There are two myths about literacy which refuse to die. The first is that writing is simply recorded speech, and the second is that since the emergence of so-called “Internet 2.0,” we are moving back to an oral culture.
I’m sorry to say that linguists are among the main propagators of that first myth. Linguists are always quick to point out that writing came along at the eleventh hour in the overall story of human language, and that any impact writing has on speech is minimal. Both of those things are true, but neither of them warrant the further assumption that writing is just a derivative of speech. If that were true, writing—particularly alphabetical writing—would be much easier to do than it is. (As I always tell my students, writing never gets easier but you do get better at it.) More to the point, as David Olson argued, writing is a model of speech which therefore involves interpretation rather than coding and decoding.
No, it’s not the one about absolute vs. relative space. In fact, the challenge Graham Harman takes up in his latest book, Immaterialism, wasn’t so much a challenge issued by Leibniz as a throwaway comment about real objects and the Dutch East India Company. Having rummaged through the dustbin of philosophical history, Harman found Leibniz’s comment, uncrinkled the paper, and stuck it to his refrigerator door. At least that’s how I imagine it.
I just got into my mom’s place a couple of days ago. We stayed up until two in the morning last night, talking, sipping on Jameson’s, and talking. Mom has always had the gift of gab, but since Dad passed away two years ago, she’s got more to say than ever. This is probably because my father was usefully employed as a ‘round the clock sounding board for forty years. Mom has since had to find new places to put her words. As Dad got older, he said less and less. He could speak and speak well when he needed to, but he was far more comfortable as a listener. That’s the way Dad’s people are. The older you are, the less verbal flexing you need to do.
But Mom is Irish. They’re drunk on words and there’s no sobering up with age.