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Life Arts    H4'ed 2/10/18

Walter J. Ong as Revolutionary Hero-Thinker

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) February 10, 2018: Recently I published a review essay about the University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan B. Peterson's accessible new book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Toronto: Random House Canada, 2018) titled "Peterson's Account of Evolutionary Psychology Is Brilliant" at

Peterson's accessible new book prompted me then to take a look at his first book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (New York and London: Routledge, 1999). I suspect that others will also be prompted by his accessible new book to take a look at his densely packed 1999 book.

As part of my ongoing series of online essays about one particular book and Walter J. Ong's thought, I have published a 4,500-word commentary titled "Jordan B. Peterson's Maps of Meaning (1999) and Walter J. Ong's Thought" at the University of Minnesota's digital conservancy:

However, Peterson's 1999 book is so densely packed with such a variety of thought-provoking claims and explanations of those claims that I now want to turn my attention to certain other claims he makes and discuss them further with reference to Ong.

In his ambitious 1999 book, Peterson discusses the revolutionary hero at great length (see the entry "revolutionary" in the index for specific page references; for further page references also see "hero" in the index). Basically, Peterson works with a Jungian framework of thought. But he incorporates a lot of non-Jungian psychological stuff in his basically Jungian conceptual framework of thought. Consequently, his book is chock full of psychological stuff, including psychological stuff from academic psychology. Besides that, his thought is not always easy to understand, to say the least. In any event, I suspect that most people in academic psychology do not try to engage with Peterson's sprawling thought in his 1999 book.

But certain book-reading people today who are not in academic psychology might find Peterson's book fascinating, just as book-reading people in the past who were not in academic psychology found Joseph Campbell's book The Hero with a Thousand Faces (New York: Pantheon Books, 1949) fascinating. (Peterson is a prolific co-author of research papers published in venues of academic psychology.)

Now, in the ambitious anthology Of Ong and Media Ecology (New York: Hampton Press, 2012), I published an essay titled "Ong's Call for a Revolution in Our Thinking" (pages 45-70). I see Ong as a towering revolutionary thinker -- in short, as a revolutionary hero-thinker, calling for a revolution in our thinking. (There are other kinds of revolutionary heroes.)

Granted, I do not explicitly refer to Ong as a revolutionary hero-thinker either in that 2012 essay or in the culminating chapter of my book Walter Ong's Contributions to Cultural Studies: The Phenomenology of the Word and I-Thou Communication, revised edition (New York: Hampton Press, 2015, pages 189-196; orig. ed., 2000). Incidentally, in the Afterword (pages 197-205) of the 2015 revised edition of my book, I say in the opening paragraph, "I regret that he [Ong] did not live long enough to see all the exciting studies that I describe in the present Afterword" (page 197). However, even though I am able to connect those recent studies with particular themes in Ong's thought, I should point out that most of the authors of those studies do not explicitly connect their own studies with his thought.

Now, because Peterson's announced topic in his 1999 book is belief, both religious belief and non-religious belief, I should point out here that the process involved in forming beliefs involve what Ong refers to as hermeneutic (interpretation) in his posthumously published unfinished book Language as Hermeneutic: A Primer on the Word and Digitization, edited by Thomas D. Zlatic and Sara van den Berg (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2017). Now, in his own way, Peterson in his 1999 book also examines the psychological processes involved in forming beliefs.

In any event, I commend Professors Zlatic and van den Berg for getting Ong's unfinished book published by a prestigious university press. No doubt Ong was oriented to the prestige culture in academia. No doubt climate changes in academia have occurred since Ong died in 2003. Perhaps the posthumous publication of his unfinished book will spark new interest in his thought not only among academics in the prestige culture in academia, but also among well-educated non-academics as well.

Also see my OEN review essay "Celebrating Walter J. Ong's Thought":

Now, I should also call attention here to Professor Zlatic's exploration of Ong's thought about belief in his lengthy essay "Faith in Pretext: An Ongian Context for [Melville's Novel] The Confidence-Man" in Of Ong and Media Ecology (pages 241-280). Unfortunately, Peterson in his 1999 book does not happen to advert to Ong's thought about belief -- or Ong's thought about anything else.

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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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