetry was not a rebellious escape but rather a mode of organizing sensibility and of adjusting to the contemporary world. "These fragments I have shored against my ruins." To lay claim to his present field of interest, McLuhan had only to extend the purlies of "poetry" and its adjacent rhetoric to include all media of communication—not a difficult feat for anyone who knows Aristotle.

Those who denounce McLuhan today for not being sufficiently condemnatory are sometimes only reviving the romantic censoriousness he was shocked out of. His critics often seem to feel that whoever does not stand off from technology and bureaucracy far enough to throw stones at them is betraying the cause of humanity. McLuhan is aware that there is no way to stand off from technology and bureaucracy. They need criticism, but the criticism has to come from within them. The Cambridge tradition in the 1930's was itself not always aware of this: at times it could react with blind hostility to the nonliterary-technology, bureaucracy, and all the rest, including commercialism—as phenomena which were "out there," to be taken care of by amputation. But the tradition contained its own cure for this hostility in its conviction that literature was one of the modes whereby society dealt with its problems—a way of understanding society and culture, and thus technology, bureaucracy, and commerce, too, and even ultimately, politics. This conviction, articulated or inarticulated, was one of the strengths of the Cambridge branch of the New Criticism at its best."
from Rev. of The Interior Landscape: The Literary Criticism of Marshall McLuhan, 1943-1962, ed. Eugene McNamara. Criticism 12.3 (1970): 244-251. | |

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