Cover image for The rise of the image, the fall of the word
The rise of the image, the fall of the word
Stephens, Mitchell.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
xii, 259 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library PN1992.6 .S73 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



For decades educators and cultural critics have deplored the corrosive effects of electronic media on the national consciousness. The average American reads less often, writes less well. And, numbed by the frenetic image-bombardment of music videos, commercials and sound bites, we may also,it is argued, think less profoundly. But wait. Is it just possible that some good might arise from the ashes of the printed word? Most emphatically yes, argues Mitchell Stephens, who asserts that the moving image is likely to make our thoughts not more feeble but more robust. Through a fascinating overview of previous communications revolutions, Stephens demonstrates that the charges that have been leveled against televisionhave been faced by most new media, including writing and print. Centuries elapsed before most of these new forms of communication would be used to produce works of art and intellect of sufficient stature to overcome this inevitable mistrust and nostalgia. Using examples taken from the history ofphotography and film, as well as MTV, experimental films, and Pepsi commercials, the author considers the kinds of work that might unleash, in time, the full power of moving images. And he argues that these works--an emerging computer-edited and -distributed "new video"--have the potential toinspire transformations in thought on a level with those inspired by the products of writing and print. Stephens sees in video's complexities, simultaneities, and juxtapositions, new ways of understanding and perhaps even surmounting the tumult and confusions of contemporary life. Sure to spark lively--even heated--debate, The Rise of the Image, the Fall of the Word belongs in the library of millennium-watchers everywhere.

Author Notes

Mitchell Stevens is Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication, New York University. His books include A History of the News, and Broadcast News. He has written on media and contemporary thought for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post. He lives in New YorkCity.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Shlain, surgeon, scholar, and author of Art and Physics, (1991) began with a question: What happened 5,000 years ago that caused goddesses to disappear from the ancient Western world? The answer: the dawn of alphabet literacy. Shlain expounds on this extraordinary hypothesis in an engrossing, occasionally poetic, and sure-to-be-controversial narrative that covers the evolution of religious thought and the discovery of gender-oriented distinctions between left-and right-brain functions. The rise of literacy, Shlain speculates, led to the strengthening of left-brain modes, the masculine side of the brain responsible for abstract thought, reductionism, and aggression. This left-brain dominance led to the devaluing of the more feminine, concrete, image-based, and inclusive right brain, an imbalance that gave rise to monotheism, misogyny, and religious intolerance. As Shlain chronicles both the spread of literacy and the death of female deities in Egypt, Greece, and Rome, he offers fresh interpretations of the Old Testament, an extraordinarily in-depth history of the oppression of women, and tantalizing theories about the connections between brain functions and communication technologies. Careful not to denigrate the benefits of literacy, Shlain celebrates the resurgence of images, thanks to photographs and movies, and looks forward to, if not the rebirth of the goddess, at least equality between the sexes. Stephens also believes that images are gaining power in our culture and that this shift is beneficial. Although spirituality is not his subject, he shares Shlain's interest in media and links the new ascendancy of images to the hypnotic power of movies and television. Stephens cites all manner of statistics to chart our disaffection with reading and our pleasure in viewing and keenly analyzes the "magic" of moving images, tracing their evolution from the earliest days of photography and film to examples of today's video that he considers to be precursors of an as yet undiscovered "new video" that will further revolutionize images and our interpretation of them. Much as Stephens reveres books, and candid as he is about the dullness of most television and the mental and physical passivity and isolation it induces, he still rejects the prevailingly negative attitudes toward electronic media and looks to an exciting visual future. --Donna Seaman

Library Journal Review

The Information Revolution is upon us. The world of the printed word is dying, and moving images are gaining ground. MTV, Sesame Street, and the old stand-by Laugh In have thrust "multiple fragments" of fast-cut images in our faces, and we enjoy, learn, and revel in them. Such is the philosophy of Stephens (journalism and mass communications, New York Univ.), solidly explained and delineated with powerful insights into the classics of literature, film, and television. Although he foresees the "fall" of the printed word, Stephens says it will not be so bad. The "New Video" will bring us joy and great avenues for learning, teaching, and appreciating the world. As in his A History of News: From the Drum to the Satellite (LJ 10/15/88), Stephens paints a much broader picture of mass communication and where it is heading, citing examples such as Flaubert, Shakespeare, and even Ally McBeal. Easy to read and fascinating to think about, this is a keeper. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.‘Kay Bowes, Wilmington Inst. Lib., DE (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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