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Life Arts    H4'ed 4/15/15

Sherry Salman's book DREAMS OF TOTALITY is worth engaging with (REVIEW ESSAY)

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For Ong, ancient Greek philosophy as exemplified in Plato and Aristotle favored visual cognitive processing, instead of aural cognitive processing. As a result, ancient Greek philosophic thought initiated people into the world-as-view sense of life.

Andrea Wilson Nightingale's book SPECTACLES OF TRUTH IN CLASSICAL GREEK PHILOSOPHY: THEORIA IN ITS CULTURAL CONTEXT (2004) supports and strengthens Ong's claim about the visual cognitive processing in ancient Greek philosophic thought and its concomitant world-as-view sense of life.

Now, according to Ong, residual forms of primary oral culture co-existed in ancient and medieval Western culture along with the distinctively literate thought in philosophic thought and in Christian theological thought.

According to Ong, the great divide between the residually oral world-as-event sense of life, on the one hand, and, on the other, the world-as-view sense of life emerged after the Gutenberg printing press emerged in the 1450s. The Gutenberg printing press helped power the unprecedented expansion of formal education in Western culture. As a result, all educated people in Western culture under the influence of print culture cultivated the world-as-view sense of life -- and generally eschewed the world-as-event sense of life.


In the book THE LONELY CROWD: A STUDY OF THE CHANGING AMERICAN CHARACTER (1950), David Riesman centers his attention on American culture. He famously characterizes two kinds of individual Americans: (1) tradition-directed persons (also known as outer-directed persons) and (2) inner-directed persons. Tradition-directed persons represent what Ong refers to as a residual form of primary oral culture. In contrast, inner-directed persons characteristically are the products of formal education in Western culture.

However, by, say, 1960, communications technologies that accentuated sound had reached a certain critical mass. Under their influence, people in Western culture were undergoing a deep new form of aural cultural conditioning in their psyches.

This new aural cultural conditioning on the psyches of people in contemporary Western culture is connected with the emergence of what Beatrice Bruteau styles the new feminine era in the psyche of people in Western culture, which she hopes will strengthen communion consciousness in contemporary people in Western culture.

As mentioned, Beatrice Bruteau also refers to the paleo-feminine era in the human psyche. I connect the paleo-feminine era in the human psyche with what Ong refers to as primary oral cultures (Riesman's tradition-directed persons), and residual forms of primary oral cultures.

In the book THE DUALITY OF HUMAN EXISTENCE: AN ESSAY ON PSYCHOLOGY AND RELIGION (1966), David Bakan in psychology at the University of Chicago identifies the duality of human existence as involving agency and communion.

Vicki S. Helgeson in psychology at Carnegie Mellon University follows up Bakan's thought about agency and communion in her own research studies, which she summarizes in her 700-page textbook THE PSYCHOLOGY OF GENDER, now in its 4th edition.

In Ong's book FIGHTING FOR LIFE: CONTEST, SEXUALITY, AND CONSCIOUSNESS (1981), the published version of his 1979 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University, he discusses male agonistic (contesting) tendencies (the Greek word "agon" means contest, struggle). All agonistic behavior in boys and men and in girls and women involves agency as Bakan and Helgeson use this term.

Martin Burber's I-Thou communication involves the optimal form of communion as Bakan and Helgeson use this term. Ong never tired of endorsing I-Thou communication.

Now, more recently, communication technologies have enhanced the visual orientation of the psyche of people in Western culture -- with photocopiers and printers attached to computers to the Internet and the World Wide Web.

As I say, if Beatrice Bruteau is right about the emergence of a new feminine era in the psyche of people in contemporary Western culture, then we should expect to see the new feminine era in the psyche give rise to the new masculine era in the psyche of people in Western culture -- perhaps including Sherry Salman.

Now, I want to borrow a term that Jacques Derrida uses -- phono-centrism -- but use it in my own way. As mentioned above, David Abram uses the expression "the spell of the sensuous" as the title of his phenomenological account of primary oral cultures. So let me now say that the spell of the sensuous that informs the world-as-event sense of life can be characterized as phono-centrism.

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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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