Sunday, 18 May 2014

Why I think writing is super-human (2)

Let’s come again to why I think writing is super-human. The question put again. The question re-membered.

Writing is more like a divorce

You see now how close writing is to data storage, which is the thing we tend to associated with computers. They (writing and the computer) both preserve texts for the use of an entity different from the one that’s doing the storage. What this means, if I manage to put it into simpler words, is that mere storage – mere writing – is not sufficient if taken in isolation. A piece of text can stay where it has been written for thousands of years and be a masterpiece; nobody knows about it – it’s useless. So the text is nothing if not read. Reading is the soul of writing; it is the life blown into that text. Can you imagine an archive? Millions of texts sitting there; so many, it has been impossible for the whole team of archivists to go through them all – to even know what many of them contain. Those are dead texts. Inexistent texts, in spite of the fact that they are right there, in that confined space of the archive.

Writing is separation.
And from the above sentence I arrive at another one: writing is separation. Only things cut away from their source can be stored. Right? Let’s take a look at our thoughts again. It wouldn’t be hard for us to agree that it’s impossible to pickle them inside our brain, like millennium eggs, and keep them there for eternity. No, that is not humanly possible. Maybe in the world of Funes the Memorius, but even there, some problem will arise at one point or other, and the whole castle will crumble, as attested by Borges, who would have liked things to be different.
So now, if we’re taking these thoughts to their logical conclusion, we may finally say that writing is not human. It is, indeed, super-human – not as in Superman, but as in prosthetics.

Writing is more like a fake limb

All forms of art (and writing is one) are prosthetic in nature. They do what we cannot do by means of our physical abilities. At the beginnings of science, the scientific disciplines were called arts – you probably knew that. So seeing further (telescopes) or deeper (microscopes), helping people walk when no limbs are in place – all this, of course, implies prosthetics. Prosthetics help the human individual do what he/she wouldn’t be able to do by using their limbs/bodies alone. And so with writing. It does something our minds cannot do: remembering.

iHand. Source: Designboom
For this reason alone, writing is, indeed, super-human. (The title of this piece finally makes sense.)
And now you’ll look upon your daily scribbling in a different way, won’t you? Nah. Maybe not. In fact, writing has become so closely tied to you – your breath, your heart beats, your blood pressure, your bone marrow – you don’t believe it possible for you not to have it. The thought of not having writing is perhaps more tormenting than the thought of being left alone in the middle of a jungle, snakes and tigers and tarantulas lurking around and looking at you from the dark with fiery eyes. That’s how deeply writing has penetrated into your blood stream. And it’s not at all a bad thing, because without this forgetting of writing’s nature we would never be capable of accepting other, more subtle, more sublime, more miraculous things enabled by writing. I say ‘Literature,’ and I need not go any further.

Let us not disparage writing, though

I said here things that have put writing in a bad light. I said it didn’t help memory. Well, it doesn’t – in principle. But writing is not entirely foreign to the things we remember. No. The device, alright, the device is the holder of the memory. That’s where we believe it’s safely deposited, like a bonus bond promising a certain return. But there’s a process taking place here. The very process of scribbling; of putting pen to paper. Well, it so happens that between pen and paper something occurs. And that’s a mental process: we activate the thought that will be immortalized on the page. This thought navigates from our brain to our hand, and from there not straight to the paper but to our brain again.
I say, to the brain again. How’s that? Well, writing doesn’t happen haphazardly. Yes, Master Plato, it doesn’t. It is the result of a mental process and it generates another mental process. If it weren’t this way, we wouldn’t be able to re-member with the device. We would not recognize the text. But as we very well know, when we see the post-it on the fridge we recognize it. We re-visit it. We recollect having known it before. Which means when we read the message we are in fact finding something we have always already been familiar with. We are returning that thing to the receptacle of our mind, where our mind rejoices at the sight of a dear old friend. What we recognize is not only our own handwriting, but the very nature of Writing itself: the inscription of marks on a solid surface. That, before anything else, appears to us as a recognition of writing. The device is showing us the way. (The Tao of Writing. Somebody should use this as a title somewhere.)

I just can't resist the association.
This sounds good, I know. Feels good too. It feels like relief. We’re not so doomed to be Platonic failures, after all. But beautiful as this may seem, we need to realize that we won’t escape the device. Technology (and this is a word I haven’t used in my posts so far) is the grand mediator without which we would be left with a huge gap between us and the thing we like to call ‘the world.’
Proof? Don’t forget the way we store phone numbers in the phone’s internal memory. At least that. Oh, and maybe this as well, from Edgar Allan Poe:
“If you wish to forget anything, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.”

Just to take us back to the post-it issue, and the super-human nature of writing.