God: An Itinerary

I have been reading a brilliant but maddeningly dense book called God: An Itinerary, by Regis Debray, which contains pearls like this one about the power of the written word to codify and consolidate temporal power:

“We have no knowledge of a purely oral society possessing a notion of the eternal. Between myth and poetry, those two sibling rivals, the God of Revelation makes His initial appearance as spoken word, but that word takes on force of law over time solely by virtue of the Letter.”

This part is like the proverbial pearl in the oyster, but much of Debray’s writing seems deliberately obtuse. Debray is French, so part of the problem may lie in the translation, but really it’s more his temperment. Imagine reading Marshall McLuhan in translation and you begin to get the picture. Is it worth it? Absolutely. Same with Pynchon, despite what Gore Vidal said about Pynchon exemplifying entropy: you get less out of reading him than you put in. Perhaps, in terms of joules, but not in terms of food for thought and delight.

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