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Life Arts    H4'ed 7/22/15

On Ong's Thought and Modern Capitalism: An Essay for Rob Kall

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In the prestige culture in Western culture the world-as-view was in the ascendancy in print culture.

In most educated people in print culture in Western culture, the world-as-event sense of life was not part of the prestige culture. As a result, the world-as-event sense of life was largely relegated to the realm of the human psyche that C. G. Jung refers to as the "shadow."

For Ong, however, the emergence of print culture in Western culture after the Gutenberg printing press emerged in the 1450s is not the end of the story.

According to Ong, our contemporary communications media that accentuate sound are resonating in the depths of the psyches of people in Western culture today.

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Remember the Ong worked with the sound-sight contrast in his 1958 book.

For Ong, words are basically sound.

But written words involve sight.

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In addition, written words are written in space. As a result of the spatialization of written words, the world-as-view sense of life is dramatically different from the far more fluid world-as-event sense of life. Compared to the world-as-event sense of life, the world-as-view sense of life can be characterized as static. Operationally defined terms in philosophy, and in modern science, can be described as static -- compared to the more fluid and poetic terms used to express the world-as-event sense of life.

For Ong, the world-as-view sense of life in the prestige culture in Western culture also characteristically involves the feature that scholars in the history of logic refer to as the quantification of thought.

For Ong, the spatialization of thought expressed implicitly in written words in space on parchment or another substance, and the quantification of thought expressed in certain words in logic combine to make the world-as-view sense of life a heady brew, especially in print culture in Western culture.

For centuries in the history of formal logic, the quantification of thought was expressed in words. Eventually however, as Ong explains the quantification of thought became expressed in symbols -- in symbolic logic.

In the book Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue (1958), mentioned above, Ong discusses spatialization in connection with the aural-to-visual shift on pages 92-93, 104-112, 128, 151-156, 244-245, 273, 277-279, 284-292, 307-314, and quantification on pages 53-91, 184, 262, 263.

The year after Ong died in 2003, the University of Chicago Press reissued his book Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue in a paperback edition with a new foreword by Adrian Johns. It is a book that still repays careful study.

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As a result of the cultural conditioning of the communications media that accentuate sound, the world-as-event sense of life may resurface from the depths of the "shadow" and become integrated with the ego-consciousness of people in Western culture.

So what?

As everybody knows, Pope Francis' critique of modern capitalism has been widely reported by the news media.

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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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