Writing: Dead or Alive?

Traditional public school education, in my opinion, has communicated that writing has more value than spoken communication or other forms of literacy, visual literacy in particular. While it is understandable that writing skills have been emphasized in school as far as devoting time to teaching the skills involved in writing, that emphasis has somehow de-emphasized both spoken and visual literacy, literary forms that, in my experience, are more intuitive to human beings. Therefore, in my on-going recent study of visual literacy, I was surprised to read the following statement in Design Writing Research: Writing on Graphic Design by Ellen Lupton and Abbott Miller:

The Western philosophical tradition has denigrated writing as an inferior copy of the spoken word. Speech draws on interior consciousness, but writing it dead and abstract. (4)

My experience has been that ideas only recorded in speech were considered fleeting, ephemeral, more trivial, than ideas – consciousness – preserved in writing. The reasons this is an important distinction are myriad, but one outstanding reason is that if speech alone draws on inner consciousness in ways that are more alive than writing, speech should be far more considered and less spontaneous.

A discussion of whether speech or writing is more alive is a tangent at best. My real pursuit of study and understanding recently has been the ongoing need to develop critical awareness of how visual symbols are composed. The way they are composed infuses symbolism and structure that allow images to have particularly powerful impact on viewers. To “read” images, viewers need training to recognize the embedded symbols. Thus images and text both live every time someone looks at them – they have the same life in the present as speech.


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Filed under Classic, Looking forward

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