The Image and the Word

By Moravia, Alberto | UNESCO Courier, May-June 1986 | Go to article overview
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The Image and the Word

Moravia, Alberto, UNESCO Courier

The image and the word

FEW persons appear to have given much thought to the fact that the image owes its success to the entry into history's arena of large masses of humanity, including their new literates and total illiterates.

The illiterate person undeniably has a distinctive visual awareness. For him the whole world is a vast system of visual signs and symbols waiting to be interpreted and translated.

So in the first place, what we are dealing with is not so much a decline of the book as a triumph of the image, a triumph due in far smaller measure to those who have always been readers than to those who only yesterday did not know how to read.

If this is so, as I myself believe, we can expect at any time to see a steady decline in the influence of the image and a corresponding resurgence of the book. In other words, as millions upon millions of illiterate men and women learn to read and write, they are likely to abandon the primitive, direct language of the image in favour of the more elaborate, more indirect language of the printed word.

That this hypothesis is plausible is borne out by the huge circulation of paperbacks. The paperback scatters the seeds of the culture of all ages and all regions wholesale upon completely virgin soil. In the space of a few years, the entire population of our planet, only now harely emerging from illiteracy, has been inundated, without any preparation, with the culture of thirty centuries.

The danger is that this culture will not be assimilated, but thrown together, condensed and reduced to mere formulas and synthetic aggregation in a vast grinding operation of destruction. After which the masses would apparently be free to revert to the image, thenceforward the sole medium of communication.

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