Writing—Speech—Image: The Competition of Signs

  • Jan-Dirk Müller
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


P rophecies such as the one cited above are more and more common now that the electronic communications media have set off on their triumphal march, no longer transporting only a limited linguistic code (such as Morse) or only spoken or written language (such as radio or fax) but instead transporting images and sounds as well. In fact, these types of multimedia communication are no longer only used by big institutions that have access to the necessary technology (such as television) but can be produced by anyone with access to the “net.” In modern forms of communication, the word is more and more often supplemented or replaced by iconic signs. Indeed, a world without books seems to be one of the less threatening visions of the future, when some people even envision a world without writing, or perhaps without language, looming on the horizon. Yet, ever since Malthus predicted that humanity would die of starvation, such predictions have never proven trustworthy, and now, too, one should wait first and observe carefully, especially since futuristic visions of this sort reflect, to a considerable extent, fantasies of retrogression. It is telling that, in the words of Hettche cited earlier,“nature” is to “reappear” in that future world of images, apparently a Rousseauian world “before” the differentiation of language. Is it the return to a space beyond language, a homecoming into the romantic phantasm of unmediated presence? One must remember that this so-called nature, this world of images, is one that is conveyed solely by digital means and that the use of nonanalog linguistic signs, and particularly, nonanalog metalinguistic signs has not declined, but rather increased.


Visual Sign Visible World Literary Text Visual Code Everyday World 
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© Kathryn Starkey and Horst Wenzel 2005

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  • Jan-Dirk Müller

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