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James J. O'Donnell

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Soka University Japan - Transcend Art and Peace
Created: December 24, 2000
Latest Update: January 11, 2001; August 6, 2003, April 18, 2004
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Index of Topics on Site Avatars of the Word

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, April 2004.
"Fair use" encouraged.

Added April 18, 2004: Laura Jorgenson's Crib Notes on Avatars of the World

In Avatars of the Word, James J. O'Donnell, an acknowledged scholar in Latin late antiquity, addresses some of the issues that concern educators in liberal arts education in the new electronic age. Because I am used to encountering support for the open embrace of critical thinking with authors like Alfie Kohn and Jonathan Kozol, and because I am used to this being an issue of access for the poor, I selected James J. O'Donnell's book from the shelves of the Getty bookstore for the sheer enjoyment of Latin antiquity, the history, the language. Imagine then my surprise upon discovering that O'Donnell shares my horror of tests as inadequate and harmful measurement. Here was a Latin scholar, a died-in-the-wool academic, who understood the importance of removing the structural violence of testing from our academies.

Moreover, O'Donnell values the electronic medium, and sees the potential. Again, I have enountered few colleagues who have done so. What was so exciting about Avatars of the Word for me was that I had found a colleague who shared my interest in antiquity, in academic pursuits, in the electronic possibilities, and in the substantive content of liberal arts today. Then postcolonial studies and critical race theory and law and justice forced me to put Avatars of the Word aside for a little while.

This Spring I plan to return to Avatars of the Word. And especially, I plan to return to some of O'Donnell's suggested interpretations for our discussions. Maybe one of you would like to present a paper on Augustine's perception of "Just Say No!"


  • Review of Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace by Joseph Jones. Humanities & Social Sciences, Koerner Library. University of British Columbia. Link added January 12, 2001. This review has the flavor of classicism.
  • Review of Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace by Nancy Mulvaney. Link addedd January 12, 2001. This is a review written midway through reading the book. The author speaks of wading through, taking longer than she expected. I figured some of you could relate well to that. And notice particularly than you can often do have something significant to say about a book before you finish it. I liked that she felt secure enough to share her thoughts midstream with us.
  • Review of Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace by Anthony Pym. This review, by a non-American author, suggests that the issues addressed need to be examined at much greater length and depth than this delightful little book can manage. "Here there is simply too much professorial mucking about, too numerous too brief excursions to only half-developed thoughts, and too much delight in placing Augustine next to Derrida, or Nietzsche next to Sting, for anything like a substantially coherent approach or critique to emerge."

Excerpts from O'Donnell's Writing:

  • On Reading Augustine's Confessions

    From a course syllabus of O'Donnell's. Notice the importance of the substantive questions. Every one of his suggested term paper topics is exciting enough to have a rousing discussion in any one of our courses on love, peace, justice. I disagree with the term paper as the means of communication only because we are not all writers, and Susan and I have spent the last two decades trying to offer every student the chance to express his/her thoughts in the best light possible. Oddly enough, sometimes that has turned out to be silence for a long while. But O'Donnell makes me want to offer Augustine's Confessions in one of our Love and Peace classes. I'll bet some of our discussions would amaze him. Term papers, too, if he were willing to wait long enough for it to become one of our professional presentations at the Western Social Science Association or the American Sociology Association Meetings or the American Society of Criminology, or the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. Online.

  • Avatars of the Word Web SiteUniversity of Pennsylvania. Online.