Walter Ong has an interesting discussion on the nature of fundamentalism in his unpublished lecture “Voice, Text, Fundamentalism, Hermeneutic, and God’s Word: The Personal Grounding of Truth1”(available at the Walter J. Ong Collection’s Lectures page). Fundamentalism (religious, cultural, etc.), according to Ong, is rooted in textual bias, which is a particularly useful insight for understanding “Beowulf: Fiction or History?” which is another one of those Beowulf proves the Bible/disproves evolution articles. Here’s my favorite passage, which got me thinking about Ong’s discussion of fundamentalism :

Only one manuscript of the original poem exists. People found it, partly burned, in England about five hundred years after Beowulf lived. No one knows who originally wrote it. Many literature books say that it is fiction, one of the earliest examples we have of an English novel. But if someone were writing fiction, he would not name so many real people; he would invent characters as novelists do. And if someone wrote it long after the events, he would not know all those real people who lived in Beowulf’s time. It must have been first written at or near the time that Beowulf lived. All parts of the story hold together as though one person wrote it. It does not show evidence that bards sang it and added and changed as the years moved along.

Fiction is fiction and fact is fact and never shall the two be mixed. I’ll leave the factual errors in this paragraph (and the essay as a whole) alone.

It’s important for the author of this article to establish Beowulf as history rather than fiction, that the very fact of being written down inherently proves that the poem is about real events, so that the she can argue, two paragraphs later:

Why, then, do so many literature critics say that Beowulf is fiction? It is because they do not believe that dinosaur creatures lived at the same time men lived. Their evolutionary worldview says that dinosaurs lived long ages before men evolved on the earth. Therefore, in their minds, this all must be fiction. But with a Biblical worldview, we can see that dinosaurs entered the ark with Noah—land species at least—and they lived on the earth again after the Flood. But the post-Flood earth was not so hospitable to large creatures and they eventually became almost extinct.

Grendel, you see, as was already explained in this piece, is not an individual monster but a species:

The main monster in the story of Beowulf is Grendel. That is capitalized as though it is a proper name like Fido or Black Beauty. But it was a species of serpent. People spoke of grendels pond or grendels pit or grendels wood, naming them according to where they lived. Grendel in the story was a grendel mere because he lived in a large brackish pond full of coarse ferns. He probably had a loud, deep-throated growl. Hints about that are an ancient word grindill that means to bellow, and a Middle English word grindel that means angry.

Hmmm…I thought all this seemed familiar. Seems I blogged about this piece 15 months ago, then discussing it within the context of mnemonic socialization. Since I discuss this in terms of fundamentalism, I’ll let it stand.

Thanks to highlyeccentric, who brought this piece back to my attention via a comment posted on Unlocked Wordhoard.

  1. See in particular the section “Textual Bias, Fundamentalism, and the ‘I'” (pp. 14-22). This essay is adapted from his essay “Hermeneutic Forever: Voice, Text, Digitization, and the ‘I’.” []