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17. Criticism and defects of writing and language

This section is devoted to possible or actual shortcomings and defects in the presently dominant writing systems of the civilizations, those societal and individual requirements that are not optimally or adequately served by writing in general and the alphabet in specific. Further, the question is asked whether heavy continued use of writing and other static CMM may cause subtle long-term side-effects in societies.

Noeth (1985: 269-273) lists some of the main proponents of criticisms of language and writing: McLuhan, Plato (Phaidros), Derrida, and gives a list of references. Bodmer (1985: 409-518) also gives a discussion of the defects of existant languages and writing systems that have prompted language designers to make alternative designs. Bliss makes an extensive criticism (1978: 422-450, 547-696) .[501] The issue of excarnation is treated by Aleida Assmann (1993). [502] General works on criticism of civilization also give criticisms of the applications of writing, like Levi-strauss (1978) and Diamond (1976). A discussion of specific issues, like the problems of the institutional school system, and of self-serving specialist communities, is found in Illich (1976-1988).

The fundamental questions of this section are: What are the principal limitations
1) of verbal description?
2) of the indo-European language structure? [503]
3) of static, excarnated representations in general, including, but not limited to verbal encodings (ie. writing)?

Among the themes treated in the following subsections are the factors of:
1) obsolescence, or worn-out-effects
2) grave defects or serious side effects in usage
->:SIDE_EFFECTS, p. 200, ->:BIBLIOSPHERE, p. 195
3) various principal limitations

A consecutive question would be if it is possible to draw a correlation between:
a) the adoption of the static language representation technology of alphabetic writing by the ancient Greeks and
b) the concurrent dichotomy of issues in ancient Greek philosophy, of the Parmenidean and Platonic concepts of unchanging "eternal realities" (ideas) versus the Heraklitean "eternal flow" views.

As we all know, Greek philosophy followed the Parmenidean / Platonic model and it abandoned the "flow" concepts of Heraklit. The adoption of an eternal God, and an eternal "kingdom of heaven" by Christian philosophy essentially reinforced this preference of static patterns over a fundamental dynamis. The fundamental problem of the stasis of fixed, written material is brought up only by workers in dynamic cultural transmission. [504] Only after Galileo analysed movement, and Newton and Leibniz had put it into the calculus, could western thinking take up the issue of dynamics for serious. Goppold (1998), Young (1976: 1-50). Gotthard Günther has summed the issue up thusly:

Günther (1976, x): die klassische Metaphysik hat uns in die eisige Gletscherwelt des ewigen unveränderlichen Seins geführt... im Alterswerk Platos sind Ahnungen eines Denkens vorhanden, das über die Grundlagen der klassischen Metaphysik in noch unmeßbare Fernen hinauszufliegen scheint... die Epoche der geistigen Selbstbeschränkung ist heute zuende.
(x - xi) ... um in die Eiswelt des toten Seins einzudringen, war es notwendig, aus ihr das Problem des Werdens, also der Zeit, auszuschließen. Und heute besteht in der kompetenten Naturphilosophie kaum ein Zweifel darüber, daß durch die bisherige abendländische Naturwissenschaft die dominierende Tendenz hindurchgeht, die Zeit aus dem System der Naturgesetze fern zu halten, indem man sie "geometrisiert", wie das Beispiel Einsteins zeigt. Daraus ergab sich eine ganz ungeheure Vereinfachung des physikalischen Weltbildes. Heute aber wissen wir, daß das selbst in der Kosmologie zu einem unbefriedigenden Weltbild führt, nicht zu reden von den sog. Kultur- und Geisteswissenschaften.

17.1. Cultural biases of writing culture

The alphabetical book culture exerts a subtle but omnipresent and decisive influence on the thought patterns and working habits of everyone socialized into western alphabetic culture, and especially the academic environment. The statements of Landow (1992: 29), Ruth Benedict, and Bednarik indicate this cultural bias:

Landow (1992: 29): This ... requires that one first recognize the enormous power of the book, for only after we have made ourselves conscious of the ways it has formed and informed our lives can we seek to pry ourselves free from some of its limitations... Claude Levi-Strauss's explanations of preliterate thought in The Savage Mind and in his treatises on mythology appear in part as attempts to de-center the culture of the book - to show the confinements of our literature culture by getting outside of it, however tenuously and briefly...

Benedict (1934: 249-250) : Appraisal of our own dominant traits has so far waited till the trait in question was no longer a living issue. Religion was not objectively discussed till it was no longer the cultural trait to which our civilization was most deeply committed... It is not yet possible to discuss capitalism... Yet the dominant traits of our civilization need special scrutiny.

Bednarik (1994: 144): The deficiencies of a conceptual model of reality cannot be perceived from within such a model.

The following quotation may serve as an example for many similar statements in the same vein to be found everywhere in the literature, containing a number of biases characteristic of writing culture [505]:

Loren Eiseley [506]: Man [507] without writing [508] cannot long retain his history [509] in his head [510]. His intelligence permits him to grasp some kind of succession of generations; but without writing, the tale of the past rapidly degenerates into fumbling myth and fable [511]. Man’s greatest epic, his four long battles with the advancing ice of the great continental glaciers, has vanished from human memory without a trace [512]. Our illiterate [513] fathers disappeared and with them, in a few scant generations, died one of the great stories of all time[514].

17.1.1. Critical statements

Some more statements serve to illuminate fundamental limitations of verbal language and writing and in the cultural transmission:

Staal (1986: 251): Oral transmissions over large stretches of time and space compromise first of all language, which is at the same time the most complex system that is being transmitted, and the medium through which many other transmissions are orally transmitted - including folklore, jokes, stories, laws, myths and epics. Many, but not all: for other features of human knowledge and activity, including music, art design, ritual, technology and science, are transmitted not only without writing but also without language. Examples include not only cutting, digging, aiming or planting, but also at least some of the features of musical scales and melodies, visual patterns, motifs and shapes, dances, stellar constellations, cooking, the construction of ploughs, weapons and altars, and the elements of arithmetic and geometry.

Boone (1994: 10): The notion that spoken language is the only system that allows humans to convey any and all thought fails to consider the full range of human experience. Certainly speech may be the most efficient manner of communicating many things, but it is noticeably deficient in conveying ideas of a musical, mathematical, or visual nature, for example. It is nearly impossible to communicate sound through words; instead, one uses a musical notation that has now beome standard in 'Western cultures'... Dance, too, cannot adequately be described verbally; instead, the subtle details of choreography can be recorded through one of several dance notations (Owen 1986). The notational systems of mathematics and science were also developed precisely because ordinary language could not "express the full import of scientific relationships" as Stillman Drake has explained... Since "structure is generally more efficiently depicted than described," complex structural diagams and even three-dimensional models function instead of words and sentences to convey information. Such diagrams "led to the very complex three-dimensional models required in the solution of the double-helix structure of DNA"... (Drake 1986: 153). As Drake (1986: 147) has summarized: "The pictures we form in science may be ordinary grammatical statements or they may be special notation systems or they may be quite literally pictures drawn to represent structural relations among external objects, actual or hypothetical. Structural relations are frequently perceptible at a glance when they would be very cumbersome to describe in words, and might not be as efficiently conveyed by equational or other mathematical notations. Pictorial notations are often valuable in physics, as for instance in crystallography. They are still more useful in chemistry, which in its beginnings in modern form was faced with problems different in kind from those of early modern physics - problems of structure and combination rather than of motion and force".

Birdwhistell (1970: 188): For the cinesicist, silence is just as golden as are those periods in which the linguistic system is positively operative.

Isadora Duncan, in Staal (1989: 116): If I could tell you what it meant there would be no point in dancing it.

Haarmann (1997: 680): As alphabetic writing has, since antiquity, dominated literacy in all parts of civilized Europe, it has exerted a profound impact on European people's mentality, their reasoning about culture and their world view.

Boone (1994: 3): Most of the scholars who think and write about writing consider writing to be alphabetic writing, normally referring to one of the modern alphabetic scripts; this tends to rest as a basic assumption from which their arguments grow. My intent is to confront this common definition of 'writing' and our notions of what constitute writing systems, to explode these assumptions. We have to think more broadly about visual and tactile systems of recording information, to reach a broader definition of writing.

Boone (1994: 4): Jacques Derrida in Of Grammatology has argued this position on a much wider and more theoretical level. Acknowledging the fundamental ethnocentrism, the logocentrism, that has controlled the concept of writing, he argues for the invalidity of the traditional definition of writing as a utensil to express speech, noting that "writing no longer relates to language as an exterior or frontier". Instead, he explains that "the concept of writing exceeds and comprehends that of language"; it embraces language but goes beyond it (Derrida 1976: 3, 6-9, 30-52)... Here my intent is... the reformation of a definition of writing that allows us to consider both verbal and nonverbal systems of graphic communication.

Boone (1994: 3): ... there is that tendency to think of writing as visible speech and an evolutionary goal... In indigenous America, visible speech was not often the goal...

