Why Text Becomes Literature

Words can be so rewarding – text becoming literature – I think precisely because they form such a narrow-bandwidth pathway to the brain.

A comment I made at a recent speaking gig (about video being the highest-bandwidth pathway to the brain) got me thinking about why literature is what it is.

Words can be so rewarding – text becoming literature – I think precisely because they form such a narrow-bandwidth pathway to the brain. The slow trickle of words forces a constraint on the brain that leads to rich associations and images. And when – in the case of Shakespeare and other great artists – the gentle architecture of their words begins to collect into a bigger whole, the reward is unspeakable, so beyond what seems possible from such a singular narrow trickle of text. This fragile lattice of words takes such genius to construct that I wonder that it’s possible at all.

Images are so much easier. Film is an embarrassment of images. The systems and symbols are so overly rich the mind has to filter out rather than strain to construct (as with text). Literature stretches the mind to build from the abstract; still images stretch the mind to explore, abstract and imagine more; while motion pictures stretch the mind to filter out the unnecessary and focus on what’s worth more of my attention.

God over death in his hand

In Flanders Fields,
Where boys become men,
We hand them a gun,
And say “All for Peace!”

We remember.

The innocence and all that is humanness gone in the vast gulf of power put into a young boy’s hand with a rifle. Overpowered by what men making fire making industry wrought, he becomes a man made in the image of flame and God over death in his hand. And yet he’s still just a man, a want to survive and be conscious of love and be known is all that he ever asks for. God and man become one in the fire at the end of his rifle as he sprays death and watches the man he destroys over fighting for sight of God-knows what land. It’s all over and done, a boy becomes man becomes God becomes pawn because he did what man wrought in his image of industry, God over death in his hand.