In one of my books – not sure if it’s in The Shyness Guide or my first novel, The Birdcatcher (could be both) – I said that reading and writing are older than speech.
That’s an idea that I have never seen anywhere else. But this week, re-reading the James Hillman/Michael Ventura book, We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World is Getting Worse, I noticed that someone at least partially agrees with me.
Psychologist Hillman, a Jungian renegade who fought with the Jungian establishment people for decades over the true nature of C. G. Jung’s thinking, argued that our culture’s growing appetite for talking at the expense of writing is degrading language. He thought psychotherapy was contributing to this. For example, he said:
The Jungians too have yielded …… They too have begun to distrust written material. …. Dreams are to be recounted on the spot rather than turned into texts to be read, and the therapeutic process has come more and more to mean what goes on between people rather than the spontaneous unfolding within the psyche …as presented in written dialogues and painted images. Talk rather than writing.
Later in that book he says:
Language has been reduced to the spoken word.
But, he emphasizes, language is old:
I want to reach back to the Egyptians and their God Thoth, the primal baboon, God of written signs.
He quotes T.S. Eliot, who, referring to the tendency of talk to confuse, jumble and obfuscate – to evade the truth rather than search for it , wrote:
Is this confused reluctance, perhaps, the very source of writing? As if the soul needs to find a way out of its own inarticulate mass by means of the hand’s deft linear skill? Writing as a thread out of the labyrinth.
Okay, though Hillman and Eliot see writing as superior to talking (which would include the superiority of reading too) are not actually saying what I say – that writing/reading came before speech. But that’s alright with me.
Basically, I say that if complex speech (language), only arose about 50,000 years ago as most anthropologists and linguists seem to believe, while we had our big brains by 150,000 years ago as seems to be well-established, we must have been doing something with those big brains back then other than talking.
If nothing else, you can be sure that we were studying the tracks of other animals. Hunter-gatherers like the Kalahari ‘bushmen’, Australian aboriginals, and North American native peoples all claimed, and some still claim, to be able to read the minds of animals by just looking at the tracks they leave behind. Reading the minds of people from their footprints too.
They were “reading” in the sands, mud and earth of the world long before we were reading in books.
And that must have led us to writing with sticks, or whatever, in the sand and mud, etc., to show each other what we had seen.
In other words, reading and writing must have preceded speech by tens of thousands of years. Or maybe a million years. If I am the sole owner of this idea, I don’t mind at all.