LoggingOn Defensio tabularum:  Dene Grigar

Verba volant

Views toward writing are shaped by our perception of time, toward both its inconstant and eternal qualities. Despite the fact that Plato makes it clear in the Phaedrus  that he prefers oral recollection of knowledge over written documentation of it, his hierarchical views toward being and becoming, as well as his distrust of inspiration associated with those unschooled in philosophy, may have provided the theoretical underpinnings to the practical problem of documenting data.

We find this preference for writing in the Latin expression, verba volant, scripta manent  --which literally means "spoken words fly away, written words remain."

Looking at writing within the context of Plato's schema, we see how it comes to be associated with the intelligences: Like the ideal forms, it appears to be eternal and constant, qualities connected to Plato's ideas about truth, goodness, beauty. Its words can be viewed as fixed indicators of knowledge, the product of one genius, possessed only by those who have achieved enlightenment.

On the other hand, oral texts, which change over time, seem to exist in the world of appearances and opinion--a place of shadows, mirror images, and material objects that have little value in the universe since they mislead us with their falseness. Their words change, they can be constructed and reconstructed by many, and it takes little learning to comprehend them. In this light, preserving knowledge in written format makes sense. It ensures the continuation of Truth by a select and enlightened few.

On the other hand, applying Aristotle's notion of being and becoming to written language suggests that a word cannot become if it isn't already is and--not to complicate matters--once it is, it can still continue to become. Think of it this way: At any given time we speak or write, we are, in effect, capturing a word and its meaning at that particular point in time--what we could call its being or actual self-- and then interpreting it, making meaning out of it, thus pushing it beyond its limits into a new context--its becoming or potential self.

Previous * Next

Verba Volant
Et semper et nunc
Disputatio Forma
Contact Dene Grigar Linear Text Format