Boone (1994: 4-5): We are all aware of the commonly held belief among those scholars and particularly linguists who focus on Europe and Asia that Pre-Columbian cultures did not yet develop 'true writing'. We have heard terms such as illiterate, nonliterate, and preliterate applied to these peoples. Clearly the term 'illiterate', with its meaning of 'uneducated', is simply a pejorative misuse of the word...
We see this in most studies of writing -- from Isaac Taylor ... Leonard Bloomfield... Isaac Gelb... David Diringer... John DeFrancis... These all expound the common view of writing as written language, and they fashion various evolutionary models for the 'development' of writing that culminates in alphabetic script .
Just as people and nations fashion their histories to eventuate in themselves, writing specialists have constructed the history of writing to result in modern alphabetic systems. In these histories, indigenous American systems [515] lie either at the beginning of or outside the developmental sequence.

Boone (1994: 5): Almost all the scholars who have looked seriously at writing systems in their general sense have defined writing as spoken language that is recorded or referenced phonetically by visible marks. Since many of these scholars are linguistis, it would seem natural for them to tie writing to speech... [as do] Archibald Hill, Walter Ong, and anthropologist Jack Goody... historians like Michael Camille and M.T. Clanchy... The Chinese-language specialist John DeFrancis has perhaps been the most adamant on this point. His "central thesis is that all full systems of communication are based on speech. Further, no full system is possible unless so grounded," and he dismisses all nonspeech writing as "Partial/ Limited/ Pseudo/ Non-Writing" (DeFrancis 1989: 7,42)...

Boone (1994: 9): What is most alarming about these statements and view is that they are based on harmfully narrow views of what are thought and knowledge and what constitutes the expression of these thoughts and this knowledge, and they summarily dismiss the indigenous Western Hemisphere. It is time that we realize that such views are part of a European/Mediterranean bias that has shaped countless conceptions -- such as 'civilization', 'art', and the 'city' -- that were defined according to Old World standards and therefore excluded the non-Western and non-Asian cultures. An expanded epistemological view would, and should, allow all notational systems to be encompassed. If [these] phenomena are to be considered objectively, a broader view is required. It is easy to see the fallacy of the assumptions on which most definitions of writing are based .

Bednarik (1994: 141): The term 'prehistoric' refers generally to an ethnocentric whim dividing human history by the advent of writing. This division is offensive to the peoples being studied by the prehistorians; it is based on the application of an alien cultural concept to their cultures and denotes the ethnocentricity of that approach. It involves an implicit but unsupportable assumption that oral transmission of traditional knowledge is less reliable than its written transmission and its interpretation by 'specialists'. Not only is this a non-refutable proposition, but there are valid arguments in favor of the opposite view, and indigenous peoples throughout the world are entitled to disagree with Eurocentric models in 'science'. The Aboriginal people of Australia, for instance, vigorously oppose the ideology implicit in the term 'prehistoric'. It is used here merely to the subjective study of early cultures by members of an alien society who are engaged in creating that society's constructs about early cultures.

Bednarik (1994: 141-142): Science itself exists within an anthropocentric and thus subjective frame of reference. It does not explore reality; usually it augments and reinforces anthropocentricity... art itself is the only humanly accessible phenomenon in the real world that humans can study scientifically. I define art as a medium or vehicle externalizing concepts of reality conveying awareness of perceived reality to the sensory perception of the beholder ... Art, therefore, creates and maintains the common reality of humans.

Bednarik (1994: 143-144): The ultimate purpose of 'prehistoric' art studies is to explore the processes that have in some way contributed to the formation of human concepts, and if we were to find means of illuminating the origins of anthropocentricity (the interpretation of reality in terms of the material stimuli experienced by humans) we would be likely also to acquire a new understanding of the limitations it imposes on the human intellect. Such insights may free that intellect from the restrictions imposed by its epistemological limits, in the distant future. The deficiencies of a conceptual model of reality cannot be perceived from within such a model, by the uncritical recourse to the biological intelligence that is its own product ... In an anthropocentric system of reality, ideas or mental constructs must adhere to the system's inherent order not only to be acceptable, but even to be able to be conceived... The processes that led to human models of reality are attributable to the frames of reference created by the early cognitive evolution of hominids.

Dechend (1997: 9): Raising the question about the nature of those clues and traces which might enable us to reconstruct at least some thoughts of early homines sapientes sapientes, we have to state first, that next to no phenomenon should be accepted as "suggesting itself", and "obvious", no instrument, no technique, no rite, no game, no dance. The more fundamental, and the more apparently self-suggesting a technique, the more ingenious the brain that hatched it.

Cosmides (Cited in Pinker 1995: 413): Like fish unaware of the existence of water, anthropologists swim from culture to culture interpreting through universal human metaculture. Metaculture informs every thought... Similarly biologists and artificial intelligence researchers are "anthropologists" who travel to places where minds are far stranger than anywhere any ethnographer has ever gone.

Strecker (1988: 38-39): Anthropologists can indeed learn a lot from the surrealists. Generally speaking they both try to reach the same goal. They both ask the question, 'Who are we?' and embark on a journey to find the answer in terms of 'who we are not'. They differ in that the anthropologist (as ethnographer) journeys in space and his procedure is empirical, while the surrealist travels in the mind and proceeds by ways of the imagination. But both are similarly concerned with overcoming their immediate cultural and social conditions, to see them for what they ultimately are, 'arbitrary systems of control', as the anthropologists might say, or in the more polemical voice of the surrealist, a 'second-rate reality that has been fashioned by centuries of worshipping money, races, fatherlands, gods, and, I might add, art. (Magritte) ... In fact they make transparent the input of that which anthropologists in the field are usually condemned to encounter as output only.

17.1.2. The Bibliosphere

Landow (1992: 29): This ... requires that one first recognize the enormous power of the book, for only after we have made ourselves conscious of the ways it has formed and informed our lives can we seek to pry ourselves free from some of its limitations... Claude Levi-Strauss's explanations of preliterate thought in The Savage Mind and in his treatises on mythology appear in part as attempts to de-center the culture of the book - to show the confinements of our literature culture by getting outside of it, however tenuously and briefly...

A Cheops Pyramid of Books

For the purpose of visualizing the immense weight of the written cultural transmission of civilized humanity, a comparison with an existing monument will be made. The term bibliosphere is introduced here as a comprehensive concept of the whole universe of written productions in books, manuscripts, newspapers, magazines, files, shards, inscriptions, murals, etc., that humanity has produced in the last 5000 years of writing civilizations . We can also call this the collected cultural memory of our civilizations as it can be put in written form. To a large part this material is in alphabetic script, partly in other scripts, and partly in form of pictures, diagrams, drawings, and symbolisms pertaining to the existant different scientific and artistic notation systems. All of it is conserved as static representations. The existing material is archived mostly in our libraries, museums, government-, and church archives. For the sake of the discussion, we make a very rough guess at the amount of material thus presented, how many different pieces of writing that may exist. Even such a huge library as the US library of Congress contains only a minute fraction of that material. One estimate is several billion (n* 10 9) different books and writings (Veltman 1997) . If we assume that one book has on the average about one million (one mega) chars, each of which can be stored in one byte on a computer, we come to an amount of data in the order of n*10 15 bytes or n*1000 Terabytes. One book may occupy a volume of on the average about 1000 cm 3, that means 1000 books stacked in one m 3, such that for 2.5 billion books, we would need 2,500,000 m 3, and if we look around for a building of comparable volume, the Cheops pyramid would fit in nicely with its 230 m ground width and 147 m apex height amounting to about 2,500,000 m 3 of stone (Chambers: Pyramid). [516] Let us now consider that an average human can read (and understand) about 50 chars/ sec, and one year has 31,536,000 (31 mega) seconds, so that one can read non-stop about 1550 mega chars, or 1550 books in one year, but in real life, one gets an average of about 1/10 of that throughput, i.e. 150 books, in one human reading lifetime of 60 years, this will sum up to about 10,000 books. By this it would take a human being about 6,500,000 years to read one billion of our amassed human biblio-productions. It would be very helpful if there were a device or a method that would allow us to read (and understand) all that mass in a considerably faster way. No such alternative is in view, because of the limitations of the alphabetic principle and the human cognitive system. If we are to search for something that helps us cope with the immense amounts of data that humanity has amassed so far, let alone what will be produced in the future, if technological civilization continues in any way as it did in the last century, then we have to search outside of the alphabetic framework altogether, and this necessitates us to step outside the confinements of our alphabetic literature culture, and the alphabetically framed thought patterns of our civilization, as George Landow indicates in the above quotation.

17.1.3. The 'pathos' factor

Haarmann (1997: 679-682) points out a loss factor in written tradition which he calls the pathos. He also shows the tendency of language-oriented nationalistic fracturing to break up into perpetually warring nations:

(p. 680, 682): In the classical Greek context, the alphabet with its arbitrary letters did not develop, as it has been claimed, the sense of abstractness or logical thinking among the Europeans (which had originated before the introduction of alphabetical writing), but it may be held responsible for the monopoly of the antique tradition in reasoning based upon abstract thinking which modern Europeans still share and which has been termed "logocentrism" by Derrida (1967). The priority of the categories of the logos (thought, reason, logic) over those of the pathos (feeling, sensual experience, emotion) may be considered a repercussion of alphabetic abstractness on the human mind. Accordingly writing has been appreciated as one among many features by which a modern culture characterizes itself.
(p. 682): Language-oriented nationalism, particularly geared to the needs of written communication, has been a characteristic facet in the cultural history of Europe since at least the Middle Ages... Another instance of state language nationalism is the monopoly of French as the only official language in France which was achieved via a series of royal language decrees in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

17.1.4. Logocentrism and "Die Hintergehbarkeit der Sprache"

In the statement above Haarmann also mentions logocentrism. In the present context, this will be used with a special meaning: the tendency to assume that all aspects of this world and of human life can be adequatly verbalized, and consequently also put in writing . In this view, logocentrism and graphocentrism occur in combination. [517] It arises through intensive schooling of people, whose world view has been thoroughly "dyed in the wool" by bookish learning: the intellectuals, bureaucrats, and the law-makers / -interpreters / -enforcers of the writing civilizations.

