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Life Arts    H4'ed 4/21/21

Louis Menand on Cold War Culture and Politics (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) April 21, 2021: Harvard's fashionable scholar Louis Menand IV (born in 1952) studies the American intellectual and artistic elite during the Cold War in his new 850-page 2021 book The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Menand's book is an accessible tour de force that is over-flowing with colorful biographical portraits of persons from the twentieth century.

For a variety of reasons, I am interested in the prestige culture in American culture during the Cold War, which is why I am interested in Menand's new book. Up to, say, about 1960, when then-Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts was elected president of the United States, the prestige culture in American culture was dominated by white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and former Protestants, as Robert C. Christopher discusses in his 1989 book Crashing the Gates: The De-WASPing of America's Power Elite (New York and London: Simon and Schuster).

For further discussion of the 1960s and early 1970s, see my recent OEN article "Certain Values of Activists in the 1960s Went Mainstream in the Early 1970s" (dated April 15, 2021):

Click Here

However, for further background reading about the earlier period of the twentieth century before the Cold War, see my recent OEN article "How Radical Will Biden and Yellen Be?" (dated April 11, 2021):

Click Here

Now, my favorite scholar is the unfortunately unfashionable American Jesuit Renaissance specialist and cultural historian Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955) in English at Saint Louis University (SLU), the Jesuit University in St. Louis, Missouri.

Over the years, I took five courses from Ong at SLU. Years later, I published my introductory book Walter Ong's Contributions to Cultural Studies: The Phenomenology of the Word and I-Thou Communication, revised edition (New York: Hampton Press, 2015; orig. ed., 2000).

In any event, during my undergraduate years at SLU (class of '66), I heard the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) speak on the SLU campus on October 12, 1964, and then again in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 25, 1965. In addition, I also heard Erich Fromm (1900-1980) speak on the SLU campus on April 25, 1965.

By happy coincidence, on page 601 of Menand's new book, he includes a photograph of "James Baldwin on the steps of the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, where Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his 'How Long? Not Long!' speech, March 25, 1965, the conclusion of the march for voting rights that started in Selma."

See Menand's helpful "Index" (pages 817-857) for other specific page references to King (page 837) and Fromm (page 830). (Because Menand often turns the names of organizations or groups into acronyms after he first mentions them, I should point out here that the acronyms are helpfully listed in the "Index" with references to the full name.)

Now, while my own father (1916-2007) was fighting courageously in D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, for which he was decorated, I, as a newborn (in 1944), and my mother were awaiting his return in his hometown in the State of New York -- as young Walter Ong was exempt from the draft and was completing his lengthy Jesuit training. Then after he had completed his Jesuit training, and had three graduate degrees under his belt, Ong proceeded to his doctoral studies in English at Harvard University.

After my father returned from the war, we continued to live in his hometown for about four years, where one of my sisters was born in the late 1940s. Then our small family of four moved to my mother's hometown, where my other sister was born in the early 1950s.

Now, in the early 1950s, Father Ong was living abroad and researching his massively researched doctoral dissertation about the French Protestant Renaissance logician and educational reformer and Protestant martyr Peter Ramus (1515-1572). For three full years (November 17, 1950, to November 16, 1953), Ong was based in a Jesuit residence in Paris -- not far from where Ramus' residential college at the University of Paris had been located. In the late 1950s, Ong published his first four books:

(1) Frontiers in American Catholicism: Essays [By Ong] on Ideology and Culture (New York: Macmillan, 1957);

(2) Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1958);

(3) Ramus and Talon Inventory: [A Briefly Annotated Listing of Volumes by Ramus, Talon, and Others] (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1958);

(4) American Catholic Crossroads: Religious-Secular Encounters in the Modern World: [Essays by Ong] (New York: Macmillan, 1959).

Ong characterized his mature thought from the early 1950s onward as phenomenological and personalist in cast.

For an account of Ong's phenomenological mature thought, see my lengthy OEN article "Walter J. Ong's Philosophical Thought" (dated September 20, 2020):

Click Here

Now, Harvard's alcoholic atheist Perry Miller (1905-1963) served as the director of Ong's massively researched doctoral dissertation.

When Ong was based in Paris researching his doctoral dissertation on Ramus and his followers and his critics, Ong published his review-article "The Mechanical Bride: Christen the Folklore of Industrial Man" to the journal Social Order (Saint Louis University), volume 2, number 2 (February 1952): pages 79-85. It is about Marshall McLuhan's first book The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (New York: Vanguard Press, 1951), which is the only book by McLuhan that Menand discusses in his new book (pages 443 and 460).

The Canadian convert to Catholicism Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980; Ph.D. in English, Cambridge University, 1943) taught English at Saint Louis University from 1937 to 1944, during which time he continued to work on his doctoral dissertation on the history of the verbal arts of grammar, rhetoric, and logic (also known as dialectic) down to the English Renaissance write Thomas Nashe (1557-1601) - roughly contemporary with Shakespeare (1564-1616).

