You see, written words are dead. You can’t have a conversation with words written in stone or a book.
Sure, you can have a text message conversation, but the words written will be there lifeless for years to come. You can scroll through your text message history and you might reminisce or think about the emotions you had. At the time of writing, the conversation was alive. But now, that conversation is like the words written, dead.
In this passage, I will not discuss dead languages (ones that are lost in time) or the death of language (which I term Linguicide).
Instead I am going to discuss the idea of death in language. The intrinsic death that is in the stale, breathless, written word.
If you really think about it, all the words you have spoken throughout your life are your first and last words. Be very mindful and considerate of what you say. You can’t take back what you’ve said. You also can no longer say what you didn’t say in those moments of silence when you should’ve spoken up. Any of these thoughts can haunt you. Regrets and such, but I digress.
We will discuss the book of the dead, I don’t mean to refer to the contemporary understanding of the necronomicon. That, necronicom, is essentially a wikipedia of death and other occult things I care not to go in great lengths about.
Rather, I’m discussing the Book of the dead. The book of the dead is really the book of those who are dead. It’s the stories and missions of those that have died before us.
The written word is not a moving piece. Perhaps in a different medium, a more living one, can the work continue and evolve.
“For the plan grows under the author’s hand; new thoughts occur to him in the act of writing; he has not worked out the argument to the end before he begins.”-Plato
And Upon finishing your work, the work is obsolete for it no longer adapts or evolves. It becomes dead, as the language of the written, dead. A book of dead, a lifeless piece that does not edit or change itself.
Plato was a prized student of Socrates, and Socrates had an interesting take.
The Greek philosopher, Socrates, didn’t like the written word or writing things down. Socrates believed that the written word was a dead language. Not in the sense of dead as forgotten, but dead as a not lively one. For instance, something written wouldn’t be able to defend itself in a debate or adapt to changes. A downside for things written in ‘stone’.
You see, Socrates said that the written word is dead. Thus written stories, anthologies, anecdotes, and allegories are in a form from the dead.
That means the holiest of holy scriptures and books, whether it be the bible or vedic texts, would also be a book of the dead.
Socrates believed in his vision of the written word being dead, that he didn’t write himself! Luckily Socrates’ students, notably Plato, wrote the accounts of Socrates. Without the students, we may never have known all of the great dialogs and dialectical discussions performed by Socrates.
Socrates and his work would have been mentioned and most likely forgotten had they not been written. Ironically enough, all the wisdom from Socrates, including the depicted downfall of wisdom through writing and written systems, has been survived by being written.
That means Socrates Trash Talk of written words was captured by written words. Poetic? maybe. Funny? yes.
Oh yea, Socrates also said that writing made you dumber because your mind wouldn’t have to remember things written and saved. He argued that you would lose memory for not storing information in your mind.
I mean, he’s not wrong. We get complacent with things that we think are safe, and writing things down does feel safer knowing something is recorded. So then we sort of forget these things, because we remember where it is written rather than what is written.
I personally would argue that the written work becomes an extension of yourself. Something that you can examine, cross-examine, restructure, and reflect over and over again. I guess that explains partly why I’m writing this.
It is to note that the existence of a book with written words is a living existence. Some stories live on vicariously through those that tell their tales. Oral tradition would pass down these stories, but the oral stories can only answer so much.
What I mean is,
History is a living thing.
Paper is dead.
Words are a living things.
Written words are dead.
Book of the Dead
You read words, which requires you to think of the words, which means that this linear path of thinking is the journey of another being.
What I’m saying is that you read words, word by word, line by line, and that thoughts occur in a similar manner. So then when you read, you actually think in the way that something is written. You take on this role and story of what is written.
Another person’s path. Their way of thinking in a sense. Their ideas put down onto the tip of a pen. This is, of course, referring to people’s essays and journals, where they write in their perspective.
The book of the dead, is then, not a dreaded unholy scripture that causes madness and depravity. The book of the dead is rather, the teachings and path of a person. A person who is an ‘other’. Thus the book of the dead is a general term. Its a book of another. Someone else’s path, someone else’s story. Their book, written as a testament of their accomplishments and wishes.
People want you to avoid the book of the dead because they don’t want you to blindly follow or idolize a path that is not for you. Its a path that is, quite simply, not yours. Just as you read these words to think these thoughts, you will have a different path than me, the author.
Relax and write your own story. You’re already doing it and I’ll explain how in the end.
People who use the book of the dead
The book of the dead isn’t an evil thing, it’s not immoral. It has lessons and teachings from someone who lived a life different from ours. Something that can teach us well beyond our future.
People throughout the whole of philosophy and science use the book of the dead. We build on conversations and build up our understandings with a dialogue. This is referred to as a dialectic of sorts.
When Thomas Aquinas wrote about the Ancient Greeks, he wasn’t talking to Socrates in a direct manner. He was talking to and about the work of Socrates. because, well, Socrates is dead and couldn’t have a conversation back. So these people would piggyback off of this conversation and thoughts.
Philosophers and theologians alike, they have a conversation with other dead people (as morbid and macabre as that sounds). This conversation is called a dialectic. We see plenty of people write their work influenced by the dead, and they try to bring a compelling argument; and then someone else will work off of their new argument. They base off of it and continue the work or propose counter arguments.
When Thomas Hobbes wrote philosophical works, he referenced those before him.
When René Descartes wrote his work, he referenced those before him.
When INSERT PHILOSOPHER HERE, he/she referenced those before him/her.
