“A yet stronger power than that of herb or stone lies in the spoken word, and all nations use it both for blessing and cursing. But these, to be effective, must be choice, well knit, rhythmic words (verba concepta), must have lilt and tune; hence all that is strong in the speech wielded by priest, physician, magician, is allied to the forms of poetry.”
[Jakob Grimm, “Teutonic Mythology” (transl. Stallybrass), 1883]
Though a frequent activity, today I have spent much time dwelling on the power of words. Written and spoken both, because I stand fixed on the thin boundary between them in my own works.
There is a silence found within the ambiance of typing, the noise of keys depressed in rapid succession blends into the background and is ignored by my brain.
I find it difficult to listen to music with lyrics while writing. The lyrics sung seep out of my cheap Bluetooth speakers and into my thoughts. They gain purchase and colonize, disrupting the flow.
Instrumental or foreign music is better, and I remind myself frequently to put some on while I work on my articles and scripts.
“Give me a minute,” I tell myself, inevitably.
“I’ll put something on in a sec.”
But I rarely do.
The spoken word is different. It’s loud. More than once I have been caught cussing in earnest at my microphone, and at the computer it is attached to, while recording a podcast episode.
The background noises then are endless digital clones, audio doppelgangers that echo my voice back to me. Headphones stuck in my ears, the world becomes a flurry of aural adjustments. I wrap myself in utterances, putting all attention toward catching mouth noises, lip smacks, and sounds that lack clear definition.
The messy rules of punctuation become the intuitive laws of intonation and inflection, of volume and quaver.
The spoken word is older, played on fleshly strings and tied firmly to pre-civilization. As long as one has a recording device nearby, our mumblings and shouts are saved from the immediate void. What was once lost in the blink of an eye can now be preserved.
The written still possesses it’s own beauty, however. Long before we had the capabilities to record audio, we learned to make scribbles and glyphs. Our pictographs and cuneiform gave life to faded voices.
I have no desire to pick between the two a favorite, and yet I cannot conflate them or ignore their differences. My primary project, The Witch-Doctor, has a foot in both worlds.
So too, must I.