A Posthumously Published Book by Walter J. Ong, SJ – Language as Hermeneutic: A Primer on the Word & Digitization

05Jan18

The following is from an essay by a former student of Ong, Dr. Thomas J. Farrell, as an introduction to Ong’s thought and body of scholarship by way of prefacing this last book of his former teacher. Follow this link read Dr. Farrell’s whole essay  https://goo.gl/FBC7sZ.

Ong’s incomplete sixth book-length study has now been posthumously published as the book Language as Hermeneutic: A Primer on the Word and Digitization, edited by Thomas D. Zlatic and Sara van den Berg (Cornell University Press, 2017). Just to be clear, hermeneutic means interpretation. Ong left the incomplete manuscript in the Ong archives at SLU [Saint Louis University]. Professors Zlatic and van den Berg retrieved the incomplete manuscript from the Ong archives and edited it for publication, with an editorial apparatus to assist readers. This book is a primer in Ong’s thought. As a primer, it could be titled Ong for Dummies. As a primer in his thought, it could serve as a gateway for new readers to enter into the rich world of Ong’s thought in his 400 or so publications.

Professor Zlatic received his Ph.D. in English from SLU in the 1970s. Over the years, he has published numerous essays in which he draws on Ong’s thought, including “Faith in Pretext: An Ongian Context for [Melville’s] The Confidence-Man” in the book Of Ong and Media Ecology (Hampton Press, 2012, pages 241-280). In Ong’s posthumously published book, Zlatic supplied the three essays “Language as Hermeneutic: The Evolution of the Idea and the Text” (pages 123-146), “Language as Hermeneutic: An Unresolved Chord” (pages 147-180), and “Picturing Ong’s Oral Hermeneutic” (pages 195-201).

Professor van den Berg is currently a professor of English at SLU. She is the senior editor with Thomas M. Walsh of SLU of the book Language, Culture, and Identity: The Legacy of Walter J. Ong, S.J. (Hampton Press, 2011). She supplied the introduction to Ong’s posthumously published book (pages 1-8).

Perhaps I should explain that for years Fr. Ong suffered from Parkinson’s disease. At about the same time, Pope John-Paul II also suffered from it. I imagine that Ong’s decision to stop working on the drafts that Professors Zlatic and van den Berg have collated and edited for publication was based on the impact of Parkinson’s on him. In general, Ong loved to revise whatever he was writing. For him, revision was a labor of love. But the devastating impact of Parkinson’s undoubtedly made this labor of love unsustainable.

Language as Hermeneutic: A Primer on the Word and Digitization

By Walter J. Ong, SJ

Edited & with Commentaries by Thomas D. Zlatic & Sara van den Berg

Cornell University Press

Language in all its modes—oral, written, print, electronic—claims the central role in Walter J. Ong’s acclaimed speculations on human culture. After his death, his archives were found to contain unpublished drafts of a final book manuscript that Ong envisioned as a distillation of his life’s work. This first publication of Language as Hermeneutic, reconstructed from Ong’s various drafts by Thomas D. Zlatic and Sara van den Berg, is more than a summation of his thinking. It develops new arguments around issues of cognition, interpretation, and language. Digitization, he writes, is inherent in all forms of “writing,” from its early beginnings in clay tablets. As digitization increases in print and now electronic culture, there is a corresponding need to counter the fractioning of digitization with the unitive attempts of hermeneutics, particularly hermeneutics that are modeled on oral rather than written paradigms.

In addition to the edited text of Language as Hermeneutic, this volume includes essays on the reconstruction of Ong’s work and its significance within Ong’s intellectual project, as well as a previously unpublished article by Ong, “Time, Digitization, and Dalí’s Memory,” which further explores language’s role in preserving and enhancing our humanity in the digital age.

For a Table of Contents, Reviews &Detailed Information see the Cornell University Press page at https://goo.gl/t4NQ5N.

Walter J. Ong (1912–2003) taught at Saint Louis University for thirty years. His many books include Orality and Literacy, Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology; Interfaces of the Word; and Fighting for Life, the latter three from Cornell University Press.

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 is the proud author of the book Walter Ong’s Contributions to Cultural Studies: The Phenomenology of the Word & I – Thou Communication (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2000; 2nd ed. 2009, forthcoming).



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