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Silence

Last post 02-09-2008, 2:57 PM by JimBuckley. 3 replies.
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  •  02-01-2008, 6:22 AM 38052

    Silence

    This I found on the internet:

    Silence

    by John Zerzan



    Silence used to be, to varying degrees, a means of isolation. Now it is the absence of silence that works to render today’s world empty and isolating. Its reserves have been invaded and depleted. The machine marches globally forward, and silence is the dwindling place where noise has not yet penetrated.



    Civilization is a conspiracy of noise, designed to cover up the uncomfortable silence. Wittgenstein understood the loss of our relationship with silence. “The unsilent present is a time of evaporating attention spans, erosion of critical thinking, and a lessened capacity for deeply felt experiences.”



    Silence, like darkness, is hard to come by, but mind and spirit need its sustenance. Certainly there are many and varied sides to silence. There are imposed or voluntary silences of fear, grief, conformity, complicity. For example, the AIDS awareness silence=death formulation. These are often interrelated states, and nature has been progressively silenced as documented in Rachel Carson’s prophetic Silent Spring. Nature cannot be definitively silenced, however, which perhaps goes a long way in explaining why some feel it must be destroyed.



    “There has been a silencing of nature, including our own nature” concluded Heidegger, and we need to let this silence as silence speak. It does still, after all, speak louder than words. There will be no liberation of humans without the resurrection of the natural world, and silence is very pertinent to this assertion.



    The great silence of the universe engenders a silent awe, which the Roman Lucretius meditated upon in the 1st century B.C. “First of all, contemplate the clear, pure color of the sky and all it contains within it, the stars wandering everywhere, the moon, the sun and its light with its incomparable brilliance. If all these objects appeared to mortals today for the first time, if it appeared to their eyes suddenly and unexpectedly, what could one sight that would be more marvelous than this totality, in whose existence man’s imagination would less have dared to conceive”.



    Down to earth, nature is filled with silences. The alternation of the seasons is the rhythm of silence. At night, silence descends over the planet, though much less so now. The parts of nature resemble great reserves of silence. Max Pickard’s description is almost a poem. “The forest is like a great reservoir of silence, out of which the silence trickles in like a thin, slow stream and fills the air with its brightness. The mountain, the lakes, the field, the sky, they all seem to be waiting for a sign to empty their silence onto the things of noise, in the cities of men.”



    Silence is not “the mere absence of something else.” In fact, our longings return toward that dimension and it associations and implications. Behind the appeals for silence lies a wish for a perpetual and cultural new beginning. Zen teaches that silence never varies, but our focus may be improved if we turn away from the universalizing placelessness of late modernity. Silence is, no doubt, culturally specific and thus experienced variously. Neverthless, as Pickard argues, it can confront us with the “original beginnings of all things”, and presents objects to us directly and immediately.



    Silence is primary, summoning presence to itself, so it is a connection to the realm of origin. The industrially-based technosphere of the machine has almost succeeded in banishing quietude, and the natural history of silence is needed for this endangered species. Modernity deafens; the noise, like modernity, must never retreat, and never does. For Pickard, nothing has changed human character so much as the loss of silence. Thoreau called silence “our inviolable asylum, an indispensable refuge that must be defended.” Silence is necessary against the mounting sound. It’s feared by manipulative mass culture, from which it remains apart, a means of resistance precisely because it does not belong to this world. Many things can still be heard against the background of silence, thus a way is opened, a way for autonomy and imagining.



    “Sense opens up in silence” wrote Jean-Luc Nancy. It is be approached and experienced bodily, inseparably from the world in the silent core of the self. It can highlight our embodiment, a qualitative step away from the Hallmark machines that work so resolutely to disembody us. Silence can be a great aid in unblocking ourselves from the prevailing addictive information sickness. It offers us the place to be present to ourselves, to come to grips with who we are, present to the real depth of the world, in an increasingly thin, flattened technoscape.



    The record of philosophy, vis a vis silence, is generally dismal. As good a gauge as any to its overall failure, Socrates judged silence to be a realm of nonsense, while Aristotle claimed that being silent caused flatulence. At the same time, however, Raoul Mortley could see “a growing dissatisfaction with the use of words, an enormous increase in the language of silence in classical Greece.” Much later, Pascal was terrified by the silence of the universe, and Hegel clearly felt that what could not be spoken was simply the untrue, that silence was a deficiency to be overcome. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche both emphasized the prerequisite value of solitude, diverging from anti-silence Hegel among others.



