Wednesday, March 29, 2006

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)


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