Risking your life

If it’s true that the quill is mightier than the sword, then it’s equally true that one can die by the quill just as one can die by the sword. The history is littered with writers prosecuted, persecuted, executed for the crime of writing the wrong things.

There is a deep irony lurking in the history of writing. That despite the relatively recent emergence of script in the lives of humans, it has quickly been established what can and can’t be written. It seems that unlike other technologies, writing has immediately been flagged up as potentially disruptive, dangerous and in need of special treatment.

The Roman historian Suetonius writes how a confrère of his, the Greek historian Hermogenes of Tarsus had been put to death by the Emperor Domitian for having written the wrong things about the emperor. Implied in the criminal gesture of so many leaders since Domitian is the idea that the past controls the future. That Pilate was right when he said ‘what I’ve written, I’ve written’. That the equivocality of the written record has the power to threaten the volatility of arbitrary leadership. Finally, that writing is a type of high-risk investment which needs to be closely and properly managed.

All writing is history because writing creates a record out of anything. And every writer is in some ways an historian – a person risking their life putting up mirrors for those who do not wish to look at themselves in them.

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