The problem with having a blog is that any random event can spark a reflection in your mind, and then people from many parts of the globe end up reading about it. (That is, if I haven't lost most of my readers yet through my eccentricities.) One such random event happened yesterday when I saw a particularly interesting truck on the street.
It seemed to be a perfectly normal truck shipping vegetables or some other product, but on the side it said in both Spanish and English, "Read the Most Glorious Koran!" First of all, I wish that we Roman Catholics had that much audacity, though some Christians do put exhortations to read the Bible on their commercial vehicles. And then I began to think how in Islam the Koran really should be read in Arabic since the actual message of God in Islam was written in that language. Ataturk in Turkey got into lots of trouble trying to make people read the Koran in Turkish, and Muslims throughout the world, from Paris to Djakarta to Miami, learn classical Arabic in order to read the Koran. So is our truck sign exhorting people to learn Arabic in order to truly read the Koran, or does it want us to read it in Spanish or English?
I have commented before on the pitfalls of phonetic writing. Since Plato, there has been a warning against the use of writing and its abilities to corrupt memory and truth. Jacques Derrida made a whole career out of inverting this dichotomy. But in what sense is writing iconic, and to what extent is that icon transmittable to other languages?
Origen believed that Hebrew was a sacred language, but not Latin or Greek. I have read that even the manner in which a Torah is made for a synagogue has to follow certain guidelines that transcend the mere transmission of information.
From all this it is quite clear that, in the view of our Plato, the divine cannot be discovered by us but is revealed to us from above; that the substance and nature of the divine cannot be understood by the mind or explained in words or writings. These things should therefore be discussed and described with the hope that we may give encouragement through our words and writings and prepare souls for things divine, rather than offer proof.
This is why Plato writes nothing about the definition of the divine substance and the divine nature. He does, however, write a great deal which, through negations and narratives, exhortation and instruction, will one day lead to that state of mind to which the halls of almighty Olympus will open their gates.
-Marsilio Ficino, found in the compilation, The Gardens of Philosophy, pgs. 157-158
Ficino then goes on to say that to write things down is to put the truth in danger of being cast to the dogs and that the real meaning of the text in the Hebrew and Greek traditions is transmitted non-discursively.
In the Information Age, this might make us uncomfortable. But this is the danger of some forms of catechetical and apologetic argument, as I have often said. It is not that most people have to be ignorant. It is rather that it is necessary to realize a very important point:
Information is about usefulness and power.
Truth is about surrender and love.
The role of written discourse in the latter case is to aide in the unfolding of the process by which the soul returns to herself and becomes united to the One, in the image of divine simplicity. Thus, how we write and learn are not just issues of "what", but also issues of "how" and "by whom". Going back into the pre-history of Greek philosophy, we return again to Socrates' crusade against the rhetoricians and the Sophists: real truth is about the surrender and purification of the intellect, in contrast to those who would make discourse another instrument in the arsenal in a struggle for power. If we recast the instruments of the Truth in the image of the aims of the latter, we may just as much be corrupting the truth as any heretic or non-believer.
In this way, we must consider discourse based on phonetic writing as a step to acquire something much higher:
Hermes attributes all else to the sacred silence of the mind; for God, he believes, is known by the mind by His silence rather than by His words.
-ibid, pg. 159
Let us be attentive, then, to these silences.