Words & Voice in Damascus Nights

I was really intrigued by this conversation in Damascus Nights:

“Just listen to those words!” the barber gushed . . . “What are books compared to that!  What is the most beautiful writing compared to the divine sounds of the human voice?  Mere shadows of words on paper!”

“Please, don’t exaggerate,” Faris replied . . . “Writing is not the voice’s shadow but the tracks of its steps.  It is only thanks to writing that we can listen tot he ancient Greeks and Egyptians even today, that we can hear their voices as full of life as if they had just spoken.  My friend, only writing has the power to move a voice through time, and make it as immortal as the gods.” (pg 30)

I’ll just run through some thoughts I have on this:

  • I thought this was really interesting because it reminded me of our conversations on the Nights as an oral vs. written piece.  I think that both forms of storytelling are crucial in how we perceive stories and unpack them.  Voice might hold more emotion and give you a sense of being there physically – sitting listening to a story being  told, listening to the speaker’s inflection, etc, is exactly what makes oral storytelling charming.  And that’s Salim’s special gift, too – the ability to move people into the story with his voice and gestures.

  • This also reminded me of when a King in a story asks a caliph for the amazing oral story to be written down in letters of gold for others to marvel at the history of the story.  Moving voice into letters gives other people the opportunity to experience an event that they didn’t get to witness – and maybe offer a little “proof” that it actually happened.  That’s the importance of written records today.  Solid paper or video evidence holds up in court, but hearsay and eyewitness reports are unreliable, no matter how elaborate and factual the story may be.  If it’s not written down… then you have no evidence of it actually happening.

  • This moment also speaks to when Salim is discerning the faces of people by their voice.  It shows how powerful voice is to identity, history, and associations.

  • I am also reminded of many poets who use poetry as a means to keep time frozen and immortalize a moment or person.  Once it’s written down, that moment can be “replayed” over and over by re-reading or speaking it.  I think that that’s why both voice and writing are so important in conveying moments in time.  When put together, the birth of new ideas is transformed into an immortal moment that can be enjoyed for years to come.

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