Literature and Freedom

Nothing has pushed forward cultural life as much as the invention of printing, nor has anything contributed more to its democratization. From Gutenberg's time until today, the book has been the best propeller and depository of knowledge, as well as an irreplaceable source of pleasure.

However, to many, its future is uncertain. I recall a lecture I heard at Cambridge a few years ago. It was entitled "Literature Is Doomed," and its thesis was that the alphabetic culture, the one based on writing and books, is perishing. According to the lecturer, audiovisual culture will soon replace it. The written word, and whatever it represents, are already an anachronism, since the more avant-garde and urgent knowledge required for the experience of our time is transmitted and stored not in books but in machines, and has signals and not letters as its tools. The lecturer had spent two weeks in Mexico where he had traveled everywhere, and even in the underground he had no difficulty, though he spoke no Spanish. For the entire system of instructions in the Mexican underground consists of nothing but arrows, lights, and figures. This way of communication is more universal, he explained, for it overcomes, for instance, language barriers, a problem congenital to the alphabetic system.

The lecturer drew all the right conclusions, with no fear, from his thesis. He maintained that all Third World countries, instead of persisting...

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