Anthropologist, philosopher and sleight-of-hand magician David Abram:
“Everything that we speak of as Western civilization we could speak of as alphabetic civilization. We are the culture of the alphabet, and the alphabet itself could be seen as a very potent form of magic. You know, we open up the newspaper in the morning and we focus our eyes on these little inert bits of ink on the page, and we immediately hear voices and we see visions and we experience conversations happening in other places and times. That is magic!
It’s outrageous: as soon as we look at these printed letters on the page we see what they say. They speak to us. That is not so different from a Hopi elder stepping out of her pueblo and focusing her eyes on a stone and hearing the stone speak. Or a Lakota man stepping out and seeing a spider crawling up a tree and focusing his eyes on that spider and hearing himself addressed by that spider. We do just the same thing, but we do it with our own written marks on the page. We look at them, and they speak to us. It’s an intensely concentrated form of animism. But it’s animism nonetheless, as outrageous as a talking stone.
In fact, it’s such an intense form of animism that it has effectively eclipsed all of the other forms of animistic participation in which we used to engage — with leaves, with stones, with winds. But it is still a form of magic.
I’m not trying to demonize the alphabet at all. I don’t think the alphabet is bad. What I’m trying to get people to realize is that it’s a very intense form of magic. And that it therefore needs to be used responsibly. I mean, it’s not by coincidence that the word “spell” has this double meaning — to arrange the letters in the right order to form a word, or to cast a magic. To spell a word, or to cast a magic spell. These two meanings were originally one and the same. In order to use this new technology, this new play of written shapes on the page, to learn to write and to read with the alphabet, was actually to learn a new form of magic, to exercise a new form of power in the world.
But it also meant casting a kind of spell on our own senses. Unless we recognize writing as a form of magic, then we will not take much care with it. It’s only when we recognize how profoundly it has altered our experience of nature and the rest of the sensory world, how profoundly it has altered our senses, that we can begin to use writing responsibly because we see how potent and profound an effect it has.”