Monday, January 14, 2013

Reading words (not just pictures)

What is the impact of words, of literature, in an image-soaked, 150-characters-or-less culture? Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr. Social networking is geared towards images and bite-sized comments. This makes sense: we can only cope with so much in our perceptual memory at any one time (a boon to marketers). We aren’t born reading words, it is something we learn over time. We are born reading the world, for most of us our eyes are open from birth.

In his third chapter of Lit! Reinke argues for the need to be mindful of what the written word can achieve over the visual in an image saturated world, specifically how words are “better suited” to convey precise meaning. This includes how language: captures the meaning of visible realities, communicates invisible realities, informs our eternal hope and makes worldview possible. He is not denying the power and potency of the visual. He is making us aware of the difference between the two and of the significance of the written word. Words, when used well, allow for greater philosophical abstraction and at the same time coherency than visual images. There is a need for words to explain the visual.

I have just spent a week looking at the book of Daniel at a mission conference in the Blue Mountains. The apocalyptic imagery in the second half of the book is quite confronting. If depicted for us visually (say a photograph or a film) it would render it in such a way that there can be no sense of it as something which has elements of allegory, of multiple fulfilments, of looking to the future. Daniel interpreted the dreams of King Nebuchadnezzar in words and through words his own visions were explained to him. The visions as written in the book of Daniel mean that not only were they a source of very specific hope for those in exile, but also a source of hope for us as we await the coming of the son of man (Daniel 7:13-14).

So, I’m happy for this blog to not include photos but words, to be around 500 words rather than 150 characters, and to hopefully inspire people to read deeply and meaningfully the books which we point you to. Fundamentally, words remind us that, “Faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1). That which the ancients were commended for I commend you to.

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