Walter Ong and Marshall McLuhan @ Saint Louis University


by Thomas Farrell   

Saint Louis University
Walter Ong advanced in his Jesuit training to study philosophy (in Latin) at Saint Louis University (SLU) when the young Canadian Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), fresh from studying English at Cambridge University under I. A. Richards and F. R. Leavis, was teaching English at SLU. In addition to completing a licentiate degree in philosophy (roughly equivalent to a Master’s degree), Ong completed a Master’s degree in English, with McLuhan serving as the director of his Master’s thesis on sprung rhythm in the poetry of the Victorian Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins. During the years when McLuhan was teaching at SLU (1938-1944), he was working on two big projects: (1) a very creative study of popular culture, which eventually culminated in the publication of his experimental book The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (1951) and (2) his Cambridge University dissertation about the history of the verbal arts (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic or logic), which was published posthumously, unrevised but with an editorial apparatus, as The Classical Trivium: The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of His Time(2006). McLuhan has called Ong’s attention to the work of Ramus. As a result, Ong dedicated Ramus and Talon Inventory (1958) to “Herbert Marshall McLuhan who started all this.” The publication of Ong’s Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue (1958) prompted McLuhan to borrow Ong’s thesis and amplify it with material of his own choosing in his experimental book The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962). Next, McLuhan his most conventional-looking book Understanding Media: Extensions of Man (1964). But it is filled with rather unconventional ways of thinking, to put it mildly. But taken together, McLuhan’s two books in the early 1960s catapulted him to extraordinary fame (or infamy, depending on how you think of McLuhan). McLuhan received extraordinary media attention. He was a celebrity. However, in time, his extraordinary celebrity was followed by extraordinary criticism, to put it mildly.
You can read about Thomas Farrell, who is a professor emeritus of writing studies, graduate of SLU, and Ong scholar here: .
Editorial comment: Geniuses mostly think unconventionally, whereas conventional thinking produces conventional results at best. “New opinions often appear first as jokes and fancies, then as blasphemies and treason, then as questions open to discussion, and finally as established truths.” – George Bernard Shaw


 Father Walter Ong, S.J. (1912-2003)

One Response to “Walter Ong and Marshall McLuhan @ Saint Louis University”

  1. 1 The 100th Anniversary of Walter J. Ong’s Birth (1912-2003) « McLuhan Galaxy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: