Clayton H Ramsey
It’s a curious activity, this whole business of writing, this fixing of language in symbols lest the sound of a voice disappear on the wind. Even more curious is the Why? of writing. It is an impulse that has been indulged for millennia, from Sumerians cutting wedges into clay tablets to Egyptians scratching on papyrus and Romans chiseling in stone. Gutenberg presses, typewriters, and laptop computers shifted the creation of texts from hand to machine. Presentation ranged from the high art of medieval illuminated manuscripts on vellum to paperback novels on cheap pulp to pixelated text on e-readers. Parchments, codices, and thumb-drives preserved them. The mode, mechanics, and media of the act are diverse. But the desire to write is perennial and persistent.
Writing’s origin is ancient. Mesopotamians seemed to have been the first to craft written language. The complex and gradual evolution of human language has required eons, expressing an instinct that is shared across species. Mammals, insects, even trees have developed systems to share information. The longing for connection is inherent in all of life. We write because we are constituted to communicate. Birds chirp, bees dance, we type. Our civilization depends on our ability to understand, cooperate, and plan through shared language. Our culture depends on our storytelling. Our capacity for writing allows us to preserve knowledge, to speak in other centuries and societies.
The Greek Heraclitus was the first to use the word logos to speak of the connection between a cosmos that has a structure, the human mind that can understand this regularity, and the system of sounds and symbols that communicates this underlying order. Religious imagination saw in logos a universal spirit; Christian theologians perceived the Christ. In every system of philosophy and theology in which it appeared it represented a critical notion: the nexus between reality and mind and expression. We write, as they did, because it is the convergence of these vital aspects of our experience, indeed what makes us human.
This ancient genesis of writing is matched by its distant future, its consummation. We developed writing ages ago because we are a lexical species, and we continue to write because we long for immortality, the infinite extension of our existence. From arche to telos, from beginning to end, we are writers.
Within this existential frame, we write for catharsis, for payment, for delight in wordplay, for expression, for hope, for entertainment, for enchantment, for enlightenment, for intellectual challenge, for diversion, for acclaim, for encouragement, for connection, for perspective. We write to reveal beauty, to speak truth to power, to advance civilization, to inspire, to be remembered, to share wisdom, to lighten the darkness. Between our history and our fate, there are as many reasons to write as there are writers.
We write because we must as humans. We write because we want to communicate as long as possible. And along the way, in the glorious sea of words, we find our meaning.