If you really think about it, the whole work of philosophical essays are a bunch of shit-posters posting their books and works on a very old forum of dead people. That would make the burning of the library of Alexandria something like a server wipe, metaphorically speaking of course.
We stand on the shoulders of giants, and even now I’m referencing their work. Their story. So I am, in a way, using the book of the dead as a reference.
In Art and culture, people make cameo’s and build off of other people’s works. The art work that we put out into a world reflects the future of art to come.
“what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the work of art which preceded it. The past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past”-Thomas Stearns Eliot, Famed British Poet
Many times we dictate our actions and laws based on the precedence of the laws before us. In America, we have exalted our founding fathers with a very powerful sacred scripture, the constitution. For good reason we work and operate out of the constitution and dictate laws from it.
We respect the words written, and the Supreme Court uses the Constitution to help interpret and reinterpret future laws.
But like any written word, the constitution is dead. It has not been revised to be written in a manner that accounts for things like the internet, social media, synthetic drugs, drone warfare, foreign intervention, etc.
The preamble for the constitution, is a very important piece that tries to convey the message of the living. Even through dead words.
The Constitution of the United States is quite the read, and many other nations respect it. For instance, the Philippines has taken and borrowed many parts from the constitution.
The amendment system turns the constitution into a semi-living document, but it is rather slow and dead in comparison to the ever changing world around. An Anchor of religare, if you will.
See no death, the Taboo
There are cultures out there that do not address death as an end, nor do they dig up who the people of the past were. To talk story of those that are gone is taboo. That is their book of the dead, the story of the dead. Their story, her story, his story, history.
Thus the taboo is to talk or reference the book of the dead. To talk about someone’s past instead of their future.
There are some Tribal cultures that don’t discuss the dead. I’m not sure if I’m accurate in saying this, but some native American Cultures don’t view death in the same western construct sense.
Cultures that believe in rebirth or reincarnation don’t celebrate death as a person being gone. They celebrate the memory of who they were and they also look into the future of who they will be. Because death is not the end.
These cultures don’t have the western Atheistic idea of death and a return to the void or nothingness. Instead these beliefs imagine a continuation of life. They depict the act of ‘death’ as a transformation instead. So that people change from their corporeal form to another form.
What does this mean?
So the book of the dead exists and old work is written with dead words. So what? Well, the take away is knowing this and utilizing this piece of information. We see this time and time again, a reoccurring theme and pattern.
“Followers fail. They readily adopt another’s beliefs and cease to think for themselves. Never follow the words of others blindly, or you will take on another person’s reality. You will only hinder your progress by seeking fool’s gold. Use your own common sense.”-Sydney Banks
But also don’t follow that advice blindly. Ask if followers always fail? Do followers succeed? Should we never follow words blindly? Maybe we should if we’re ignorant to thinking it out fully. Laws should be adhered to and rejected on the same premise of ignorance. Or should they?
The important part of the book of the dead is how to properly integrate it.
We see some cultures refute and make it taboo, avoiding it entirely.
Others devote their life for dead words, and they devote their entire lives to not living a new experience, just repeating dead mistakes and not evolving.
The solution, is something in-between. To live with a golden mean of using the book of death, but not succumbing to it.
How to live
Having this knowledge of death in writing, and death in books. How then do we pragmatically apply this tidbit of information? Well, it’s rather simple;
Your time is limited.
Don’t waste it all living someone else’s life.
Nor trying to realize someone else’s Dream.
There is a saying:
you should carry two books. One that you are reading and one that you are writing.
A book of life that you are writing.
A book of death that you are reading.
We can take this saying further, to say that we carry a book of the dead to read, and a book of life that we write. Our story, journey, and experience is something we can pass on.
We can mean this as actual literal books, one that you read from and one that you write in. Or we can take a step back and make it abstract. Maybe you love movies, always constantly loving to watch movies, why not make one? Maybe we constantly play video games, why not make one?
The point is to not defend the dead to an exalted state of unquestionable authority. The works of the dead, that is. Let the dead defend themselves, and just make sure people are respectful to the dead in their offense or inquiries.
Don’t treat a book as perfection, don’t treat a work as perfection, that is not your book, that is not your work. You have to move on and create something anew from something old.
We can take another step back even further.
Each moment you live can be described in words, and each day can be a page. Your life is broken into chapters and volumes.
You might come from a long line of tradesmen, bankers, doctors, lawyers, or whatever. The legacy is something they imprint and pass the mantle of a family name to you. However, you have to live your own story. Not the story they’ve written for you. They being, whom ever.
Not a dead book of the past.
No, forge your future, live in the now.
We work to create something that is most times lifeless and dull. When we write, our words are dead but they have this ghost of lingering. A spirit, a thing I would consider a semantic resonance that infects and influence future minds. The words themselves don’t change, but the interpretation does.
Words are living things.
Written words, the corporeal form of words, are dead.
There is a sort of life breathed into words, even if written. The written word is dead, but the meaning is much alive. And that meaning transforms and reshapes itself by subjective interpretation. Meaning always does this sort of fickle thing.
I am sort of writing my words on the internet, through these articles on this blog. So in a way, I can edit the words and change them, to revise and edit as I go. So this internet version of my work, my future book Words Mean Things, is one that is living.
For as long as I draw breath, I intend to add to this website, and make it a living thing rather than dead words. I also apologies for making this article so wordy, with little pictures. Sorry, big mood.
So feel free to message me or have a conversation.
Words Mean Things