The power of the word

The New York Times today has a review of the new book by Zbigniew Brzezinski, “Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower.” It is an analysis of Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II, and how their presidencies faced and shaped global issues. Politics aside (I don’t aim to open a discussion on politics) I think that the review paints an interesting portrait of the power of writing, and the place it can and should hold in our culture. Mr. Brzezinski’s arguments and analysis are best made in writing. Take a look at the review. Could you imagine what this would look like if it were an interview? If FOX NEWS or CNN tried to encapsulate his arguments, turn it into a sound-bite, it would be laughable. Even a longer form television or film version of his book would leave out the hard facts, it would have to, for time’s sake. Some documentaries about Noam Chomsky are either horribly boring or amazingly trite. You simply can’t encapsulate all thought. Sometimes the reality is that you need lots and lots of words slowly following one another, without interruption, without glitzy graphics, without handsome actors.
That we have people like Mr. Brzezinski, knowledgeable, intelligent, thoughtful, and hardworking people, who take the time to make arguments and back them with facts and lay them out in a logical fashion so that others can follow them is really, really remarkable. It’s why the written word is so powerful and so necessary. As I was reading the review I was reminded why I’m so in love with writing, all writing, and why I’m so thrilled when my 19-month-old son happily makes the hand-sign for “book” and marches over to his little bookshelf in the corner of our livingroom and sits to study his boardbooks. He’s even begun to point at the words and “read” them out loud. He knows there is something there, something Mom and Dad are trying to impart him with, and when I see that I think “Thank God. He is interested.”
I guess today’s post was just a love letter to the written word, but I think that’s okay. Sometimes it’s nice to step back and remember that we have a truly incredible act going on in our brain, when we look at a bunch of squiggles on a page and it makes your mind and imagination fire up and someone you don’t know, somewhere else you’ve never been, alive or dead, makes you follow in their footsteps and think what they thought and invite you into a conversation which is real, meaningful and haunting.

5 thoughts on “The power of the word

  1. The other day, my four-year-old son said, “I want to write books like Mama.” I have never been more in love with words than I was at that moment.
    Of course, in the next breath he said he also wanted to be a “noodler.” That’s fine, he’ll earn more money as a noodle-maker anyway.

  2. While you make an interesting point, I think your love for the written word may have blinded you a tad towards the power of visual communication. Not to drag out trite idioms but, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and “try walking in my shoes.” Many forms of visual communication have the power to convey great emotion in a short timeframe.
    Take for example the photograph of the lone man standing in front of the tank at Tiananmen Square. The struggles of the Chinese people against an oppressive government were captured perfectly in that one photograph. As that picture made its way around the world, the world took notice. It wasn’t the written word that captured the worlds attention, but a single picture.
    One of the finest animated films I’ve ever seen is “Grave of the Fireflies.” The story involves the firebombing of Japan during World War II, but doesn’t focus on the actual American attacks. The focus is on two children who are orphaned when their parents are killed during the bombings. Everything the viewer sees involves these two children trying to survive. It’s a gripping story. It’s an emotionally charged story. It’s a haunting story. Movies like “Grave of the FIreflies” can walk you through ideas and issues in a mere 90 minutes.
    Both of these examples only scratch the surface of their subject matter, but they do it in such an engaging way. They can open doors and lead to deeper discussions. I don’t see this as writing vs. movies or writing vs. pictures, but instead see it all as a whole powerful group. All forms of communication, whether is be a play, movie, novel or photo, can have a dramatic impact on us as individuals and as a society.

  3. Jaye, maybe he’ll write books about vampire noodlers?
    Matt, You make a really good point. I guess in the end my point was that when putting your focus into writing, or any medium, there are strengths which a chosen medium gives which others lack (and vice versa). Your example of Tiananmen Square is an excellent one: that picture does do what words couldn’t. Same with “Grave of the Fireflies.” I definitely wasn’t trying to say that film doesn’t have power, or that image lacks depth; I was trying to say that the power of words sometimes amazes me.

  4. Hey, that just gave me an idea… just kidding.
    Matt’s point is well-made. Pictures are worth a thousand words, BUT the photographer can’t dictate which thousand.

  5. Good point Jaye and Sean. My main thing is that all these forms of communication amaze me at times. Blogs amaze me. How communication has changed so drastically in the past few years is astounding.

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