Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lost in transcription

When Barthes states "writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin," it seems as if he is saying that writing does not convey the same message that speaking does. To tell and write a story are distinctively different. For starters, the explicit details used to create the world in a written work is mostly absent from oral delivery, but the cues found in a verbal rendition are missing from the written form. It is not as if the author can utilize a sudden change in his/her vocal tone to indicate that something sinister is about to occur. It certainly isn't as easy as changing your voice while sitting around a campfire, building a wickedly scary story up to a climatic moment, using your voice as a key to ramp up the intensity.
Ah, but to bring it to a level that will surely be relatable to everyone who uses a cell phone: texting. I have gotten into so many uncomfortable situations by sending a text that has an unintentional ambiguous meaning simply because the vocal tone isn't there to lend credence to what is trying to be said. The words 'I don't care' take on a variety of meanings depending on who's reading them or hearing them. It is so easy to take what is written and add a personal meaning to it, inadvertently raising your own blood pressure as anger sets in when the message was totally benign in origin (the legacy of texting will be a mass spike in blood pressure and the need for anger management classes, mark my words).
Ah, but I've digressed from the words of Barthes, or have I? I wonder what exactly Barthes would think of the texting phenomenon. Either way, I think he'd possibly agree with me when I say that when it comes to texting, something gets lost in the transcription.

1 comment:

  1. Your observation about written vs. spoken word is interesting in light of the Ong article "The Writer's Audience is Always a Fiction." Ong discusses precisely that which you are observing, that "words are never fully determined in their abstract signification but have meaning only with relation to man's body and to its interaction with its surroundings" (10). He goes on to explain that as people's main form of verbal communication has transitioned from oratory into writing, authors have had to fictionalize an "audience" for their work to replace the real life audience that would have attended a speech. In turn, the reader must subscribe to this fictional account of him and read according to it in order to grasp the full intended meaning of a text.

    In terms of Ong's ideas, then, are texting misunderstandings the fault of the author for incorrectly fictionalizing his audience (however personal the message might be), or the fault of the reader for failing to successfully subscribe to this fictional self? Indeed, much meaning is lost in text without vocal inflection, but authors have been able to successfully transmit meaning for generations. Perhaps it is because the "authors" of text messages are generally less experienced with the nuances of languages, or perhaps because they generally have a certain spareness and informality of prose. It seems that often problems are caused by sarcasm or ironic humor that the recipient does not pick up. This misunderstanding could be for multiple reasons and I don't think it necessarily is the fault of either the recipient or the sender. Rather, both are guilty of not using language to its full potential.


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