The Future of Writing

Vilém Flusser

… ‘Writing is an important gesture, because it both articulates and produces that state of mind which is called “historical consciousness.” History began with the invention of writing, not for the banal reason often advanced that written texts permit us to reconstruct the past, but for the more pertinent reason that the world is not perceived as a process, “historically,” unless one signifies it by successive symbols, by writing. The difference between prehistory an history is not that we have written documents that permit us to read the latter, but that during history there are literate men who experience, understand, and evaluate the world as “becomming,” whereas in prehistory no such existential attitude is possible. If the art of writing were to fall into oblivion, or if it were to become subservient to picture making (as in the “scriptwriting” in films), history in the strict sense of that term would be over.’

‘If one examines certain Mesopotamian tiles, one can see that the original purpose of writing was to facilitate the deciphering of images. Those tiles contain images impressed upon them with cylindrical seals and “cuneiform” symbols scratched into them with a stylus. The “cuneiform” symbols form lines, and they obviously mean the image they accompany. They “explain;” “recount;” “tell” it. They do so by unrolling the surface of the image into lines, by unwinding the tissue of the image into the threads of a text, by rendering “explicit” what was “implicit” within the image. It may be shown through text analysis that the original purpose of writing, namely, the transcoding of two-dimensional codes into a single dimension, is still there: every text, even a very abstract one, means, in the last analysis, an image.’ …