Joan Didion and Walter Ong walk into a bar . . .

There was a thoughtful-looking Jesuit sitting on the patio. His hair was combed up and back. His plate, pushed away, was empty save for grease that’d collected on the bottom. He wore rectangular glasses and a clerical collar as well as an expression of amusement as our eyes met. “Father Ong” I called out drily. It seemed paradoxical to meet a priest in a bar, something was skewed, but I went with it.

“Ms. Didion, the pleasure is mine!” the priest proclaimed. We took seats at opposing ends of the grease-covered plate and regarded each other for several moments before either of us spoke again. “How would you like to begin?” The words charged the space with expectation. He looked to me with interest, a slight grin forming.

“I suppose it has already begun” I said. I thought of his works on orality and on literacy. Interesting and intriguing works, valuable, perhaps, for their insights into the way people lead their lives as a result of writing.

“I suppose it has,” he replied. “Would you like something to drink? To eat?”

“No. I’m fine thank you.”

“Alright, well I’d like to mention how intrigued I was to be reading The White Album, it’s a fine example of how literacy can effectively capture personal experiences, though, some of it was a bit dry for my tastes . . .”

“Dry? What about it seems dry might I ask, Father”

“Well, for starters . . .”

“For starters? Not the sort of articulate response I’d expect from someone so well-versed in orality and in speech-making.

“My apologies. The work itself seemed to lack that “something,” while it is inarguably an exceptionally well-crafted body, anthologized essays may not always ‘mesh’ as intended”

“Ah, I see. You’d rather that the entire collection be penned, not as a collection at all, but as a novel. Singular in destination, singular in perspective. Locked-in.”

“Not exactly, suffice it to say that I found the lack of a ‘fixed’ audience to have an effect on the consistency of voice and tone throughout.”
“Perhaps that was the intention? Did you ever consider that to be my possible intention?”

“Well—no, but I di—“

“Exactly! You assumed that I intended for each essay, each part of the whole, to speak to an individual audience rather than the combination to many audiences, to incorporate many topics, events, and histories. My very intention was, in fact, to blend, to combine, to blur the lines between different experiences. A collage if you will.”

“Fair enough. I suppose I would’ve like a bit less breadth and a bit more depth at times. Less exposition more development I suppose . . .”

“Can there be a story without context?”

“No, I wouldn’t say so. Even—especially, in primarily oral cultures, one would be bound to express whatever story, concept, or the like, using parables, using pre-formed phraseologies.”

“Exactly my point Father, could it be that my combination of works, my anthologized stories still work to communicate a larger over-arching theme?”

“. . . That is an interesting point. I suppose I hadn’t thought of that, then again, I haven’t really ready much works done in this sort of style.”

“New forms are like new technologies; wouldn’t you say so? They may be frowned upon in the beginning—even by you it would seem, but in the end they may prove to revolutionize the way things are done.”

. . .


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