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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 3/31/19

David Brooks Highlights Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's Book on The Sabbath

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Ong, in effect, first adumbrated the time/space contrast in his all-important book Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason (Harvard University Press, 1958). However, I say "in effect" because Ong devotes far more attention there to the space dimension of the time/space contrast than he does to the time dimension.

For further discussion of Ong's philosophical thought in his 1958 book and subsequent publications, see my essay "Understanding Ong's Philosophical Thought" that is available online at the University of Minnesota's digital conservancy:

Now, taking a hint from Ong's discussion of the time/space contrast in his massively researched 1958 book, the Canadian Renaissance specialist and cultural historian Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980; Ph.D. in English, Cambridge University, 1943), a convert to Roman Catholicism, took the ball from Ong and ran with it, figuratively speaking, in his controversial book about the time/space contrast, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (University of Toronto Press, 1962). However, as far as I know, McLuhan does not refer to Heschel's 1951 book The Sabbath in any of his publications.

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In effect, Ong further discusses the time/space contrast in sweeping fashion in his seminal article "World as View and World as Event" in the journal the American Anthropologist, volume 71, number 4 (August 1969): pages 634-647.

To the best of my ability, I have discussed Ong's seminal 1969 article in my article "Walter Ong and Harold Bloom Can Help Us Understand the Hebrew Bible" in the journal Explorations in Media Ecology, volume 11, numbers 3&4 (2012): pages 255-272. To spell out the obvious connection, the Hebrew Bible is the source of the practice of the Sabbath that Heschel writes about in his 1951 book.

Now, Ong's book Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture (Cornell University Press, 1977) contains the dedication that opens with the following words: "To the memory of William Kurtz Wimsatt, Jr. [1907-1975; Ph.D. in English, Yale University, 1939], who once told me, 'I am a space man, you are a time man'" (page 5; the original is italicized). (Wimsatt was a Roman Catholic; he did his undergraduate studies at Georgetown University, the Jesuit university in Washington, D.C.)

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Like Ong himself, I accept Wimsatt's description of Ong as "a time man." Consequently, I see Ong as one representative of what Heschel refers to as "a religion of time, not of space" (as quoted above by Brooks).

As "a space man," Wimsatt is an example of what McLuhan refers to as "Typographic Man" in the subtitle of his controversial 1962 book The Gutenberg Galaxy.

McLuhan's "Typographic Man" includes all people, not only men, but also women, with a formal education in Western culture..

In a more inclusive-sounding version of Wimsatt's terminology, formal education in Western culture culturally conditions us to be space persons. Consequently, if we want to follow Ong's example and be time persons, we need to cultivate spiritual practices that will help us become time persons.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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