The National Communication Association held its annual convention at two downtown Chicago hotels in November. Hundreds of sessions, thousands of papers, and I only have room to write about these four:
I sorely need to spend some sustained time reading the works of the late Jesuit scholar Walter Ong, which is why I appreciated Jeet Heer's fine tribute to Ong in the July/August issue of Books & Culture. In a session entitled Papers in Honor of Father Walter J. Ong, Corey Anton of Grand Valley State University directed our attention to the fundamental tension in Ong's thinking about the emergence of the individual in human history. Communication is how we come to know ourselves as individuals, but that process is inseparable from how we come to know others. Ironically, Anton says, "we come to experience ourselves in our own interiority only as we learn to speak, and speech is learned with and from others." We are simultaneously on an inward journey, deeper into our self-awareness, and an outward one, using communication to enhance our understanding of the world around us. "It is speech that gives persons the 'distance' to divide and gather elements of the world" as well as "to first become able to enter into themselves," Anton says. The concepts of "I" and "thou" emerge in concert. As Ong wrote, "Because speech is always already dialogic, the interiority of persons grows and develops out of and in response to common contextual situations and others' previous utterances."
As a result, humanity is on a nonstop trip Ong called "the interiorization of consciousness," and yet it requires external means to proceed. Thus, Ong said, literacy and print arose naturally out of oral culture. They were the tools humanity used to ...1
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