Sunday, July 28, 2002

From On Literacy, an engaging sociological history of literacy, even if it doesn't pierce right to my question of the ontological nature and technological elasticity of words (what is this, 3 in the morning?)

Philosophers of the ancient world and the early Church evolved the celebrated Logos doctrine, best known from the opening verses of the gospel according to St. John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Many volumes have been written to explicate the word Logos, but the translation of the Authorized Version is entirely apt. In the Logos doctrine, God is not merely thought to be like language in its most sublime sense, he is equated with it.

Words were worshiped, then, throughout history, for their indirectly or directly divine nature. Perhaps this is what contributed to the sad legacy of written words being the privilege of the elite--the church, the government, the few educated--for centuries. The average person throughout human history, until the 20th, simply did not encounter many words on a daily basis.

This is why my magazine editor in New York I talked to last summer said the bemoaning of the state of reading in an MTV age is off the mark--only very recently in history has mass literacy been the norm; before that people used speech, song and images to communicate. So do people today. So what's the problem?

No comments: