In my linguistics class, which unfortunatly I have slowly grown to actively dislike for a number of reasons, both acedemic and personal, I have also discovered an odd topic of peek interest.
“The invention of a written language has been an ultimately destructing force for the human experience.”
Please, do discuss. But hear me out first. (or rather, read my written words before you begin writing as well)
The development of a written language marked the beginning of acurately documenting historical happenings and cultural traditions, but it also sucked the use of oral tradition down into a literary black hole. And this is not the only time this kind of thing has happened (remember when Video killed the Radio Star…any one?)
People once spent quality time with family and friends sharing the gift of converstaion, and did so not because it was simply fun, but more importantly because it was the way they passed down their legacy. But soon, they gave up that valuable talk-time. People stopped telling stories and instead wrote them down. This was a wonderful development in the way of providing accurate and detailed accounts of historical events as well as traditional rituals and values that lasted for centuries, but it discontinued the communal gatherings near the fire, partaking in song, dance, and tall-tale-telling nights.
Some may think this sacrifice is an adequate exchange. Being a writer myself, I must think on it.
The written language provides a method for preserving cultures and also remembering events; it takes the strain off of our memories when we can simply jot down an idea, moving on, speeding up, to come back to it later on a page instead of filing it in our brains. Yet those memory lobes are not working as hard when we have the written word; we are not developing our own recall methods. Our heads have become scattered with clues and triggers instead of neatly organized filing cabnets of memory complete with culturally-rich experiences, stories to pass on, family ties, and a communal sense of identity. We have developed a personal style of writing down what our individual mind transmits intead of buliding upon the foundation which our history has created for us– and oral history, and perhaps a mythical one rooted in community.
Now we are individuals. We have become more convoluted and, at the same time, diluted. We have become more detailed, but our memories are vague, jogged only by words on a page or images in front of us. We have become informative and creative, all at the same time.
This entire concept is not limited to the written language either. At least, if you are taking about the replacing of an overall sense of self with a tangible one. The same is true of photographs–a deceptive form of capturing reality.
I always thought- and even declared this fact to those litereary buffs around me- that I hate Hemmingway (a very bold and probably nieve statment on my part). And yet the man has described it so well here that I may indeed become challenged at my previous conviction…
He writes: “men and boys bought pictures of him to remember him by and lost the picture they had of him in their memories by looking at lithographs…After the funeral, everyone sat in the cafes out of the rain, and many colored pictures of [him] were sold to men who rolled them up and put them away in their pockets.”
Not only are our perceptions altered by reality, but the things in our head, what our mind’s eye sees, is not always the truth. Addressing that, and to quote my favorite teacher: “Of course it is happening in your head…but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” (50 points to Gryfinder if you can tell me who said that one). So what do we do with these “real” images? We store them away so we do not have to have them happening in our heads? Or do these images act as a spring board for our imaginations? After all, isn’t photography art? And if we have an alternate reality in our minds, is that bad? Is the artwork in our heads all along and these tangible forms are just ways to escape, making us feel proud that we created something cool?
I used to look in the mirror and see something completely different than what was reality. Someone showed me a photograph of myself and I was floored. This was a shocking jolt for my self-perception, but a necessary one for my health. That being said (or rather, written), something reality is imperative to see, and other times our imaginations are more important than anything in the world.
The same idea is explored in Tim O’Brian’s novel “The Things They Carried”, which I read in High School honors English, but an now re-reading for a college level History class (odd? I thought so too). He writes: “In any war story, but especially a true one, it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen. What seems to happen becomes its own happeneing and has to be told that way. The angles of vision are skewed…The pictures get jumbled; you tend to miss a lot. And then afterward, when you go to tell about it, there is always that surreal seemingness, which makes the story seem untrue, but which in fact represents the hard and exact truth as it seemed…The thing about a story is what you dream it as you tell it, hoping that other might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head. It is the illusion of aliveness.”
So does what we read about, write about, create art about make things clear, or make things muddy? What is truth?
The images I present to you replace those of what you may have created of me in your own mind. Even though I photograph, do not edit, and simply post, oftentimes describing ideas attached to the images with said written language, you are forced to see them instead of creating your wond, whether it be with a camera, with words, with a paintbrush, or behind your eyelids in a dream your imagination sees.
The intreiging thing about all of these though, besides the fact that I am using both images and writing to explore them, is that you can still draw you own conclusions and opinions, which are completely unique and specific to you, from the images and from the writing of others who may not have had the same opinions and conclusions as you do. This is espcially true with the technology of blogs, twitter, facebook, tumblr, flikr…
So does written language limit our memories and communal identity or expland our awareness and self-discovery?
Do images taint our imaginations or expose us to reality, altured or left raw?
As a writer and a photographer, I do not have an answer other than to say who the heck cares? I only know that if I were not allowed a written language or a form of capturing images, I would express this same artwork in just another way.