17.1.5. The Logos

(Encarta: Logos): "Logos" (Greek: "word," "reason," "ratio"), in ancient and especially in medieval philosophy and theology, the divine reason that acts as the ordering principle of the universe.
The 6th-century BC Greek philosopher Heraclitus was the first to use the term Logos in a metaphysical sense. He asserted that the world is governed by a firelike Logos, a divine force that produces the order and pattern discernible in the flux of nature. He believed that this force is similar to human reason and that his own thought partook of the divine Logos.
The 1st-century AD Jewish-Hellenistic philosopher Philo Judaeus employed the term Logos in his effort to synthesize Jewish tradition and Platonism. According to Philo, the Logos is a mediating principle between God and the world and can be understood as God's Word or the Divine Wisdom, which is immanent in the world.
At the beginning of the Gospel of John, Jesus Christ is identified with the Logos made incarnate, the Greek word logos being translated as “word” in the English Bible: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. ... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us ...” (John 1:1-3, 14). John's conception of Christ was probably influenced by Old Testament passages as well as by Greek philosophy, but early Christian theologians developed the conception of Christ as the Logos in explicitly Platonic and Neoplatonic terms (see NEOPLATONISM). The Logos, for instance, was identified with the will of God, or with the Ideas (or Platonic Forms) that are in the mind of God. Christ's incarnation was accordingly understood as the incarnation of these divine attributes."

The above quotation from the encyclopedia gives a short genealogy of the logos cultural complex in western thought. Its significance as one of the core tenets of western Christian religion and therefore the western cultural fabric is illustrated with the quotation from John 1:1. The standard bible translations, that translate logos as "the word", commit, strictly speaking, a translation error. In the original Greek version, the logos forms a complex of meaning that is much wider than just "a word". [518] This is evident by the Heraklit use of the term and by tracing the greek etymology of logos. The logos was harnessed to the aims of the religions of the book and bound to the word as it was preserved in writing . Goethe takes up this issue in his Faust.

17.1.6. Conceptual immunization

Logocentrism can also be called conceptual immunization . This means: that the principle of conceptualization may immunize us against non-conceptual modes of thinking or feeling. And it may be necessary for specific cases, to focus precisely on such non-conceptual modes. And from within the conceptual sphere, this cannot be done. The world of alphabetically fixated concepts (which is called the bibliosphere in the present study [519]) envelops us all like the water envelops the fish, [520] and most of us are, most of the time, completely unaware, of how it envelops and influences all our conceptions of reality. For this reason the alphabetic literature of our civilization may not be the most ideal place to look for ways out of this.
->:SEMIOSPHERE, p. 116, ->:FUNDAMENTAL_IDEAS, p. 112, ->:SYMBOL, p. 119

17.1.7. The Socratic contention

A slightly different wording is the Socratic contention:
Popkin (1956: xiv, xvi): Socrates, at his trial in 399 B.C., maintained that the reason he philosophized was that 'the unexamined life was not worth living'. ...
Most of us, like Socrates' contemporaries, have never bothered to examine our views to discover their foundations, whether we have adequate or acceptable reasons for believing what we do...
Otherwise, the best that we may be able to accomplish by philosophical examination is only to realize the inadequacy of all answers that have been thus far presented.

A fundamental factor is that the western academic tradition, as an intellectual enterprise of the last 2500 years, is based on the alphabetic written tradition as handed down to us in countless volumes of recorded philosophical and scientific thought since the days of Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heraklit, and Parmenides. Pleger (1991), Heuser (1992), Gadamer (1989). A fundamental philosophical question to ask is: what may have been the systematic inadequacy of all the alphabetically formulated questions and answers that have been thus far presented in the whole of recorded history of writing civilizations?

17.1.8. The emphasis on non-verbal cultural transmission

If alphabetically reinforced logocentrism has indeed influenced the thinking of the elites of our Western cultures in such a subtle and profound way as to have erected an invisible conceptual barrier and a filter for our experience around us, then it seems useless to try to use this very same medium of the alphabet for a demonstration of its own weaknesses and drawbacks, the accounting of all those instances where verbal description is not the ideal, nor a suitable form of cultural expression or transmission. For demonstration, we may borrow the famous aphorism 7 of Wittgenstein's tractatus: (Wittgenstein 1969: 83)

Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen [521].

