The triumph of language over writing
In each case, the writing began with pictures - which, as they came to stand for words and then for syllables, grew increasingly abstract. In each case, the originating society was already highly organized, with a heavy investment in agriculture, architecture, social institutions and political centralization. And in each case, so far as we can tell, writing was first used in the work of political, economic or religious administration. Its use for literary purposes came later.
Writing in the literary sense is one of the world's most solitary crafts, but it is only pursued on the margins of highly organized and centralized societies.
Literature - meaning story telling and poetry - involves the use of language more for purposes of discovery than for purposes of control. It is a part of language itself: present, like language, in every human community. There are no natural languages without stories, just as there are none without sentences. Yet literature is not the cause of writing. Literature in the written sense represents the triumph of language over writing: the subversion of writing for purposes that have little or nothing to do with social and economic control."
- Robert Bringhurst in The Solid Form of Language, 14-15.
Frontispiece: Part of a letter written in kuáncǎo or Wild Grass cursive
by the monk Huáisǔ, c. 725-785. [After Chiang Yee 1973.]