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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) July 27, 2022: My favorite author is the American Jesuit Renaissance specialist and media ecology theorist Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955). His massively research Harvard doctoral dissertation was a study of the verbal arts of rhetoric and logic (also known as dialectic) from antiquity up to and beyond the French Renaissance logician and educational reformer and Protestant martyr Peter Ramus (1515-1572). In 1958, Harvard University Press published Ong's doctoral dissertation, slightly revised, in two volumes:

(1) Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason (in the Age of Reason [also known as the Enlightenment]);

(2) Ramus and Talon Inventory (a briefly annotated bibliographic listing of more than 750 printed volumes [most in Latin] by Ramus and his allies and his critics that Ong tracked down in more than 100 libraries in the British Isles and Continental Europe).

I have discussed Ong's work in many of my 532 OEN articles over the years. For example, I discuss Ong's philosophical phenomenology in his 1958 book RMDD in my lengthy OEN article "Walter J. Ong's Philosophical Thought" (dated September 20, 2020): Click Here

But also see my introductory survey of Ong's life and eleven of his books and selected articles in my 2015 book Walter Ong's Contributions to Cultural Studies: The Phenomenology of the Word and I-Thou Communication, 2nd ed. (Hampton Press; 1st ed., 2000).

As I have detailed in my book about Ong's life and work, as part of his lengthy Jesuit formation, he earned three graduate degrees (in English, philosophy, and theology) and was ordained a Jesuit priest before he proceeded to undertake doctoral studies in English at Harvard University. At Harvard, Perry Miller served as the director of Ong's massively researched doctoral dissertation on Ramus and the history of the verbal arts of rhetoric and logic. Miller discusses Ramus and his work in his massively researched book The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (Harvard University Press, 1939; for specific page references to Ramus, see the "Index" [p. 528]).

In 1963, as I explain in my book (pp. 4 and 48-49), the French Educational Ministry dubbed Ong a knight, Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Palmes Academiques, for services rendered to French culture. In 1964, Ong delivered the Terry Lectures at Yale University. In 1966-1967, Ong served as one of fourteen members of the White House Task Force on Education that reported to President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967. In 1969, Ong published seminal article "World as View and World as Event" in the American Anthropologist, volume 71, number 4, pp. 634-647; it is reprinted in volume three of Ong's Faith and Contexts, edited by Thomas J. Farrell and Paul A. Soukup (Scholars Press, 1995, pp. 69-90).

I discuss Ong's 1969 article in connection with certain points he makes in his 1982 most widely translated book Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (Methuen, esp. pp. 36-57) in my article "Walter Ong and Harold Bloom Can Help Us Understand the Hebrew Bible" in Explorations in Media Ecology, volume 11, numbers 3&4, (2012): pp. 255-272.

In 1978, Ong served as the president of the Modern Language Association of America - the only Catholic priest elected to this position thus far. In April and May of 1974, by invitation of the United States Board of Foreign Scholarships, Ong served as Lincoln Lecturer; he lectured in Central and West Africa in English and in French. In 1979, Ong delivered the Messenger Lectures at Cornell University. In 1981, Ong delivered the Alexander Lectures at the University of Toronto. In 1982, Ong published his magnificent "Introduction" (pp. 144-207) to John Milton's A Fuller Course in the Art of Logic Conformed to the Method of Peter Ramus (1672), edited and translated by Walter J. Ong, S.J., and Charles J. Ermatinger in volume eight of Yale's Complete Prose Works of John Milton: 1666-1682, edited by Maurice Kelley (Yale University Press, 1982, pp. 139-407). It is reprinted, slightly shortened, as "Introduction to Milton's Logic" in volume four of Ong's Faith and Contexts, edited by Thomas J. Farrell and Paul A. Soukup (Scholars Press, 1999, pp. 111-142). In short, in Ong's lifetime, he received a respectful hearing from many of his academic peers.

In any event, Ong published his seminal 1967 book The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History (Yale University Press), the expanded version of his 1964 Terry Lectures at Yale University. In it, what he refers to as the psychodynamic of polemic (from the Greek root word meaning war, contest) is a central theme (for specific page references, see the entry on polemic in the "Index" [p. 354]). Among other things, the psychodynamic of polemic is central to the verbal arts of rhetoric and logic.

Subsequently, Ong went on to publish his short 1981 book Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality [Gender], and Consciousness (Cornell University Press), the published version of Ong's 1979 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University. In it, he also refers to the psychodynamic that he refers to in his 1967 book as polemic, but he switches his terminology and now characterizes the psychodynamic instead as agonistic (from the Greek root word meaning contest, struggle).

Ong made this switch in terminology upon further reflection on Johan Huizinga's classic study Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture (Beacon Press, 1955; translated from the 1944 German edition, which included the author's "Foreword" dated 1938).

I follow Ong's interpretation of male agonistic tendencies in my article "The Female and Male Modes of Rhetoric: in College English, volume 40, number 8 (1978-1979): pp. 909-921; also see my essay "Faulkner and Male Agonism" in the book Time, Memory, and the Verbal Arts: Essays on the Thought of Walter Ong, edited by Dennis L. Weeks and Jane Hoogestraat (Susquehanna University Press; Associated University Presses, 1998, pp. 203-221).

Now, in Ong's 1981 book, he explicitly works with a non-materialist philosophical position that he refers to as noobiology (formed from the Greek root nous, noos, meaning mind) to differentiate his non-materialist philosophical position from the materialist philosophical position of E. O. Wilson in his massive 1975 book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press) - a book that Ong repeatedly cites for specific material he discusses (for specific page references to noobiology, see the "Index" [p. 228]; for specific page references to Wilson, see the "Index" [p. 231]).

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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; Ph.D.in 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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