Imagine a world without words

Among the many worlds that man did not receive as a gift from nature but created out of his own mind, the world of books is the greatest… Without the word, without the writing of books, there is no history, there is no concept of humanity. And if anyone wants to try to enclose in a small space, in a single house or a single room, the history of the human spirit and to make it his own, he can only do this in the form of a collection of books. – The Magic of the Book, Hermann Hesse

Imagine a world without the written word. Without a way to easily access and share humankind’s collective knowledge. A world where books were not a thing, where reading and writing were unknown. What would such a world look like? 

Horses from the Hillaire Chamber, Chauvet Cave. Photo courtesy: French Ministry of Culture and Communication, Regional Direction for Cultural Affairs, Rhône-Alpes region, Regional Department of Archeology.

Horses from the Hillaire Chamber, Chauvet Cave.
Photo courtesy: French Ministry of Culture and Communication, Regional Direction for Cultural Affairs, Rhône-Alpes region, Regional Department of Archeology.

Through time immemorial, man has yearned to leave his mark on the world – the primitive cave drawings are proof of this undeniable need to communicate. But without words, there is so much that is unknown about that period. All we have are drawings of hunts, of communities, of small villages and tribes.

But what was life like? How often did people have to move around? What sort of shelter did they have from the elements? How did they regard the wonder of the night sky and the shining brilliance of the sun? What were the songs they sang and the stories they told? Their thoughts, dreams, longings? What did they wish for? We have no answers to these – only speculation based on the drawings they left behind, on the shards of pottery and stone arrows we find at digs.

Imagine a world without words.

There would be no books, no history, no collective human knowledge; no poets, no play-writes; no Shakespeare or Byron or Socrates.

We can observe every day how completely marvelous and like fairy tales are the histories of books, how at one moment they have the greatest enchantment and then again the gift of becoming invisible. Poets live and die, known by few or none, and we see their work after their death, often decades after their death, suddenly rise resplendent from the grave as though time did not exist. – The Magic of the Book, Hermann Hesse

Imagine a world without words.

I would not be sitting behind a screen, typing these letters. You would not be sitting behind a screen, reading these letters. We would have no way of knowing one another. No way of knowing what life is like in the village next to ours, let alone in a country on the other side of the ocean. There would be no luminosity of thought, no philosophers to expand our minds, perhaps no world as we know it now.

Imagine a world without words.

What does it look like?

Posted in Opinion pieces and tagged , , , .

12 Comments

  1. Imagining a world like that is scary. People would end up eating the wrong medicine, board the wrong bus, call someone else when they need to talk, and what not. Words are powerful.

  2. If there were such I world, I would be sorry of what they are missing. Indeed if there were no words perhaps we might have communicated through gestures and pictures and crazy, desperate expressions we cannot even imagine now. Ah, wonder how that would be!

    • Isn’t it? What sort of a world would it be? Would we still be confined to little villages and communities? Everyone dependent on one another to survive. What about language, and culture, and stories. How would that be passed down – orally perhaps? It’s quite a fascinating thought!

Leave a Reply