Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Writing and Speaking

Paul Graham's latest essay is on the theme "Writing and Speaking". He extols the virtue of text and disparages the value of speech. He says that the spoken word, or "talks" as he dismissively calls it, is "certainly inferior to the written word as a source of ideas". Perhaps this is to be expected since Graham is an excellent writer (in my opinion) and "not a very good speaker" (in his own opinion). Graham unfairly and inaccurately diminishes the value of the spoken work as a source of ideas. To address just one of Graham's arguments: he constrasts skillfully written texts full of ideas (of his own variety presumably) with extremely well delivered speeches that are very light on substance. This is a classic false dichotomy. There are plenty of examples of insubstantial but well written texts and substantial and well delivered speeches (and not just the "academic talks" Graham mentions in endnote [1]). And indeed examples of various other permutations exist e.g. poorly written insubstantial texts and poorly delivered substantial speeches. It's certainly not a case of: either a well written substantial text, or a well delivered insubstantial speech, with a few exceptions thrown in. In any case, in my view, it's fundamentally impossible to really separate the spoken word and the written word. But Graham's essay served the purpose that all good essays should: it stimulated the thoughts of the reader. Or at least this reader.

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