Long ago in a faraway desert, a man of whom we know nothing decided that the words he had scratched onto clay were not conventional accounting signs numbering legal decrees or heads of cattle, but the terrible manifestations of a wilful god. He concluded that therefore the very order of these words, the number of letters they contained, and even their physical appearance must have a sense and meaning, since the utterance of a god cannot hold anything superfluous or arbitrary. The Cabbalists took this faith in the literary act even further. Since (as the Book of Genesis recorded) God had said, 'Let there be light' and there was light, they argued that the very word light possessed creative powers, and that if they knew le mot juste and its true intonation, they too would be able to become as creative as their Creator. The history of literature is, in some sense, the history of this hope.
Alberto Manguel, Argentine-born Canadian essayist, novelist, anthologist, editor, and translator, The Spectator, March 10, 2001