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"The Odyssey of Writing": through 4,000 years of history

 "The Odyssey of Writing": through 4,000 years of history, the hidden face of this revolutionary system

A documentary series broadcast on Arte compares its evolution and its impact on man, his civilizations and his expectations.

"The Odyssey of Writing": through 4,000 years of history

Who invented writing? The monumental documentary in three parts of Arte tries to answer it in the great tradition of the achievements which made the reputation of the chain: a sum of erudite knowledge, accessible and ambitious . Without being boring, contrary to what the classicism of the first minutes of this Odyssey of writing might suggest . Very quickly, in fact, a reading takes place on several levels, which is followed like a treasure hunt, between what can be seen and what can be guessed, between the discovery of a technique and its unsuspected consequences - cultural, religious, economic, societal. And this for four millennia.

From The Origins , title of the first episode, which takes the viewer to the lands of the three main centers of civilization, in the West, in the East and in the Arab-Muslim world. Many will then discover the mountain of the Servant, in the desert of Sinai, whose ruins bear witness to the invention of the alphabet by a handful of migrants; or the first Chinese characters of "bone-scale writing", carved on animal bones or tortoise scales.

The transition from image to representation marks the first great evolution of writing. It is based on the “rebus rule” which juxtaposes “phonemes”, characters used for the sound they represent and no longer for their meaning. The following passage, from the rebus to the alphabet, is just as astonishing and artistically summed up by the tip of a brush. The Egyptian snake then changes into "mu" of the Greek alphabet then into "m" of the Latin alphabet.

Quill, pen and parchment

But writing is not just done with a brush. The feather and the pen are all inventions which have also left their mark on civilizations. This theme is developed in the second part, which opens with humor with a "DIY" sequence on "how to make a pen from a can of Coke", by the teacher and calligrapher Brody Neuenschwander.

Support is just as essential. It was thanks to the papyrus that the Roman Empire became a literate society, with writings accessible to all, including slaves. Its disappearance in the Middle Ages, in favor of parchment, then transforms the book into a rare and precious object, and literacy recedes. We will have to wait for Gutenberg's press to reverse the trend.

"The Odyssey of Writing": through 4,000 years of history

There remains the use that man makes of the written word. The third, a new era, comes first on the ideological uses of writing, the XIX th and XX th  centuries by some authoritarian leaders like Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938), who imposed the Latin alphabet to Turks and forbade them Arabic in 1929 - this decision, radical, remains badly accepted.

The series ends with the arrival of new technologies. 'And one observation': 'We no longer write, we type'. 'Rather than despairing, director David Sington largely call on Xu Bing, author of a story without words (Grasset, 2013)', 'written using emoji and universally recognizable icons' . Graphic designer, the artist is best known for having written an imposing Book of Heaven, using 4000 totally invented characters which have no meaning. What initially was only an installation (1990) will become the extreme expression of the hidden power of words. A daring bet.

I have ambitions and goals in my life, and I am now trying to achieve them calmly, as the name also came on my channel and website.