Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Verba Volant, Scripta Manent

From "Renaissance Ideas and the American Catholic Mind" (Thought 29.4 (1954): 327-356):

In the ancient world, language had been bound less to writing and thus less to space, but rather to time, for language had there been felt primarily as something uttered, not as something recorded. Verba volant, scripta manent. Spoken words, like time itself, fly. Only when speech is no longer an utterance but the series of marks on a spatial field which we call writing can it endure for more than the moment in which it passes over the lips. The ancient world had, indeed, known writing, but as a subordinate art, committed to scribes rather than to the real rhetorician, and oriented toward oral speech in a way writing is not today. Fro even when one was reading to oneself, one habitually read aloud--a habit which persisted through the Middle Ages. The literary tradition of the ancient world was the rhetorical tradition, and its greatest figures are orators, Isocrates, Demosthenes, Cicero, Quintilian, or at the very least playwrites such as Sophocles and Aeschylus who composed for oral delivery. The historians are relatively minor figures--and, even so, their histories are not what history is today, but a pastiche of speeches attributed to the characters they write about. Poets, as we know, wrote not be read, but to be recited.

Unlike the ancients for whom language flowed with time, the humanists, in binding language to the written record, on the contrary bound language to space. On the one hand, this proves that the humanists were post medieval men, sharing the bias of the scientific mind, its passion for the fixed and permanent, even to the neglect of the living, its preference for sight rather than sound. On the other hand, the approach to language through space was inevitable among those who turned, as humanists did, to the past. For again, verba volant, script manent. The past is never vocal. The present alone has a voice. The past had only a written record. (340-41)

Catholcism and the Social Sciences

In a letter to William F. Lynch, S.J., editor of Thought, dated June 21, 1954 (found in the "Renaissance Ideas and the American Catholic Mind" files), Ong writes:
Related to this theme is that you deal with on p. 20--which reminds me somewhat of Piere Teilhard--namely the necessity for a deeper penetration of the mysteries and realities of man in order to make possible the greater penetration of the Incarnation into the whole. (You say it in somewhat other words for your particular audience.)
This is why one of the greatest intellectual scandals in the Church today is the absence of compentent anthropologists--or anthropological psychologists, with paleontological as well as contemporary perspectives-- on our philosophy and theology faculties.


Since I've had difficulty in getting offprints of my own work, I'm often struck by the number of offprints, even full issues, Fr. Ong had sent to people. Requests weren't always filled or filled in full, but they often were. For instance, Ong had offprints of "Renaissance Ideas and the American Catholic Mind" sent to 86 people and he had full issues sent to another 51 people without charge! People on the lists included T.S. Eliot, F.R. Levis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Richard McKeon, Erich Auerbach, Marshall McLuhan, Bill Wimsatt, and Francis P. Magoun, Jr.

Ong on the Past

Ong has been, from time to time, accused of wanting to return to an oral past, a notion which he vehemently dismissed as a misreading of his exploration of the past. The passage below is far too early to be one of his refutations, but it does express his belief on the role of the past. From "Renaissance Ideas and the American Catholic Mind" (Thought 29.4 (1954): 327-356):

In treating of humanism in letters during the Renaissance, perhaps at the very beginning I should make it clear that I place little stock in Renaissances or renascences as expressive of cultural objectives. For two reasons. Frist, we have no warrant for attempting to revive the past. Indeed, we have not even the possibility of reviving it. The past, if it is anywhere at all, is inside us. As Gertrude Stein once remarked, there is one thing everybody is, and that is contemporary. We can, of course, understand ourselves better by studying the past which made us, and which is in us. Indeed, there is no substitute for this kind of study. With it, culture is possible. Without it, a void. But such study is not a Renaissnace. (327)

Monday, March 20, 2006

CFP: 25 Years of Reading and Misreading Orality and Literacy (April 15 2006; CCCC 2007)

2007 CCCC Convention: Call for Proposals

25 Years of Reading and Misreading Orality and Literacy

This session is intended to mark the 25th anniversary of the publication of Ong's Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word by exploring the ways the text has been read and misread by those working in the fields of composition studies, rhetoric, literacy studies, orality-literacy studies, and communication studies. Suggested topics include but not limited to considerations of its reception and its influence, reflections on reading and rereading the text over time, its connection to Ong's other works and the related work of others, as well as extensions, critiques, contextualization of its ideas.

