In the Latin and Indo-European languages, which have many vowels, the alphabet is a specific set graphic signs that visually codifies acoustic perceptions.Therefore, an alphabetic text is “a score for an audible performance” (Does Writing Have a Future?, 2010, p. 23). According to Vilém Flusser, created for linear notation purposes and responsible for depicting historical knowledge, the alphabet comprises the alphanumeric code, as well as numbers – signs for quantities – and signs to standardize the language, that is, commas, full stops, quotation marks, parentheses, and so on.
The invention of the alphabet made it possible to develop critical and conceptual discourses, from Greek philosophy to medieval theology and modern science. In the process, the alphabet shaped a logic of discursive and linear awareness that was far removed from the logic of images, which existed before writing was invented. Flusser says that when signs were organized into lines, the circular deduction of decoding numbers was replaced by the discursive and linear logic of writing. Thus the alphabetic techniques that enabled the “mastering” of numbers by letters set in train the transformation of pictographic thinking into linear-discursive thinking. The transformation (transmutation) of mythological and oral experience of the word into writing, or the transformation of the enunciated word into linearly arranged letters, demonstrates the iconoclastic intentions of alphabet inventors – comparable to the subjugation of numbers to letters. “As the score of a spoken language, the alphabet permits us to stabilize and discipline a transcendence of images that has been won, with effort, through speech.” (ibid., p. 31)
The circular transcendence of mythical and numerical modes of expression was held firm by means of the alphabetic conceptual organization and the visual coding of the sounds of speech. In this way alphabetic writing domesticated acoustic awareness in favor of a linguistic structure of logical thinking, which is capable of not succumbing to the plastic consciousness of images. If the “emigration” of the alphabetic code to the digital code had not evidenced a new, once again image-based, consciousness, we might have assumed that the recovery of this archaeological scenario is rather inappropriate in light of the new plasticity of the technical scenarios of virtual images. The thinking that corresponds to the new code is postalphabetic, and from it will emerge a new post-historical consciousness.
Original article by Luiza Spínola in Flusseriana