I took a class at Kenyon called “The Alphabet in Renaissance Art and Literature,” taught by Professor Erika Boeckeler. It was very influential. I don’t think this is just because I was an English major, or a lover of poetry. I think it was because I like puzzles, patterns, and codes. I think it’s because I like to think that humans aren’t totally autonomous, conduits of culture. I like to think that language isn’t just another thing we’ve erected and imperialized over centuries but something that is continually imperializing us. That our iPhones and gchats aren’t facilitating our steady destruction of humanity’s greatest accomplishment – the alphabet – but that the alphabet is the omnipotent hand that keeps us in our place as humans. We can only preserve ourselves by what we SAY and WRITE after we do. Language is the escape from our existential condition:
“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
— Macbeth, V.5, William Shakespeare
So without words, we are nothing. But what came first, the chicken or the egg? Humans, or the alphabet? Were the symbols of language present through our evolution, and used as tools to construct our current state of evolution?
My Professor put this much better than I just did. Here are the first and last paragraphs from from my syllabus from Spring, 2010:
“Why should we devote attention to letters of the alphabet? Aren’t they the mostly invisible parts that make up what we really care about: words? Heralding the digital age, Marshall McLuhan wrote in the late 1960’s a book whose title has entered popular culture as a catch phrase, The Medium is the Message. If McLuhan’s title rings true, then we’d better start thinking hard now about what letters are, what they can do, and the profound ways in which they saturate our world and direct our thought processes.
“I am sure you agree that, in order to make the most effective inquiry, we MUST view our letters in their original manifestations whenever possible. This is, therefore, no typical English class: your course materials will not be tied up neatly into several tidy books to read in a comfy chair. Rather, you will acquire many handouts, you will be asked to read 16th century books online, you will spend time in the library’s Special Collections room. There will be some inconveniences, but you will be a much stronger reader and researcher for them. And you will never look at letters the same way again.”
Maybe it seems absurd to you, alphabet theory. In most ways, this blog isn’t about the theory itself, but a platform for writing which, I think, exercises language’s right to absurdism. This is really the most pretentious way of saying I’m going to write like a total loon, and not get in trouble when nothing makes sense to you.
And the salt theme? Don’t worry about it.
Thanks for reading. It’s amazing you did!