The power of words.

Junot Díaz reflects on the novel.

Communicating with written words may be older than we can possibly imagine. Yet, despite the very modern world of digital communications, the power of communicating with written words is probably more widespread than ever before. Let’s just dip into the world of blogging, or more accurately put, let’s dip into the world of WordPress blogging. The quickest of web searches revealed that:

74.6 Million Sites Depend on WordPress

Yep, you read that right. 74,652,825 sites out there are depending on good ol’ WordPress. That’s one site per person in Turkey.

Around 50% of this figure (close to 37 million) is hosted on the free

Or try this amazing fact:

6 New Posts Every Second

That’s right. Every second, close to 6 (the actual figure is 5.7) new posts are published on blogs. That averages out to 342 posts per minute. Just above 20,000 per day. And a grand total of 7.49 million annually.

If you are wondering what brought on this rash of discovery, it was me wanting to find a way of introducing a talk that was recently given by Junot Díaz. Wikipedia explains that:

Junot Díaz (born December 31, 1968) is a Dominican American writer, creative writing professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and fiction editor at Boston Review. He also serves on the board of advisers for Freedom University, a volunteer organization in Georgia that provides post-secondary instruction to undocumented immigrants. Central to Díaz’s work is the immigrant experience. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, in 2008. He is a 2012 MacArthur Fellow.

Junot Díaz
Junot Díaz

Recently, the Big Think blog had an article by Díaz that I wanted to share with you dear readers of Learning from Dogs. For it struck me as a wonderful reminder of the power of writing and, especially, the power of writing fiction.

For reasons that I don’t understand the video in that Big Think piece is longer than the version that is on YouTube. So, watch the YouTube version coming up now, and if you want more then click the link just below that YouTube insertion.

Literature, explains Pulitzer-winning writer Junot Díaz, is the closest that we’ve come to telepathy. It’s through literature that we educate our souls by transporting ourselves into some other character’s mind. It builds empathy. It allows for new perspectives. It triggers provocation in all the best ways. Novels aren’t as popular a medium today as something like Twitter, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still hugely important.

The summary posted above was taken from the Big Think site, and if you go there you can read more, and watch the full 4-minute version of the video.

Finally, this coming Sunday is the 1st November, and November is the month for National Novel Writing Month. Whether or not you wonder if you have a full novel inside you, even if you have the slightest curiousity, pop over to the NaNoWriMo website and get involved!

12 thoughts on “The power of words.

  1. I don’t mind the shift to shorter works as it puts great pressure on better writing… doing more with less. Every sentence should be a work of art, a thing of beauty. Word choice should reflect thought and consideration. That said, I would not complain for a second if a writer like Robert Reed wrote a 100,000 page book. If the story is there, and the capacity to move the reader with magnificent wordsmittery is present, let there be length!


      1. It is very clever mischievous nonsense though. Nearing the end John; will pop a review on Amazon U.K. in the next week or so. I might go Spinal Tap and give you six out of five.


  2. Against the Novel, And Against Art:

    John is right. Three correct words on Twitter are better than three hundred words of insipid whatever sold by the millions, just because they find the correct frequency to stroke the rabble just so.

    I agree with what the hot shot from MIT says, though. He repeats, like a savant donkey (no wonder he got a McArthur) exactly no more than has been said ever since there were salons in the Enlightenment. Art can be used to transgress, to help reflect, to disallow, etc…

    And do you think plutocracy mind? Do you think plutocracy mind little transgressions? Not at all! The wealthiest people in the world have been financing art for 4,000 years: contemplate the pyramids in Egypt.

    Art, art at great cost, especially is a huge distraction into insignificance.

    How do people learn the REAL history of the Second World War, how come one hundred million people died, shortly after a war which killed 50 just before (I include death from secondary causes such as epidemics and famine tied to the war)?

    Do they learn the history of what happened by watching Picasso’s Guernica? No. That’s just a painting with horses and nostrils.

    Do they learn it from often grotesquely distorted movies about World War Two?

    The answer is that they don’t learn it at all. Instead they have a passing acquaintance about what to say when hearing of WW2. The geeks got to the point: mention Hitler, and you have lost it (Godwin rule they call it, probably because that’s the way for them to win their vision of god, or gold).

    To learn the history of World War Two correctly requires to read a lot of books, especially books which are little read nowadays, not just because they are full of details, but because they do not support very well the official versions.

    Watch France: there the novel is strong, and the country has lost its way. France lost its way, precisely because France is thrilled by worthless reflections, as found in novels, instead of the hard core thinking mood which put France at the forefront of civilization (starting with the election of Julian in Paris in 358 CE), for 16 centuries.

