In this foreword, Ong provides a historical sketch of rhetoric in Western culture, beginning with its archaic origins in ancient Greece in the fifth century BCE up to our contemporary "human life world saturated with rhetoric."  Ong cites the value of this edited work for scholars around the world, especially those who teach written argumentation, but also for scholars in literary areas not ordinarily linked with rhetoric, such as deconstruction, textualism, structuralism, speech-act theory, and reader-oriented criticism.  Ong refers to this text as "a book for all seasons."

Of particular interest is Ong's discussion of how Western thought processes have been shaped by the Greek propensity to polarity rather than analogy, and how this sets up the eventual development of an absolute logic, which ultimately provides the binarism in our present day computers.

Although the Greek system was entrenched in an oral tradition, the emergence of a chirographic culture with "the interiorization of alphabetic writing" generated the linear mental organization on which scientific thought is dependent.  With further technological evolution to print and electronic cultural milieus, levels of "consciousness" and subsequent thought processes continued to emerge.  Ong states that print and electronic cultures in contemporary society have enmeshed us in a total rhetorical "life-world."  According to Ong, rhetoric is "more vigorous and more protean than before . . . the modern world has found new ways of exercising persuasion that used to be practiced chiefly through verbal performance."  Ong previously discussed other aspects of rhetorical history in 1962 in his Preface to Lechner's Renaissance Concepts.

Joyce Olszewski Applewhite
University of Dayton
 

Return to Listings