More Language

A while back, I gave an elder at my church a copy of Doing Our Own Thing. Yesterday (probably in retaliation, and certainly an escalation!), he gave me a copy of Jacques Ellul's The Humiliation of the Word, which he termed "a long, hard read", and knowing a little about the reading proclivities of that assessor, I'm probably in trouble.

The book is apparently about how our society has reached a dangerous imbalance between image and word, such that we have even come to have a contempt for the word.

So far, I have only read the back cover, the preface, and three pages, and I have already had my mind blown by two new concepts:

God chose language as the means of communication with man, not image, which is why idolatry is a sin.

Is there such a great difference between trying to represent God with an image, vs. trying to represent him with language? I guess since the language of the bible which represents God is God's language, that makes it ok. And we are to continue in that example.

Reality is visual; Truth is verbal

This statement startled me at first (since it appears to be a postmodern / deconstructionist divorcing of reality from truth), but I'm starting to warm to it, as the expression of two sides of a same coin — or maybe two parts of the same elephant. This makes me think of the difficulty of teaching a math student how to prove. Novices all make the common mistake of thinking they can show that something is true by example. I.e.

The sum of even numbers is even

We look at 2+2=4, we look at 2+4=6, we look at 1234+5678= xxx2, etc., and we think we have it figured out. That's reality. We have seen it, we have seen it enough that we believe it. But that is not proof; we have not nailed it down completely as truth. Not until we verbalize as

By defintion, an even integer is twice some other integer, so

even + even = 2n+2m = 2(n+m) = even

do we have a proof, a handle on the infinite truth behind the finite number of realities that shaped our understanding.

That's all I got for now, but I'm looking forward to a long, hard read.

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2 Responses

  1. […] It is really fascinating to dwell on the concept that knowledge can be transmitted between conscious beings via an unconscious medium. I plan toBlog some great quotes from Ellul about the nature of the Word in this respect, as well as some thoughts about how science is limited by the amount of previous knowledge can be assimilated within the span of a human lifetime. […]

  2. […] This is the first in a set of four posts discussing concept of the biblical relationship between Word and Image, as presented in Jacques Ellul’s inscrutable book Humiliation of the Word (which is not a how-to manual — as a visual artist friend of mine was disappointed to learn — but somewhat of a Cassandraic Jeremiad). I had mentioned before that I was going to read this book. Well I haven’t yet. I’ve read 86 pages — into the middle of chapter two (which is almost certainly more than you have!) The book is dense, to say the least, as well as being translated from French, but I have gotten a lot out of it, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who can power through it. […]

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