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The Invention of Cuneiform: Writing in Sumer

The Invention of Cuneiform: Writing in Sumer

Paperback

Edited by Jean-Jacques Glassner, Translated by Zainab Bahrani, Translated by Marc Van De Mieroop

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  • Publisher: JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Format: Paperback | 288 pages
  • Dimensions: 140mm x 221mm x 23mm | 318g
  • Publication date: 1 December 2007
  • Publication City/Country: Baltimore, MD
  • ISBN 10: 0801887577
  • ISBN 13: 9780801887574

Product description

As the first known system of writing, the cuneiform symbols traced in Sumerian clay more than six millennia ago were once regarded as a simplistic and clumsy attempt to record in linear form the sounds of a spoken language. More recently, scholars have acknowledged that early Sumerian writing - far from being a primitive and flawed mechanism that would be "improved" by the Phoenicians and Greeks - in fact represented a complete written language system, not only meeting the daily needs of economic and government administration, but also providing a new means of understanding the world. In "The Invention of Cuneiform", Jean-Jacques Glassner offers a compelling introduction to this seminal era in human history. Returning to early Mesopotamian texts that have been little studied or poorly understood, he traces the development of writing from the earliest attempts to the sophisticated system of roughly 640 signs that comprised the Sumerian repertory by about 3200 B.C. Glassner further argues - with an occasional nod to Derrida - that the invention of writing had a deeper metaphysical significance. By bringing the divinely ordained spoken language under human control, Sumerians were able to "make invisibility visible," separating themselves from the divine order and creating a new model of power.

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Author information

Jean-Jacques Glassner is a research director at the French National Center for Scientific Research. Zainab Bahrani is Edith Porada Professor of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University. Marc Van De Mieroop is a professor of history and Middle East and Asian languages and cultures at Columbia University.

Review quote

"The Invention of Cuneiform is the only book that presents the origin and early development of the world's first writing system to a non-specialist audience within the context of the discourses on language and representation current in the humanities today. The book is brilliant and deserves to reach a broad Anglophone readership." - Jerry Cooper, The Johns Hopkins University "Glassner does not content himself with giving the Sumerian invention its full measure. He renders an homage to all writing that makes reparation for numerous humiliations." - Le Monde "A strikingly original analysis of the origin of cuneiform writing." - Choice"