Joseph Conrad pp 119-128 | Cite as

Speech and Writing in Under Western Eyes

  • Avrom Fleishman


A long line of theoreticians of language, from Rousseau to Saussure and on into our own time, has maintained the myth that writing is a cursed labour inherited from the Fall, while speech, despite Babel, remains a vital and creative activity. For the living flow of spoken words and the organic change of popular language, writing substitutes the sterile forms of imposed conventions and fixes the dynamic immediacy of individual speech acts in an embalmed and lifeless hulk, the text. More sceptical writers on language, like Jacques Derrida, have called into question this preference for speech over writing, holding that spoken words cannot escape the taints (or what he calls the ‘trace’) of their origins as found in written words. Recent discussions of these and related matters by linguistics-oriented critics not only renew our questionings of the special nature of literary texts; they also show that literature itself regularly questions its privileged status as written language.


Literary Text Narrative Form Popular Language Sterile Form Donnant Seed 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1976

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  • Avrom Fleishman

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