There is an obvious answer:

Wovon Du nicht sprechen kannst, das mußt Du tanzen, singen, musizieren,
töpfern, schreinern, schmieden, weben, spinnen, malen, streicheln und massieren [522]. (A.G.)

17.1.9. Excarnation

This example emphasizes those experiences in the lived (incarnated [523]) reality of bodily performance that are beyond verbal descriptions and which cannot be captured by words. This is (or was) the daily reality of non-civilized (indigenous) cultures that had not taken up writing for the preservation of their cultural memory.

The salient issue is that by a strict logocentric standard, everything conveyable through various somatic acts and productions can be mapped onto a statement made in verbal language (plus some graphics), which can, in turn be written down with an alphabet [524], and then printed in a book, copyrighted, enshrined in laws and contracts, and sold for a good price on the market . Anything that cannot be mapped to such statements, tends to be considered as non-existent, or unimportant, and will fall out of the rasters of the logocentric framework.

In the civilizations, the incarnated somatic cultural memory was carried on in the arts and crafts traditions until a break set in with the printing revolution (Assmann, 1993: 137-139 citing Giesecke), and the somatic value of the arts and crafts experienced a devaluation, and became to be considered as of lesser import than the pursuit of excarnated literate exercises of the elites (Morris 1986: 7-79) .

Assmann (1993: 147): Vier Sinne sind kaltgestellt, die Beweglichkeit des Körpers ist in starre Ruhelage versetzt. Die Wahrnehmung ist reduziert auf die Augen, die statt in der farbigen Welt umherzuschweifen auf eine geregelte Minimalbewegung des Abtastens schwarzer Spuren auf weißem Grund festgelegt sind. "Bücher machen kurzsichtig und lahmärschig", so faßt Hans Blumenberg den schriftbedingten Verlust an Sinnlichkeit und Mobilität zusammen... "No man can print a kiss". (148): Das vielfarbige, vielgestaltige, vibrierende Leben läßt sich sowenig aufs Papier bannen wie ein Würfel auf eine Fläche...

In his article on the work of the French Guild "Companions du Devoir", Bernard (1985) presents an argumentation that parallels that of Leroi-Gourhan (1984), and he describes the problems engendered by the "aberration" of excarnation, the separation of manual and intellectual work. He presents the argument that the hand and the mind are complementary, and "the hand is not the mere instrument of the mind, but its close associate" (p. 15). He merits the Egyptian stone art: "The Egyptians, however, worked stone with stone for thousands of years, and it is not the least of their merits to have brought beauty to a very high point in their great works using methods which for a long time remained prehistoric" (p. 15). The problems of the "aberration": "It has been said that we have lost our common sense, and to tell the truth we are also losing our 'senses'. The same causes that have transformed our work have also altered our vision, deformed our hearing and our sense of smell, and weakened our backbones. Will we, in the same way, lose the use of our hands and our sense of touch?"
->:SMELL, p. 149, ->:TACTILE, p. 147

So the question turns into that of the "Hintergehbarkeit der Sprache", an expression originally coined by Nietzsche that is only very inadequately translated as "the subversibility of language", (Holenstein 1980: 11). The question is that of language as epistemological condition of any knowledge and first subject of a prima philosophia (ibid.). The fundamental problem is of demonstrating that the range of expression of non-verbal productions exceeds that of verbal language itself. This can in no way be done in (excarnated) writing, but only in bodily experience. But then the demonstration must consist in the performance itself, and its appreciation: a piece of music, a dance, an epic poem, or a ritual performance. As will be shown later, the field of ritual is essentially this. Staal (1982, 1986, 1989).

17.2. Defects of writing

17.2.1. Factors of obsolescence: missing mnemonic ecology

As to the potential case of "worn-outness" of the alphabet, the discussion of the bibliosphere shows the main catch. The calculation yielded that it would take a human being about 6,500,000 years to read one billion books of the collected written materials of humanity. One principal problem of the alphabet compared to a non-material cultural transmission is that it facilitates the unchecked accumulation of obsolete data. [525] Among those billions of books in the bibliosphere, there may be one million redundant duplications and different re-statements of Platon's ideas, [526] and one million redundant duplications of some statements that are attributed to Jesus Christ, and one million redundant duplications of some statements of Muhammad, Moses, Buddha, ... and so on. In a non-material cultural transmission everything that is transmitted must fit into the memories of the human cultural memory carriers, and what doesn't fit, is lost, forgotten. While this may be deplorable from one side, it has the great advantage that people will be extremely inventive how to condense the memorized material to the maximum. And the availability of writing has led to a gross sloppiness with regard to the potential of condensation of memorabilia. The writing civilizations could be accused to have grossly neglected the factor of mnemonic ecology . This is essentially the criticism of Plat on in the next section.

