Breath is primary insofar as the spoken word is. The conception has a solid psychological and sensual basis in the daily experience of [people in an oral environment]. For the inhabitants of an oral society live much more intimately blended with their surroundings than we do. Space and the distances between things are not of first importance; these are aspects emphasized by the visual sense. What is vital, in a world of sound, is to maintain continuity. This attitude pervades archaic poetry and is strikingly present as well in the perceptual basis of the ancient physiologoi. […] A listener listening to an oral recitation is, as Hermann Fränkel puts it, “an open force-field” […] into whom sounds are being breathed in a continuous stream from the poet’s mouth. Written words, on the other hand, do not present such an all-persuasive sensual phenomenon. Literacy desensorializes words and reader. A reader must disconnect himself from the influx of sense impressions transmitted by nose, ear, tongue and skin if he is to concentrate upon his reading. A written text separates words from one another, separates words from the environment, separates words from the reader (or writer) and separates the reader (or writer) from his environment. Separation is painful. The evidence of epigraphy shows how long it takes people to systematize word-division in writing, indicating the novelty and difficulty of this concept. As separable, controllable units of meaning, each with its own visible boundary, each with its own fixed and independent use, written words project their user into isolation.

That words have edges is an insight most vivid, then, for the reader or writer of them. Heard words may have no edges, or varying edges; oral traditions may have no concept of ‘word’ as a fixed and bounded vocable, or may employ a flexible concept. Homer’s word for ‘word’ (epos) includes the meanings ‘speech,’ ‘tale,’ ‘song,’ ‘line of verse’ or ‘epic poetry as a whole.’ All are breathable. The edges are irrelevant.

Anne Carson, Eros the Bittersweet