Historical Rhetorics/Van den Berg, Sara, and Thomas M. Walsh, eds. Language, Culture and Identity: The Legacy of Walter J. Ong, S.J.
Van den Berg, Sara, and Thomas M. Walsh, eds. Language, Culture and Identity: The Legacy of Walter J. Ong, S.J. New York, NY: Hampton Press, 2011. Print.
This text is a collection of presentations from the 2005 conference “"Language, Culture, and Identity: The Legacy of Walter Ong, S.J." Within the Introduction, van den Berg and Walsh defend, “… the contradictory misinterpretations of Ong's ideas - that he was a "primitivist" or, on the contrary, that he posited a "great divide" between oral and print cultures that left oral cultures behind - have new importance in an era of globalization …” (2). The essays throughout the collection hold this perspective (i.e. arguing against interpretations of Ong as Platonist); two perspectives in particular, examined below, suggest that (1) “the multiple histories of rhetoric, Ramism, and Early Modern vernacular oralities and literacies call for revisionism in our use of Ong’s work, particularly … Ramism … [because] Ong doesn’t present Ramism as a relentless march toward logic, dialectic, and monochromatic method …[because] Ramism was not entirely a decay of dialogue … (Swearingen cited in van den Berg and Walsh 43) and that (2) a just assessment of Ong's scholarship should begin with the fact that his approach is dialectical, in the sense that he works with and through oppositions, understanding their mediations … that his dialectics should not be confused with the monologic of Aristotle or Ramus” (Strate cited in van den Berg and Walsh 161). Swearingen’s and Strate’s arguments are discussed in more detail below.
Chapter Two: “Vernacular Homiletics and Hermeneutics: Ong on Ramus, Milton and Wesley” (C. Jan Swearingen)
Annotation: Swearingen traces the relationships among rhetoric, homiletics, and hermeneutics to argue the paradox that despite Ramus’ emphasis upon dialectic, monologue forms, and “silent” dichotomies, vernacular oralities, literatures, and poetics burgeoned. She asks, “During the periods that surround Ramism and the Renaissance, how were rhetoric, preaching, and interpretation understood, and how did these understandings change?” and “How was the oral word taught and understood as something that interprets the written word, and vice versa?”
Thesis: “The multiple histories of rhetoric, Ramism, and Early Modern vernacular oralities and literacies call for revisionism in our use of Ong's work, particularly the work on Ramism. If we read carefully, Ong does not present Ramism as a relentless march toward logic, dialectic, and monochromatic method. Ramism was not entirely a decay of dialogue, despite the aptness of Ong's title. Even as Ramism was stamping its method upon thought and pedagogy in the Early Modern period, a rich oral vernacular culture flourished, sometimes in direct and deliberate opposition to the Ramist deluge” (43).
Evidence: Throughout his histories of rhetoric and poetics, homiletics and hermeneutics, Ong emphasizes the presence of the word as dialogue, as voice, as speaker and listener, text and reader, creating meaning in the many duets of poetics and rhetoric; Ong's discussion of presence and dialogue enables new understandings of how texts function within different cultures at different times, whether those texts are oral or written, heard or read (i.e. for Swearingen, Ong is not a Platonist in that he doesn’t insist that rhetoric and writing aren’t legitimate forms to truth and understanding … ).
Chapter 10: “Echolocations and Reverberations: Walter J. Ong's Place in the Media Ecology Intellectual Tradition, and His Ongoing Influence in Our Field” (Lance Strate)
Annotation: Strate suggests that we ought to repurpose Ong as influential to Media and Technology Studies by working through media ecology; citing Ong's perspective on communication, consciousness, and culture, a perspective he shares with McLuhan and Postman (the other two core media ecology scholars). “Ong provides us with the best view of media environment as relatively stable, homeostatic, and evolving ecologies, and he reminds us that sound is the basic human medium, that the word is our most important technology, and that memory is the basis of all human consciousness and culture.
Thesis: Ong's studies of human communication are studies of human mediation of reality, the human interface with the world, and the symbols, codes, and technologies that we interpose between ourselves and our environment, which in turn become our new environment.
Evidence: Because Orality and Literacy highlights the contrasts between oral and literate modes of communication, consciousness, and culture, Ong's outlook is sometimes labeled a 'great divide theory'; along with accusations of determinism and reductionism, the so-called 'great divide theory' is one example of how media ecology is misunderstood or dismissed out of hand by straw-man arguments; his dialectics should not be confused with the monologic of Aristotle or Ramus … Ong employs a dialogic or relational perspective, an understanding of dynamic interaction that opens the door to an even more complex ecologic (161) (for Strate, Ong is not a Platonist; his theoretical propositions are dialectical, not silently oppositional).