When Ong was working on his graduate studies in philosophy as part of his Jesuit training at Saint Louis University, he also completed a Master's degree in English, with McLuhan serving as the director of his thesis. It was McLuhan who had called Ong's attention to Perry Miller's discussion of Ramus and Ramist logic in his book The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1939).

Years later, Ong dedicated his 1958 book Ramus and Talon Inventory, mentioned above, to his former teacher and lifelong friend: "For/ Herbert Marshall McLuhan/ who started all this." When McLuhan read Ong's other 1958 book, mentioned above, it prompted him to write his book The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962), which Ong also reviewed.

After McLuhan's death, Ong published "McLuhan as Teacher: The Future Is a Thing of the Past" in the Journal of Communication, volume 31, number 3 (Summer 1981): pages 129-135. It is reprinted in volume one of Ong's Faith and Contexts, edited by Thomas J. Farrell and Paul A. Soukup (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992a, pages 11-18).

In the 1960s, Ong published five further books:

(1) Darwin's Vision and Christian Perspectives: [Essays by Diverse Hands] (New York: Macmillan, 1960);

(2) The Barbarian Within: And Other Fugitive Essays and Studies [By Ong] (New York: Macmillan, 1962);

(3) In the Human Grain: Further Explorations [By Ong] of Contemporary Culture (New York: Macmillan, 1967);

(4) The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1967), the expanded version of Ong's 1964 Terry Lectures at Yale University;

(5) Knowledge and the Future of Man: An International Symposium [Of Essays by Diverse Hands] (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968).

Now, when Ong was in New Haven to deliver his 1964 Terry Lectures at Yale, he appeared on a radio talk show Yale Reports with Yale's literary critic William K. Wimsatt (1907-1975). A slightly edited eight-page mimeographed transcription of the interview conducted by Sheila Hough on April 29, 1964, and then broadcast on May 24, 1964, was published as "The Critic and the Arts" by the Yale University Office of Information. In it, among other things, Wimsatt compliments Ong. Wimsatt says, "I would like to pay Father Ong the compliment of saying that I think that his essay "The Jinnee in the well-Wrought Urn" is the most sensible response that has ever been written to that essay of ours" - referring to Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley's essay the "Intentional Fallacy."

In Menand's new book, he says, "With Monroe Beardsley, a philosopher, Wimsatt had published two key statements, both in The Sewanee Review: "The Intentional Fallacy" (1946), which argued that the meaning of a poem must be educed from internal evidence, and "The Affective Fallacy" (1949), which argued that a poem's effect on the reader is irrelevant to how well it functions as a poem. Wimsatt and Beardsley said that they were liberating literary criticism from 'impressionism and relativism' and approaching an 'objective criticism. Both essays were republished in 1954 by the University Press of Kentucky in Wimsatt's The Verbal Icon, a title that captures the New Critical conception of the poem" (page 467; see Menand's "Index" for other references to Wimsatt).

Ong's essay "The Jinnee in the Well-Wrought Urn" was originally published, as Wimsatt noted, in Essays in Criticism (Oxford), volume 4, number 3 (July 1954): pages 309-320. As Wimsatt also noted, Ong reprinted it in his book The Barbarian Within: And Other Fugitive Essays and Studies (New York: Macmillan, 1962, pages 15-25. In addition, it is reprinted in the 600-page anthology An Ong Reader: Challenges for Further Inquiry, edited by Thomas J. Farrell and Paul A. Soukup (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2002, pages 199-208).

On the topic of the New Criticism, also see Ong's essay "The Poem as Closed Field: The Once New Criticism and the Nature of Literature" in his book Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1977, pages 213-229).

But also see Ong's essay "Hermeneutic Forever: Voice, Text, Digitization, and the 'I'" in the journal Oral Tradition, volume 10, number 1 (March 1995): pages 3-36. It is reprinted in volume four of Ong's Faith and Contexts, edited by Thomas J. Farrell and Paul A. Soukup (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999, pages 183-204). If I understand Ong's position regarding hermeneutics correctly, he has no problem with what Menand refers to as the "play of interpretation" (page 507).

However, what Ong refers to as the personalist cast of his thought would prevent him from embracing what Menand refers to "nothing" (page 511).

For further discussion of Ong's personalist thought about interpretation, see Thomas D. Zlatic's lengthy essay "Faith in Pretext: An Ongian Context for [Melville's Novel] The Confidence-Man" in the book Of Ong and Media Ecology, edited by Thomas J. Farrell and Paul A. Soukup (New York: Hampton Press, 2012, pages 241-280).

Incidentally, in my lengthy "Introduction" to An Ong Reader (pages 1-68), I mention Ong's report that Hannah Arendt once told that he has a dialectical mind, when they both were Fellows at the Center for Advanced Studies at Wesleyan University in 1961-1962 (page 3; see Menand's "Index" for specific page references to Arendt).

For a bibliography of Ong's 400 or so publications (not counting translations or reprintings as separate publications), see Thomas M. Walsh's "Walter J. Ong, S.J.: A Bibliography 1929-2006" in the book Language, Culture, and Identity: The Legacy of Walter J. Ong, S.J., edited by Sara van den Berg and Thomas M. Walsh (New York: Hampton Press, 2011, pages 185-245).


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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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