In this article, Ong deals with interpretation as it extends beyond language.  Interpretation is to bring out what is concealed in a given phenomenon that provides information.  Information is concealed in far more than language.  This article deals with the nonverbal aspects of communication, both oral and written, because all communication contains the nonverbal.  The verbal and nonverbal always work together to express meaning.

Ong discusses, in brief, six stages of Hermeneutics, or interpretation, as they have occurred in order through time.  The six stages are as follows:  1) oral interpretation of oral utterance, 2) textual interpretation of oral utterance, 3) chirographic (handwritten) interpretation of written text, 4) printed interpretation of printed text, 5) electronically implemented hermeneutic of oral utterance, and 6) electronically implemented of written or printed or electronically produced text.

Ong continues by dealing with the history of Hermeneutics as a formal mode of interpretation.  Hermeneutics is a relatively new concept that exploded with the dominance of print technology.  The term first appeared in a citation in 1737, as a process addressed to sacred texts.  The practice of Hermeneutics later expanded beyond sacred texts and now (1995) has become an "intellectual buzzword."  Despite this history, Ong points out sources that put Hermeneutics in the time when oral utterance was dominant, a fact that is often forgotten in our textual-biased culture.  Ong also makes mention that Hermeneutics is at its peak in an era of electronic communication and offers some reasons why this is the case.  Ong's conclusion is that all utterance, all language use, is interpretative or hermeneutic.

Ong concludes the article by discussing the "I" and how it relates to Hermeneutics.  Simply put, the pronoun "I" is not subjected to Hermeneutics because, as a pronoun, it cannot be interpreted.  One either connects the pronoun to the noun or does not.  There is no other alternative.  Ong also deals, in brief, with digitization at the end of the article.

Mark E. Johnson
University of Dayton

Return to Listings