The Humiliation of the Word – Jacques Ellul
“This, then, is our situation today: through the eruption of unlimited artificial images, we have reduced truth to the order of reality and banished the shy and fleeting expression of truth. Strangest of all, we are not dealing with the identification of truth with reality already found in science. Instead, this “reality” is really fiction — literally simulated, depicted. This reality is falsified, but it constitutes the new visible human universe. It is a visible universe of proliferating images produced by all sorts of techniques. No longer are we surrounded by fields, woods, and rivers, but by signs, signals, billboards, screens, labels, and trademarks: this is our universe. And when the screen shows us a living reality, such as people’s faces or other countries, this is still a fiction: it is a constructed and recombined reality.” Jacques Ellul (The Humiliation of the Word; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans (1985) p. 228)
I’ve just finished reading Jacques Ellul’s The Humiliation of the Word.
Although The Humiliation of the Word is a philosophical book about linguistics, it’s also a biblical theology… of the word and the image.
“In Jesus, truth rejoins reality, and reality becomes true and the bearer of truth.” (ibid, p. 252)
I bought the book because I recently caught a reference to it while watching (again) an old interview with Neil Postman, who is one of my favorite thinkers/authors (see after 29:00):
I was surprised I hadn’t noticed the reference to Ellul before. But, one day, while watching the (above) interview again, I did manage to catch it, searched for the book online, and found it available for a reasonable price (=about $20.00).
Having read Ellul before, I knew the book would be above my ability, and would stretch my intellect, which is what I wanted.
I was right about that.
Once I finished the book, I thought “I need to read this again.”
There’s no way I could do justice to the book by reading it through once and doing a brief review of it.
I need to read it again, take notes, read it once more, and really think about what Ellul is saying, in order to do it justice.
Having said that, I can say the book is very thought provoking, to say the least, and should be read by anyone interested in language, images, media, media ecology, and Neil Postman’s more popular (and more accessible) books.
Ellul, as a rule, is never light reading. And his The Humiliation of the Word is no exception to this rule.
The main point of the book, which Ellul makes, is that reality can be imaged, whilst the word (=truth) cannot.
The problem with our modern (and postmodern) society is that we live under a tyranny of images, whilst suffering a dearth of the word (=truth).
This tyranny we must resist, Ellul tells us:
“We must oppose triumphant methods, the elimination of ambiguities, and the resultant foreclosure of possibilities for the truth (which slips in through the gaps of coherent discourse). No gaps, of course, are left in computer language, algebra, and scientific certainty. The frozen surface of our intellectual world is like a smooth glacier. Rich and superabundant images have invaded everything; but then left only a desert. They have become the very key to science. We must radically deny that science can account for everything human, because truth always may be expressed through human beings.” (ibid, p. 258)
In short, the book is well worth reading. It’s quite thought provoking.
The Humiliation of the Word by Jacques Ellul (book) http://www.amazon.com/The-Humiliation-Word-Jacques-Ellul/dp/0802800696
The Humiliation of the Word by Jacques Ellul (.html) http://www.religion-online.org/showbook.asp?title=499
The Humiliation of the Word by Jacques Ellul (.pdf) http://media.sabda.org/alkitab-2/Religion-Online.org%20Books/Ellul,%20Jacques%20-%20The%20Humiliation%20of%20the%20Word.pdf