Weblog of the Week: Remembering Walter Ong
Why I Like It: Remembering Walter Ong is a weblog designed by Jonathan Druy to commemorate the life and work of Walter J. Ong, S.J., who died August 12, 2003. Druy's weblog was set up just days after Ong's death to collect tributes to Ong by his friends, colleagues and former students. It's an interesting use of weblogging technology and a fitting tribute to this Jesuit scholar who has been called "one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century."
The focus of Ong's work was "the evolution of human consciousness via the history of communication." Together with an early mentor, Marshall McLuhan, Ong studied communication, hoping to "map out the changing boundaries of human thought by tracing the shift from the world of oral communication (the songs of Homer and biblical proverbs meant to be stored in memory) to script (the world of ancient and medieval culture) to print (the Gutenberg revolution) to electronic information (television and computer)." The quotes are from a good introduction to Ong's work by Jeet Heer.
As an English major at St. Louis University, I was lucky enough to study under Ong, who was always lively and engaging but a tough grader on his famous two-page writing assignments. One of his teaching goals was to show his students how to write tight, economical prose. Of six papers I wrote for Ong, I only received a full A on the last one. Ong's handwritten comment: "Nice specifics." The real compliment was when he read the paper out loud to the class, which was something I won't forget.
During my time as an English major at St. Louis University, Ong was present for every student reading of fiction or poetry. I remember how he always had something nice to say about my own work when other professors, perhaps turned off by my stringently conservative newspaper Op-Eds (imagine that), did their best to avoid me. When I returned to St. Louis University for law school, I would see Ong around campus, and he was always supportive of my idea of a writing career that, fortunately or unfortunately, had to be placed on hold when I went to work for a law firm.
Recommended Reading: Remembering Walter Ong contains links to a number of resources about Ong's work, as well as mp3 files containing a Walter Ong lecture, interview, and tribute. Other Walter Ong sites are the Walter Ong Project, the Walter Ong Wiki (with a picture of Ong that reminds me of how he looked in my law school days), and the very interesting weblog Notes from the Walter J. Ong Archives, which chronicles John Walter's attempts to organize and catalogue the Walter J. Ong Collection at St. Louis University's Pius XII Memorial Library.
Related Posts: The Weblog Review Series--all prior weblog reviews