    In a commentary on Odysseus and the Sirens, from Homer’s Odyssey, by Horkheimer and Adorno, they depict the Sirens’ effort to sidetrack Odysseus from his journey as that of arrows trying to stay the forces of repressive civilization. Kafka felt that silence would have been a more irresistible means than singing. Phenomenology begins in silence, according to Herbert Spiegelberg. To put phenomena or objects first somehow, before ideational constructions, was its founding notion, or as Heidegger added, there is a thinking deeper and more rigorous than the conceptual, and part of this involves a primordial link between silence and understanding. Postmodernism, and Derrida in particular, deny the widespread awareness of the inadequacy of language, asserting that gaps of silence in discourse, for example, are barriers to meaning and power. In fact, Derrida strongly castigates the “violence of primitive and pre-logical silence”, denouncing silence as a nihilist enemy of thought. Such strenuous antipathy demonstrates Derrida’s deafness to presence and grace, and the threat silence poses to someone for whom the symbolic is everything.



    Wittgenstein understood that something pervades everything sayable, something which is itself unsayable. This is the sense of his well-known last line of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, “of that which one cannot speak, one should remain silent.” Can silence be considered an approach without reification in the here and now? I think it can be an open, strengthening way of knowing, a generative condition. Silence can also be a dimension of grief, fear, even of madness and suicide. In fact, it is quite difficult to reify silence, to freeze it into any one non-living thing. At times the reality we interrogate is mute, an index of the depth of the still-present silence, one who may be the question that best gives answers, silently and deeply.



    “Silence is so accurate”, said Mark Rothko, a line that has intrigued me for years. Too often we disrupt silence only to voice some detail that misses an overall sense of what we are a part of and how many ways there are to destroy it. In the Antarctica winter of 1933, Richard Berg recorded: “I took my daily walk at 4 p.m. I paused to listen to the silence. The day was dying, the night being born, but with great peace. Here were imponderable processes and forces of the cosmos, harmonious and soundless.” How much is revealed in silence through the depths and mysteries of living nature. Andy Dillard also provides a fine response to the din. “At a certain point, you say to the woods, to the sea, to the mountains, to the world, ‘Now I am ready. Now I will stop and be wholly attentive. You empty yourself and wait, listening.’” It is not only the natural world that is accessible via silence. Seuranne indicated the secrets in the silence of things, deciding that all objects have a language that we can decipher only in total silence.





    David Michael-Levins’ The Body’s Recollection of Being counsels us that to learn to think through the body, we should listen in silence to our bodily felt experience, and in the interpersonal sphere, silence is a result of empathy and being understood, without words much more profoundly than otherwise. Native Americans seem to have always placed great value on silence and direct experience, and in indigenous cultures in general, silence denotes respect and self-effacement. It is at the core of the vision quest, the solitary period of fasting and closeness to the earth, to discover one’s path and purpose. Inuit Norman Hallandy assigns more insight to the silent state of awareness, called “Inuinakaktu”, than to dreaming. Native healers very often stress silence as an aid to serenity and hope, while stillness is required for success in the hunt. These needs for attentiveness and quiet may well have been key sources of indigenous appreciation of silence. Silence reaches back to presence and original community, before the symbolic compromised both silence and presence. It predates what Levinas called “the unity of representation” that always works to silence the silence and replace it with the homelessness of symbolic structures.



    The Latin word for silence, Solare, “to say nothing”, is related to Sinere, “to allow to be in a place”. We are drawn to those places where language falls most often and most crucially silent. The later Heidegger appreciated the realm of silence, as did Holderlin, one of Heidegger’s important reference points, especially in his late hymns. The insatiable longing that Holderlin expressed so powerfully related not only to an original silent wholeness but also to his growing comprehension that language must always admit its origin in loss. A century and a half later, Samuel Beckett made use of silence as an alternative to language. In Krapp’s Last Tape and elsewhere, the idea that all language is an excess of language is strongly on offer. Beckett complains that “in the forest of symbols, there is never quiet” and longs to break through the veil of language to silence. Northrop Fry found the purpose of Beckett’s work “to lie in nothing other than the restoration of silence.” Our most embodied, alive to this earth selves realize best the limits of language, and indeed, the failure of the project of representation. In this state it is easiest to understand the exhaustion of language and the fact that we are always at word’s length from immediacy.



