Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) July 17, 2017: My favorite scholar is the American Jesuit cultural historian and theorist Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955) of Saint Louis University, the Jesuit university in St. Louis, Missouri.
Several years ago, I published an article about Ong's thought titled "The West Versus the Rest: Getting Our Cultural Bearings from Walter J. Ong" in the journal Explorations in Media Ecology, volume 7, number 4 (2008): pp. 271-82.
In my estimate, Ong's thought about the infrastructures of our Western cultural history deserves to be lionized by people who want to get their bearings about our Western cultural history.
Now, on July 6, 2017, President Donald Trump read prepared remarks from a teleprompter in Warsaw, Poland, in which he repeatedly referred to the West. The text of his remarks is available at the White House's website:
News reports of his speech highlighted his remarks about Western civilization and the challenges posed by "radical Islamic terrorism." No doubt radical Islamist terrorists in various places in the world are a serious threat that must be dealt with effectively.
No doubt Trump voters would endorse his superficial view of Western culture, especially the white Christians who voted for him.
However, liberals and progressives should resist Trump's superficial view of Western culture. As an alternative to his superficial view of Western culture, liberals and progressives might want to consider Ong's more in-depth account of Western cultural history.
Thomas M. Walsh has compiled a complete bibliography of Ong's 400 or so publications, including information about reprinted and translated items: "Walter J. Ong, S.J.: A Bibliography 1929-2006" in Language, Culture, and Identity: The Legacy of Walter J. Ong, S.J., edited by Sara van den Berg and Walsh (New York: Hampton P, 2011, pp. 185-245). However, despite the wide range of Ong's publications, he published only five book-length studies:
(1) Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1958), Ong's slightly revised Harvard doctoral dissertation;
(2) The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1967), the expanded version of Ong's 1964 Terry Lectures at Yale University;
(3) Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness (Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1981), Ong's 1979 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University;
(4) Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (London and New York: Methuen, 1982), Ong's most widely known book;
(5) Hopkins, the Self, and God (Toronto, Buffalo, and London: U of Toronto P, 1986), Ong's 1981 Alexander Lectures at the University of Toronto.
Ong's multivariate account of the infrastructures of our Western cultural history shows how certain key conditions contributed to the historical emergence in print culture 1.0 in Western culture of modern democracy as exemplified in our American experiment in representative democracy. However, many parts of the world today are still not dominated by the cultural conditions of print culture 1.0 that emerged in the West after the Gutenberg printing press emerged in the mid-1450s. Instead, many parts of the world today are still dominated by residual forms of oral culture 1.0.
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