    Watch the USA: When Assange of WikiLeaks made it so that the famous video showing American killers killing journalists from their helicopter, the plutocratic establishment of the USA went berserk, and still is: they saw the immense danger. These few seconds of total disregard for human lives, for reason, for decency were a killer for the imperial order. They were a killer, because they were the greatest transgression imaginable, all the worse, because it was real.

    And indeed that video has killed the military of the USA: their recruitment has collapsed (as a recent The Economist article detailed).

    Next I will explain what is wrong with the novel, the other coin of why a hard reality site such as mine does not succeed very well: because the novel facilitates, encourages, incites to easy, shallow, uninformed thinking. Reality, as uncovered in the Twentieth Century, is much harder, and people flee reason in droves. Drugs are a way to do that, and most novels are drugs.

    Including at the level of the United Nations, where the International Panel on Climate Change carefully, and officially omitted the single greatest factor of climate change, namely what happens to the ice caps. In other words, they studied climate change, without the change. Normal people thought that was OK, they are too busy living the comfortable mental life of those who don’t want to think too much.

    Another example: what passes for art nowadays, often completely worthless whatever (say a monochrome canvas), sold for gigantic sums of money (hence deemed worthy). It has not dawned on the stupid masses, precisely because they are reading too many shallow novels and are very poorly informed, that this is just tax evasion by the wealthiest people on Earth? No. They are too busy reading silly logic to delve into the depths of the tax codes (hint: in France, art is excluded from taxation… And not just in France).

    People need to learn hard facts and hard logic, soon, because their fake world is on a collision course with physical reality (not just on a course to dictatorship and war).

    Instead they are too busy reading about princes, princesses, and witchcraft (in silly novels) to even know aristocrats were just gangsters, and science is the real thing, whereas witchcraft exists only in novels. If I had a magic wand, I would just turn them all into pumpkins, as they obviously aspire so much to become some.

    The power of words is the power of thought, it’s more important than ever. Yet, power is about force. Neither the novel nor art which the wealthiest people in the world have decided are worthy, are worth having, because they have no force against their own sponsors: they saw to it. Power without force is an oxymoron.

    And what those 75 million sites? They have to be read. They can’t be. Moreover, dangerous discourse (dangerous for the establishment) is banned. In the beginning of getting on the Internet, I got some followers, but then I suddenly, one day, one single day, I disappeared from search engines (such as Yahoo’s; that was shortly before Google, not that Google is better). At the same time, I got banned, magically, especially on (supposedly) left wingish media (New York Times, Huffington, Daily Kos, Guardian, philosophy sites etc.). Nobody on the right wing was interested to read me, thus, more than a decade later, I don’t have anymore “followers”… Nicely done, censors!

    A cacophony is the best way to drown a beautiful song. Most of this art and novels out there are just noise made to hide the simplest things, those that attention to detail would reveal.


    1. Patrice, I sense the anger in your words, and rightly so. But you are mistaken to opine that works of fiction, and of art, are nothing more than noise. Fiction in writing has the power to open minds and communicate the most valuable messages, messages that are precious belongings from the author. Of course, not all works of fiction, then again not all works of reality.

      There is a purpose to us having minds and hearts. Our ability to be moved by the rose is far more than the physical construction of the flower. And change, effective change, is the result of heads and hearts being inspired to make a difference.

      Thank you so much for your long and thoughtful reply.


      1. Sorry Paul, that I left the impression that fiction, and art are nothing more than noise. I love painting and drawing, having spent thousands of hours at both, and I adore music (and play one instrument, although I will not reveal which one, not to make myself the focus of celebritism of sort).

        Surely, I will correct this art bashing nonsense impression in a more definitive version of this essay. Whenever one writes one should practice art Thought is always a form of fiction.

        What irks me is the fact that little novelists much more boring than a good sci-fi writers are lionized as the pinnacles of wisdom which they certainly are not. The Nobel committee seems vaguely aware of this in recent years, but that had no impact.

        Vigor in Homo Sapiens, ought not to be confused with anger. Wisdom without power has no freedom of expression. Yet, power is expressed by force. Anger is still something else: it is an override of habitual reason. So I may look angry, just because I am unusual. To the volcano breathing, explosions are just expressions, and the morality of power (poetry is art, BTW).


  3. BTW, Diaz is in big trouble with his government which he IDENTIFIED, correctly, with Nazi Germany 9so Diaz knows history!):
    I am doing like you, I am getting into videos:

    This shows that, even if one is loved by Google (as Diaz is), it may not be enough…


  4. Words have power.. just reading your post and the comments,. Words are created by our thinking.. Thoughts create.. We have many outlets for our creative minds, both in our fictional writing and factual..
    May we all learn the Power of Thought, and learn to verbalise in a creative manner .. In ways that do not destroy..
    George Orwell said ““But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” …And if we look back on history, we discover the whole truth has not always been written!

    Wishing you a good rest of the week Paul


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