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Words of Wisdom from Walter J. Ong, S.J. (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) February 5, 2023: My favorite scholar is the American Jesuit Renaissance specialist and pioneering media ecology theorist Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955) of Saint Louis University (SLU), the Jesuit university in St. Louis, Missouri. Over the years, I took five courses in English from Father Ong at SLU.

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

In my OEN article "Walter J. Ong's Philosophical Thought" (dated September 20, 2020), I have explained his philosophical thought in his massively researched 1958 book Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse [in Ancient and Medieval Western Culture] to the Art of Reason [in Prestigious Philosophical Works in the Age of Reason] (Harvard University Press):

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But also see my more recent somewhat lengthy OEN article "Paul A. Soukup, S.J., on a Media Ecology of Christian Theology" (dated December 24, 2022):

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Now, Ong's massively researched 1958 book RMDD is about the history of the verbal arts of logic (also known as dialectic) and rhetoric in Western culture up the French Renaissance logician and educational reformer and Protestant martyr Peter Ramus (1515-1572). Ong's massively researched 1958 book RMDD is written for Renaissance specialists. It is Ong's pioneering study of the print culture that emerged in Europe after the Gutenberg printing press emerged there in the mid-1450s.

In 2004, the University of Chicago Press re-issued Ong's massively researched 1958 book in a new paperback edition with a "Foreword" by Adrian Johns (pp. v-xiii).

Now, in the early 1960s, three important books were published:

(1) Albert B. Lord's The Singer of Tales (Harvard University Press, 1960), the book that launched a thousand studies of oral tradition in literary studies;

(2) Marshall McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (University of Toronto Press, 1962), a pioneering study of the print culture that emerged in Europe after the Gutenberg printing press emerged there in the mid-1450s;

(3) Eric A. Havelock's Preface to Plato (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1963).

Ong's reviews of these three important books are reprinted in An Ong Reader: Challenges for Further Inquiry, edited by Thomas J. Farrell and Paul A. Soukup (Hampton Press, 2002, pp. 301-306, 307-308, and 309-312, respectively).

Now, also in the early 1960s, the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) took place in the Roman Catholic Church. It overlapped roughly with my years of undergraduate studies (1962-1966).

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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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