Voice Alpha

on reading poetry aloud for an audience

survival of the fittest – written word vs spoken word?


(cross-posted at Very Like A Whale)

…the most important language of our so-called post-literate society. The image. Ours is a world where the ability to communicate doesn’t require anything more than rudimentary reading and writing. And, in fact, sounds and pictures can do the job just as well.And given time constraints today, perhaps better. This is what virtual reality has wrought.The image is the new word. Don’t send a message expressing your emotion, send an image representing the idea.


It would be useful [..] to trace the history of Western civilization with an eye towards evaluating the war between image and word. Start with the Mona Lisa on one side and Don Quixote on the other and count up the wins and losses in each column [...] most realists among the wordsmiths already know that short of some massive cataclysm that lays to waste the electronic grid that makes the delivery of images so easy, we are pretty much done for.

From The War on Wordsmiths by Ali Eteraz – read full article here.

I don’t necessarily disagree with his premise, but do think there is a key distinction to be made between written wordsmithing and spoken wordsmithing. Which doesn’t much help the written word crowd, but does make the overall case for wordsmiths somewhat less dire.

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Author: Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

5 thoughts on “survival of the fittest – written word vs spoken word?

  1. I’m not sure that the rise of communication in images is at the expense of words. Sure, some word-oriented media have receded in popularity relative to social media. But I don’t think images are the culprit as much as the desire to stay connected with others. Words, primarily oral and secondarily written, will always be a chief form of public expression.

    Maybe it would be a victory of the written word to have some popular pictures become so stylized as to supplement some extant language’s alphabet . . .

    • You mean like hieroglyphs, or Chinese characters..?! I have to say that both sounds of the argument sound anecdotal to me – no-one seems to have done the research that would prove one position or the other, so we all conclude in accordance with our own initial bias…

      • Yes, like dingbats or like wingdings in a standard font pack, or the heart in “I *heart* NY.”

        I’m interested in those who make art out of letters (or something like letters) — Kandinsky’s “Succession” ( http://www.phillipscollection.org/collection/browse-the-collection/index.aspx?id=0958 ) and Marin’s “The Written Sea” ( http://www.andover.edu/Museums/Addison/Exhibitions/Marin/Pages/default.aspx#5 ) come to mind. Kandinsky’s book Point and Line to Plane grows art from a sentence’s period, as I recall. Children’s books sometimes move from one to the other, as in a dream.

        Maybe one day we’ll go back to hieroglyphs, which I guess is the opposite — making letters out of art.

        And I agree: it’s very anecdotal. I just don’t think any of the dire predictions will come to pass. Neither oral nor visual nor written communication will push either of the other two out. But maybe Walter J. Ong would agree with Eteraz, as amended by you in this post, since he ended a chapter in his 1962 book The Barbarian Within with this remark: The serious modern reader’s desire “to believe in his poets . . . would seem to indicate that in the age of television voice is in some ways regaining a prestige over sight, that we are at the end of the Gutenberg era.”

        (Your post and response got me back into Ong a bit tonight. What a delight!)

      • Love the Kandinsky! You remind me of my perennial fascination with asemic writing – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asemic_writing. Some examples from The New Post-literate: A Gallery Of Asemic Writing – http://thenewpostliterate.blogspot.com/

      • I didn’t know such a thing existed. Wow! That’s cool. And that blog is rich . . .

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