against writing

“In another essay I have dealt with written expression in relation to verbal expression: writing denatures the dialogue between men. [Los signos en rotación, Buenos Aires [Sur], 1965.] Although a reader may agree or disagree, he is unable to question the author and to be heard by him. Poetry, philosophy, and politics – the three activities in which speech develops all its powers – suffer a sort of mutilation. If it is true that thanks to writing we have at our disposal a universal, objective memory, it is also true that it has increased the passivity of our citizens. Writing was the sacred knowledge of all bureaucracies, and even today it is unilateral communication: it stimulates our receptive capacity and at the same time neutralizes our reactions, paralyzes our criticism. It interposes a distance between us and the one who is writing – be he philosopher or despot. But then I don’t think that the new media of oral communication in which McLuhan and others place so much hope shall succeed in reintroducing real dialogue among men. Despite their restoring to the word its verbal dynamism – something which contemporary poetry and literature have still not taken advantage of fully – radio and television increase the distance between one speaking and the one who is listening: they turn the former into an all-powerful presence, and the latter into a shadow. They are, like writing, tools of domination.”

(Octavio Paz, Claude Lévi-Strauss: an introduction, trans. J. S. Bernstein & Maxine Bernstein, pp. 108–109.)

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