    Kafka commented on this in The Penal Colony, where the printing press doubled as an instrument of torture. For Thoreau, “as the true society approaches always nearer to solitude, so the most excellent speech finally falls into silence.” Conversely, mass society banishes the chance of autonomy, just as it forecloses on silence. Holderlin imagined that silence draws us into time, but it is silence that holds out against it. Time increases in silence. It appears not to flow, but to abide. Various temporalities seem close to losing their barriers; past, present, future less divided. But silence is a variable fabric, not a uniformity or an abstraction. Its quality is never far from its context, just as it is the field of the non-mediated. Unlike time, which has for so long been a measure of estrangement, silence cannot be spacialized or converted into a medium of exchange. This is why it can be a refuge from time’s incessancy. Gurdemans, near the opening of Wagner’s “Parsifal” sings, “Here time becomes space.” Silence avoids this primary dynamic of domination.



    So here we are with the machine engulfing us in its various assaults on silence and so much else, and intruding deeply. The note North Americans spontaneously hum our sing is “be natural”, which is a corresponding tone of our 60 cycles per second alternating current of electricity. In Europe, G sharp is naturally sung, matching that continent’s 50 cycles per second AC of electricity. In the globalizing, homogenizing noise-zone, we may soon be further harmonized. Piko Eyre refers to “my growing sense of a world that’s singing the same song in a hundred accents all at once.” We need a refusal of the roar of standardization, its information, noise, and harried surface “communication modes”, a no the unrelenting, colonizing penetrability of non-silence, pushing into every non-place. The rising racket measures by decibel upticks and its polluting reach the degrading mass-world, Don DeLillo’s “white noise”. Silence is a rebuke to all this, and a zone for reconstituting ourselves. It gathers in nature, and can help us gather ourselves for the battles that will end debasement. Silence is a powerful tool of resistance, the unheard note that might precede insurrection. It was, for example, what slave-masters feared most. In various Asian spiritual traditions, the Muni vowed to silence as the person of greatest capacity and independence, the one that does not need a master for enlightenment. The deepest passions are nurtured in silent ways and depths. How else is respect for the dead most signally expressed, intense love best transmuted, our profoundest thoughts and visions experienced, the unspoiled world most directly savored? In this grief-stricken world, according to Max Horkheimer, we become more innocent through grief, and perhaps more open to silence, as comfort, ally, and stronghold.

    --

    D

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  •  02-02-2008, 12:32 PM 38157 in reply to 38052

    Re: Silence


    hey d .. thx for sharing this piece on silence .. some wonderful thoughts like that the mind and spirit need its sustenance

    and that the unsilent present has lessened capacity for deeply felt experiences .. that silence presents objects to us directly and immediately .. that it is a summoning presence to itself

    and the awe of the great silence of the universe .. and the alternation of the seasons is the rhythm of silence .. and that at night silence descends over the planet

    that it is to be aproached and experienced bodily inseparably from the world in the silent core of the self

    how much is revealed in silence thru the depths and mysteries of living nature .. u empty yourself and wait .. listening ..

    its how intense love is best transmuted

    (and my favorite part of this piece) "silence is so accurate" said mark rothko

     

     

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  •  02-08-2008, 9:06 AM 38675 in reply to 38157

    Re: Silence

     

    i recall reb zalman saying: shhhhhhhhhhh doesn't mean be quiet, it means listen

     

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  •  02-09-2008, 2:57 PM 38795 in reply to 38052

    Re: Silence

    Thanks for the reminder.

    From my notebook April 28, 2000

    An npr story on William Segal (Jan. 5, 1999, remarkable interview available at http://www.math.buffalo.edu/~sww/0Gurdjieff/gurdjieff-links.html at Mr. William Segal), paraphrased:   

      

    Within the quiet, in the interval, is a vibration of energy that can give your life energy.

    attention to the details of your life: cold of air, warmth of drink, fragrance of flower, sight of leaves…

    gives a beneficent sympathetic touch, and magnanimous life impulse to you.

    And silence is the now between musical notes 

    I would add, if  spiritual masters are musical notes what is the interval?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

     

    Another quote by Thoreau:

    “Methinks, my present experience is nothing, my past experience is all in all. I think no experience today comes up to or is comparable with the experiences on my boyhood… In my youth I can remember I was all alive and inhabited my body with inexpressible satisfaction… this earth was the most glorious musical instrument, and I was audience to its strains. There comes into my mind such an indescribable, infinite, all-absorbing, divine, heavenly pleasure, a sense of elevation and expansion. I perceive that I am dealt with by superior powers.” (July 16, 1851 Journal, 34 years old)

     

     

     

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