17.2.2. Factors of defects and serious side effects of writing

As to the other potential defects of writing, let us now review some more of the principal criticisms of writing that were made in the literature and that were touched in the prior discussions of this study .

Schärli (1996: 29): We remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we hear and see, 70% of what we ourselves say, 90% of what we do ourselves.

This quotation from Schärli gives corroboration to Platon's statement in Phaidros below. A defect or unwanted side effect of writing may be that it is an expedient way to facilitate forgetting.

Platon (1988, Phaidros, 274c-275): ... But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit.
Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.
Soc. I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves.

If we focus on the societal conditions as "serious side effects in usage", we may take a closer look at the kinds of societal systems that writing has served to fortify in the last 5000 years. These may not be to everybody's full liking. But what exactly is an "agreeable and desirable society" is not an academic question, but a political one, and therefore cannot be dealt with here. For possible further discussions of this subject, the following statements may serve as starter, and further material is found in the works of S. Diamond (1976), J. Diamond (1992), (1997), Foucault (1969), and Siu (1993). [527] Ivan Illich (1976-1988) has added an important criticism on how the institutional school system leads to a forced delegation of cultural intelligence to the specialist classes. This may then lead into an inquiry into the question of correlations between writing civilization and social pathology.

Levi-strauss, (1978: 294, 295, transl. A.G.): If my hypothesis is true, then we have to assume that the primary function of written communication is to facilitate enslavement. The use of writing for unselfish purposes, i.e. in the service of intellectual and aesthetic satisfaction, is a secondary result, if not even a means to amplify the other, to justify it and to mask it... Even if writing alone wasn't sufficient to stabilize knowledge, it was indispensable for the consolidation of domination.

Derrida (1974, 168, transl. and condensed, A.G.): That access to written symbols grants the sanctified power... that the whole priestly class - it they wielded political power or not - arose at the same time as writing arose, and that it could establish itself with the aid of the dominion that was grounded in writing, that military strategy, ballistics, diplomacy, agriculture, taxation, and criminal law are bound up in their history and their structure with the evolution of writing. That the origin of writing was associated in the most diverse cultures ... with the distribution of political power and the structure of the family, a process that was very complex but also very orderly. The possibility of capitalization and the political-administrative organizations was always going through the hands of the scribes. Wars were possible because technology and administration were able to cooperate. Writing systems were always more and the same time something else than mere communication media. Power and efficiency of rulership was only thinkable through the "symbolic force" of writing. Monetary and pre-monetary economy co-originated with writing.

Gellner (1993: 211): Diejenigen, die den letzten König mit dem Gedärm des letzten Priesters erdrosseln wollten, ließen damit dem Beitrag sein Recht widerfahren, den die Geistlichkeit zur Aufrechterhaltung des Systems leistete.

Gellner (1993: 179): Die agrarische Gesellschaft ist zur Gewalt verurteilt. Sie hortet Reichtümer, die verteidigt werden müssen, und deren Verteilungsmodus mit Gewalt durchgesetzt werden muß. In einem zuverlässigen Sinn genügend Reichtümer gibt es nie. Die Agrargesellschaft ist eine malthusianische Gesellschaft, die durch ihren Bedarf and Arbeitskräften und Kriegsmannschaft gezwungen ist, die Bevölkerungszahl so groß wie möglich zu halten. Nachkommenschaft oder jedenfalls männliche Nachkommenschaft steht hoch im Kurs, und periodische Hungersnöte sind mehr oder minder unvermeidlich. Sodann ist die Verteidigung der befestigten Getreidespeicher, wie immer diese auch aussehen mögen, ein zwingendes Erfordernis... Im Agrarzeitalter waren die Menschen gar nicht frei... sie waren unterdrückt und in einem Zustand ständiger Unterernährung... Die Rangordnung wurde mit Gewalt aufrechterhalten, aber sie war zugleich ein soziales Kontrollinstrument.

