Saturday, June 11, 2005

Writing vs. Talking (re: Derrida)


Are you more comfortable blogging or telephoning?

Do you enjoy both?

Or do you tend to be more creative, more factual, more careful when you blog?

When you write a blog post, or post a comment on another blog, are you more exact and polished...than when you chat on the phone?


Are you more comfortable blogging...or speaking face to face with the actual presences of real people?

Does blogging allow you to fine tune your thinking?

Does blogging allow you to pay more attention to possible good and bad reactions from those you address, from your audience?

More importantly, do you tend to believe something written in a blog than "hear say", something someone says in a conversation?


Did you know that one of the greatest, most influential philosophers of the 20th century, Jacques Derrida, pondered this question throughout his career?

Derrida asked why Western philosophy, from Plato to Hegel and beyond, asserted and assumed the Supremacy of Speech over Text.

If you like mystery novels, adventure stories, or mental puzzles, you'll love reading Derrida. His writings can be very difficult at times, and some are frankly very heavy-laden with references to other difficult philosophy texts. But Derrida is also full of fresh, original, enlightening insights that sparkle like diamond-encrusted rainbows.

I never realized how biased philosophy is against written text.

To simplify a bit, without distorting, the basic idea of the Speech Supremacists is: spoken language is closer to truth and reality, because the presence of the speaker is involved, his mind is manifested to you, with no "mediation", no "interference" of any other medium.

Thus, the Speech Supremacists think, and assert, mostly via writing (ha!), that speech is more pure, more original, more authentic, than written text.


Derrida presents many of the arguments against Writing, as he questions these theories.

It's really fascinating, especially if you're a writer, or a lover of literature.

Derrida writes (in "Plato's Pharmacy", DISSEMINATION, University of Chicago Press, 1981) about early myths that display writing as an attack on "the gods" (i.e., The Powers That Pretend To Be, government and social rulers), or as an enemy of memory.

Memory? Yes, because in early oral traditions, people were accustomed to memorizing the entire Bible, Koran, Buddhist texts, folklore, fictional stories, songs, etc., much as younger people memorize rap/hip hop lyrics and chant them amongst friends.

Chant? Yes, chants, with deterministic rhythms and rhymes, made it easier to memorize, even rocking back and forth like you see Islamic and Jewish reciters do, as they recite text and prayers.

The thinking was that writing something down was creating a "crutch" for a lazy and weak mind.

Writing would weaken memorization powers, since you no longer needed memory, you had an "artificial memory system", a written textual record.

Writing is considered "revolutionary", "insurgent", "evil", "poison", "unnatural", "anarchy", "substitution" (for actual living presence of speaker), "ghostly" (the author can be long dead, yet still "speak" via text), and "supplemental" (added to speech as a lesser, inferior, non-essential item).

Did you know about all this raging controversy, throughout history, between writing and talking?

I'd love to quote multiple passages from Derrida's texts, but I think I'll let this whet your appetite. Your own research and exploration of Derrida will reward you super-abundantly. An astonishing delight.


You've got to check out how Derrida destroys the arguments against written text.

He brilliantly cites many of the anti-text texts (ironic, huh?), then smashes them by his own original and creative intelligence, or by using their own contradictions against them.

I mean, for a philosophere to WRITE multiple volumes of TEXT about how written text is inferior to spoken language, this is surely funny, ironic, and self-defeating, is it not?

Here are a few points Derrida makes about the Supremacy of Writing over Talking:

* Writing communicates ideas faster, more accurately, and more efficiently than speech. (Ever play that "telephonic" game where you whisper a few sentences to someone, then they pass it on, down a line of people, until the last person has a totally different message than the original?)

* Writing enables "the dead to speak". Authors long since deceased still have a "voice" via text, that can be verified and enjoyed by future generations, especially before we had audio recording capabilities.

* Writing is metaphorically in DNA, visual symbolism, gestures, fashion, constellations (zodiac), and many other instances. We tend to say genetic code is "written" in DNA and not "spoken", for various reasons.

* Speech and "living memory" has problematic aspects and deficiencies inherently, prior to writing, and thus cannot be blamed on writing or text.

* Memory always requires some sort of "signs" (pictures, numbers, graphs, etc.) to re-present that which is absent.


Let's "hear" your opinion now, via your written (typed) comment or an email to me.

Have you ever thought about comparing speech to text?

Which do you like or trust more?

Is it fair to even pit one against the other?

I'm all ears, er, all eyes, ready to soak up your thinking manifested in TEXT.

vaspersthegrate [at] yahoo [dot] com Posted by Hello


[signed] Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate


MARYBETH said...

Hi Steve,
very interesting question you ask about speaking verses writing or typing.
I have to admit there is substantial satisfaction in writing(typing) what I want to say. IT is clear concise, and hopefully meaningful. There are no interruptions. For me it is a major neurological stimulate, as I am a "challenged" typist at best, so I like to believe that all of my neural pathways are working and being challenged, in this blogging activity.
With that said, there truly is no replacement for human interaction . Although we have much "scientific knowledge" regarding the benefits of social interaction (in person), it will be interesting to see what research will report about the benefits of technological social interaction and relationships.
I have a great concern regarding the influence this realm of communication will have on children and young people who have not yet developed their social skills, and experiences. If the state of chat rooms are in any way reflective of the prior inquiry, we should be very concerned!
Enough rambling for now. I do hope my missing post reaches you. As always thanks for all knowledge bestowed upon one tech challenged middle aged momma!

steven edward streight said...

I ask the question, and the linguists and semioticians and philosophers have been debating it. For centuries, but especially lately, since 1860 or so.

It's funny, you can't really edit or delete spoken words. No revisions, except in further spoken clarifications I suppose.

I have been engaged in some real world combat, in addition to my "blogo-combat". What I meant to add to this article is: often writing is feared and hated, in social contexts.

I've had some "situations" the past year, and currently, where the adversary pleaded to have a "sit down, face-to-face meeting" or a "phone conversation" about something I'd been dealing with textually, via email or letter.

I refuse to meet. I don't have time for that. Plus, they think they can use spoken persuasion, eye contact, suggestology, imposing presence, whatever they think they've got.

They feel more "comfortable" on the spoken turf.

They must realize I excell in the written realm.

I've had antagonists ask, mystified, "Why did you put all this in Writing? Sure wish you would have called me."

They hate seeing written documents. When I cc others, that really makes the text explosive. Copies of writing going to multiple persons: very powerful assault.

I'm speaking of corrupt religious entities primarily, that I have tangled with, who have been deceptive in various ways, perhaps illegal activity, cultish, etc.

Online interaction. The mysterious thing to me is why I and all of us I guess, get our feeling hurt or elevated by online text, like emails, blog comments, forums, discussion lists.

So "impersonal", words on a screen, no face, no voice, no gestures, no perfume, no cologne, nothing human, just words crawling across a screen...yet reactions can be quite personal, violent, ecstatic, depressing, etc.

Very odd. Yet I'm somewhat sensitive also. Strange phenomenon.

Online interaction can be good for social skills. I have actually become braver and more aggressive in many ways offline, due to prolonged debates and combat online. A good result, so long as I don't get arrogant or think all my opinions need to be expressed all the time.