In his book ‘Les Démons’, Simon Liberati writes that good letters will return to our society when we’ve exhausted the resources of new technologies of communication, the foundations of secondary orality. In other words, the Gutenberg parenthesis that Walter Ong and Lars Ole Sauerberg have described will reopen to allow fresh air to flow through the written words again.
We are surrounded by words, but writing has been taking a back seat. We may think of ourselves as hyper literal, but script has been slowly assuming a fetish role that it used to have during the formative ages of literacy. We print words on our skin, our t-shirts and our walls, but language is becoming more auditive than visual. In many corners of the Western world, words are reduced to pictures, syntax to pictogram. Like the ancient Egyptians, we communicate our culture in rebus, rather than alphabet. Emojis, the new hieroglyphs, are fulfilling a function which until yesterday had been assured by morphology.
A certain ‘secular sacrality’ of the epigraphical word may be observed. The inscription is coming back, but not in stone or wood. Instead, an epigraphical and even epigrammatic urge is detected in the impermanent digital medium, where ubiquity and instantaneity make up for the lack of durability. We carve words in crumbling stone, but the abundance thereof doesn’t seem to puts us off.