Celebrating the written word

I enjoy writing, at least the physical sensation of gliding my pen over paper. The joy of writing is the most sublime bliss in the universe, both sensual and spiritual. It is not, thankfully, a passive bliss. Writing mindfully is an end in itself, gently tracing every arc and every loop, delighting in the luster of moist ink glistening defiantly in its final moments of glory before being absorbed by the medium. I have several pens, and each is an old friend possessing idiosyncrasies I must endure. The Faber Castell is an old friend, dependable and tolerant of sloppy technique. The crow quill pen is the lady that demands nothing less than impeccable etiquette. This one is a lot more fragile, and sloppy technique will result in her sputtering ink all over the page.

But writing has a spiritual component to it as well. Hindu philosophy states that distinctions are superficial and belie the ultimate truth of an underlying oneness in reality. Distinctions are an illusion that can be dispelled with the correct gaze and thought, so that the underlying oneness of reality can be realized. Pen and paper are distinct. Yet when pen and paper unite, a climax is unleashed whereby the instrument and the medium lose their distinctions and become one, from whence raw thought emerges onto the cosmos, magnificent in its timelessness. The instrument (pen) is the active principle while the medium is passive. The active principle channels its energy onto the passive medium which receives it, absorbs it, and is ultimately altered by it. But the medium is not as passive as one would be inclined to believe, for it too transforms the energy channelled onto it. Would the calligraphy inscribed on the walls of the Qutub Minar have the same effect if rendered on canvas instead of red sandstone?

qutub minar

The written word in the Abrahamic traditions is analogous to the Arche of the ancient Greeks; in a sense. Unlike the Pre-Socratics however, the written word in the Abrahamic traditions is not a cosmological driver; rather it reflects the timelessness of God’s creation. In fact, the process of writing mirrors God’s creation. Upon consideration, perhaps it is not ironic that the written word became the receptacle of God’s message. The written word, to the illiterate Hebrews and Arabs, commanded the same reverence and awe as the Creator from whence it originated. To the early Christians the pen was infinitely mightier than the sword. The Christians survived persecution as they were the most literate class in Roman society, and in time, their ink lubricated the cogs of the Roman bureaucracy. Writing is an almost sacred act in the Abrahamic traditions. Each written word serves as a teleological prism through which the inherent order of the universe can be appreciated. Rabbi Bahya ibn Paquda rhetorically asked if a paragraph could be formed by merely spilling a bottle of ink on a piece of paper.

The religions of the book stand united in their vociferous condemnation of idolatry. Christianity too was not immune to iconoclast controversies as the events of the late 7th century will demonstrate. Why the hostility towards iconography in favour of the written word? Perhaps it is because Christianity and Islam hold that God is the ultimate embodiment of mankind’s highest virtues and man can elevate himself by imitating God through the act of worship. An image or idol on the other hand inhibits spirituality by fixating devotion on a hollow simulacrum instead of virtues pertaining to the object of the idol’s representation. Edward Elwin remarked about the Indians:

Almost all Indians are apparently oblivious to beautiful scenery. You rarely see them looking at a gorgeous sunset, or hear them speak about it. You will seldom hear them make any reference to the beauty or otherwise of their surroundings… The brightness of the moon and the glory of the stars, astonishingly brilliant as they are when seen through the clear Indian atmosphere, does not seem to excite admiration, in spite of the divine attributes which Hindus ascribe to such objects.

This is a strikingly lucid observation, for such behaviour comes naturally to a culture that “worships physical forms and not ideas” (to borrow a phrase from Aakar Patel).

Somehow the keyboard feels unsatisfying as I feel detached from the words I create. The physical act of writing enables the writer to not only share his thoughts, but also his soul. One can sense, from a piece of handwriting, the writers personality, mood, and character. Some cultures believe that a photograph steals a piece of the subject’s soul and I believe the keyboard takes a little soul out of an individual’s writing.

yours englishImage6yours urdu

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3 Responses to Celebrating the written word

  1. Eren Jäger says:

    My favorite written languages are German and Old English, and my favorite spoken language is Old Norse. I also like the visual appeal of Chinese characters, they are so different compared to Indo-European languages. The Dead Sea Scrolls, Charles Darwin’s diaries, and the Voyieruich Manuscripts all have strikingly pleasing scribework. Books such as War and Peace, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Art of War, The Prince, and the Book of Psalms are all Classics advanced hardcore readers should try, if they are up to the task. Musical Notations don’t exactly qualify as a written word, but nonetheless visually appealing to an artistic mind.

    • Dota says:

      I like the visual appeal of Chinese characters too. Chinese calligraphy is fascinating and Arabic calligraphy isn’t bad either. I’m in a better position to appreciate Arabic calligraphy since I can read Arabic.

      • Eren Jäger says:

        I actually like the fact that I can’t read some of these calligraphic dialects. This makes them seem like a painting or a drawing rather than a word, or a.k.a just for decoration. Same with musical notations; I do not know what F Major or C Minor is, therefore it is more of a visual than verbal thing to me. After all, no American guy gets a tattoo of “PEACE” in English, he gets a Chinese character that means the same.

        I also liked the handwritten Bibles written by monks. Sadly, they don’t make Bibles like that anymore.

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