Please send inquiries and 1-page abstracts by April 15, 2006 to John Paul Walter (walterj [at] slu [dot] edu).
If you or someone you know may be interested in participating, I'm more than happy to discuss suggested topics and exchange ideas as the proposals are being drafted.

I've set the submission deadline early enough (April 15) so that if I can't include someone's paper, they'll have more than enough time to work up and submit another proposal to the conference if they wish.

Cross posted to Machina Memorialis.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Orality and Literacy at 25 Update

I got 11 proposals for my planned session for MLA 2006. I'm pleased with all of them, and deciding which three to accept is proving quite a task. This is the sixth or seventh conference panel I've put together using an open call for papers, and while I've had more papers to choose from once or twice, I've never had so many papers I want to accept. We still have to see if MLA will accept the panel, but even if they don't, just seeing what people are doing has been worth it.

But with the great response I've had, I am going to try to organize "25 Years of Reading and Misreading Orality and Literacy" for CCCC 2007 and "Orality and Literacy in the Digital Age" for Computers and Writing 2007. I'll put the CCCC CFP out soon (over the weekend, I hope), and the CW 2007 CFP after the formal Computers and Writing 2007 conference CFP comes out.

I'll post more information about all the sessions as I have it.

Cross-posted to Machina Memorialis.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

Ong and Comics Again

There might be enough material in the collection for someone (not me) to write an article on Ong and the American Comic. Source material would likely include material from the following publication files:

  • "Mickey Mouse and Americanism." America 65.26 (4 Oct. 1941): 719-20.

  • "The Comics and the Super State: Glimpses Down the Back Alley's of the Mind." Arizona Quarterly 1.3 (1945): 34-48. (See also the Regis College teaching files for other potential leads.)

  • "Bogey Sticks for Pogo Men." America 84.15 (13 Jan. 1951): 434-35.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

DeMille's Samson and Delilah 2

Just about six months ago, I came across a letter from Ong to his parents discussing DeMille's Samson and Delilah. Today I found another one, this time in the corresponsence files for the article "Kafka's Castle in the West." In this new letter, Ong writes:

Next month DeMille's Samson and Delilah is being released. I had the opportunity to see the scripts of this production all through the various stages of its writing, which was completed a year ago last summer. In one of the sequences, Delilah asks Sampson "Is this God of yours everywhere?" (A good question, for the fertility gods were local.) Sampson's answer (since altered): "He is everywhere there is someone to believe in Him." There it is for the man in the street, the cult of the "beyond' transvaluated into the cult of the nothing. Still, nothing is a theorem to be used: there is John of the Cross's todo y nadu But John of the Cross doesn't talk like this. He died praying. Emerson's mind settled into a serene blank.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Correspondence with T.S. Eliot

While I've found correspondence between Ong and Eliot's representatives before, today I found a letter directly from Eliot himself, dated 30 Dec. 1947. It's nothing exciting, just Eliot thanking Ong for an earlier letter and the comment that he's looking forward to receiving an offprint of Ong's article "Wit and Myster: A Revolution in Medieval Latin Hymnody" (Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies 22.3 (1947): 310-47). I've also learned that we do have at least seven other letters from Eliot in the archives.

Personally, I've found the letters from Francis Yates and J.R.R. Tolkien much more exciting, but that may be because I knew from the outset that I should come across letters from Eliot. That the collection would contain correspondence with Yates wasn't surprising, but it was of great interest to me. Finding Tolkien's letter, on the other hand, was a real surprise, and I'm sure some of the joy in finding the letter is that I recognized Tolkien's handwriting before reading anything, let alone turning the card over to check the signature.

Ong and Comics

In one of the folders containing Ong's "Comics and the Super State" (Arizona Quarterly 1.3 (1945): 34-48) is a survey intended to learn what comics people read. Correspondence in the files indicates that the essay, which sees quasi-fascist, Nazi ideologies in superhero comics, grew out of teaching a "practical criticism" course at Regis College. While the title of the course should have tipped me off, I didn't make the connection to I.A. Richard's Practical Criticism until I saw the survey. As I understand it, Richard's approach to studying people's responses to literature never really took off and was overshadowed by F.R. Leavis' work. But here is evidence that Ong was taking a Richardsonian approach to studying literature. Ong was introduced to the work of both Richards and Leavis through Marshall McLuhan.