The memetics discourse [528] has presented major research on the pathologies of culture . A common term in memetics is "viruses of the mind" (Brodie). Special research would have to be devoted if and how writing influences the "virulence" of mind memes. But it is easily seen even without longer research that TV and radio are far more efficient in transmitting virulent pathological ideas than could ever be done with written material. [529]

17.2.3. Factors of principal limitation: stasis vs. dynamis

Obviously, there are many domains where verbal language is not useful or sufficient for description, and the many alternate systems used by humans, like mathematics, music, chemical symbolisms, graphics, maps, etc., show that this has been addressed since a long time. But some aspects are not covered yet. The main missing factor is dynamics. All notation systems are static and don't cover the essentially dynamic character of life. This is a possible problem for a civilization that commits by far the largest part of its cultural memory to a system of static representations. In many non-western cultures, there is (or was) a strong tradition of non-verbal, dynamic cultural transmissions and it needs to be noticed that western civilizations have lost "the science of ritual" to a large extent (Staal 1982). There is the large field of cultural movement patterns that are not amenable in principle to static representations, since movement, when frozen in a static form, simply vanishes. Dynamis is incontrovertible with Stasis. This essential lack of all the static CMM that are so widespread in western civilizations alerts us to the possibility that perhaps there may be some very essential factor that civilizations are losing when they commit the bulk of their cultural transmission to written, static representations.
->:DYNAMIC_CMM, p. 203, ->:RITUAL_PATTERN, p. 224

[501] ->:BLISS_SYMB, p. 188
[502] ->:IN_EXCARNATION, p. 199
[503] Whitehead (1969: vii, 17)
[504] ->:LOGOS, p. 197, ->:DYNAMIC_CMM, p. 203, ->:MOVEMENT_PARADOX, p. 206, ->:GOETHE_FAUST, p. 236
[505] This example is not chosen to criticize the author for the bias. The bias is in the language and in the thought systems that we have to use by default, and can hardly be avoided. In fact, it would be very cumbersome and stilted to try to write in a "politically correct" style, for example trying to completely avoid the male bias of terms like "man", and "he", "his" etc.
[506] The source of this citation is: The anthropologist LOREN EISELEY (1907-1977), cited in the prologue of: William H. Calvin (1996b): "The River That Flows Uphill": (URL)
[507] Male bias.
[508] implicit: alphabetic writing as pinnacle of the evolution of writing.
[509] Male bias: history can be literally read as his-story.
[510] Mind / cognitive bias. What about the memory of the body? For example the history of the gut feeling? See also the question of pathos, posed by Haarmann ->:PARADOX_QUEST, p. 194
[511] implicit ethno- / euro- / alphabet- centric deprecation of oral memory.
[512] There are many traces for the one who knows where to look for them. One may take "Hamlet's Mill", Dechend (1993) as a starting point for developing an outlook to the contrary position.
[513] Il-literate - meaning: non-alphabetically-letterate.
[514] It is rarely described in detail how the memory died, because it died in many cases because of intervening efforts by well meaning invaders, crusaders, conquerors, missionaries, teachers, government officials, and the like, who quite often came from conquering writing cultures. The natives would have continued to keep their stories alive and well for a long time if they had only been left in peace. See the chapter on genocide, in Diamond (1992: 276-309).
[515] This can be generalized for the present study to mean: indigenous cultures world-wide.
[516] ->:PERSPECTIVE_VIEW, p. 110
[517] As opposed to the view of Derrida (1974), who separates them.
[518] Spengler (1980: 732)
[519] ->:BIBLIOSPHERE, p. 195
[520] ->:COSMIDES, p. 195
[521] Of which one cannot speak, one has to be silent about.
[522] What You can't speak about, that You have to dance, sing, make music, make pottery, make carpentry, forge, weave, spin, paint, caress, and massage.
[523] Referring to the excarnation / incarnation dichotomy in the history of Christianity that Aleida Assmann refers to in (1993: 133, 141-143). ->:LIT_CULTMEDIA, p. 140
[524] Illich (1988: 11): This Byblos alphabet whose letters stand only for sounds does not have any letters for vowels. The freely voiced qualities of breathing are not indicated, only the consonants, the harsh or soft obstacles the breath encounters. Its script does not yet transform the page into a mirror of speech, but is rather a burial ground for the skeleton of language.
(13): The Greeks froze the flow of speech itself onto the page.
[525] "Wissen als Altlast?". Kompaktseminar, Prof. Dr. Klaus Kornwachs, Humboldt-Studienzentrum, Uni Ulm, 4-6 March, 1998.
[526] It seems as no coincidence that Western philosophy and the alphabet derive from the same culture: Ancient Greece. We can extend the aphorism of Whitehead: "The safest general characterization of Western philosophical tradition is that it consists of a sequence of footnotes to Plato" (Whitehead 1957: 53) to mean that whatever types of fundamental question (or rather: the ways and manners to ask questions at all) were put up from the times of Thales, Anaximandros, Heraklit, Parmenides, Plat on, and Aristoteles, this has kept Western philosophy in an alphabetic mental frame ever since.
[527] ->:PANETICS, p. 233
[528] ->:MEMETICS, p. 248
[529] See Mcluhan's research on the use of radio propaganda by the Nazis.

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