The Nature of Silence
Silence is nothing merely negative; it is not the
mere absence of speech. It is a positive, a complete
world in itself.
Silence has greatness simply because it is. It is, and
that is its greatness, its pure existence.
There is no beginning to silence and no end: it seems
to have its origins in the time when everything was still
pure Being. It is like uncreated, everlasting Being.
When silence is present, it is as though nothing but
silence had ever existed.
Where silence is, man is observed by silence. Silence
looks at man more than man looks at silence. Man does
not put silence to the test; silence puts man to the test.
One cannot imagine a world in which there is nothing
but language and speech, but one can imagine a world
where there is nothing but silence.
Silence contains everything within itself. It is not
waiting for anything; it is always wholly present in
itself and it completely fills out the space in which it
It does not develop or increase in time, but time in-
creases in silence. It is as though time had been sown into
silence, as though silence had absorbed it; as though
silence were the soil in which time grows to fullness.
Silence is not visible, and yet its existence is clearly
apparent. It extends to the farthest distances, yet it is so
close to us that we can feel it as concretely as we feel our
own bodies. It is intangible, yet we can feel it as directly
as we feel materials and fabrics. It cannot be defined in
words, yet it is quite definite and unmistakable.
In no other phenomenon are distance and nearness,
range and immediacy, the all embracing and the particular,
so united as they are in silence.
Silence is the only phenomenon today that is 'useless'.
It does not fit into the world of profit and utility; it simply
is. It seems to have no other purpose; it cannot be ex-
All the other great phenomena have been appropriated
by the world of profit and utility. Even the space between
heaven and earth has become a mere cavity for aeroplanes
to travel through. Water and fire have been absorbed
by the world of profit; they are only noticed in so far as
they are parts of this world: they have lost their indepen-
Silence, however, stands outside the world of profit and
utility; it cannot be exploited for profit; you cannot get
anything out of it. It is 'unproductive'. Therefore it is
regarded as valueless.
Yet there is more help and healing in silence than in all
the 'useful things'. Purposeless, unexploitable silence
suddenly appears at the side of the all-too-purposeful, and
frightens us by its very purposelessness. It interferes with
the regular flow of the purposeful. It strengthens the
untouchable, it lessens the damage inflicted by exploita-
ion. It makes things whole again, by taking them back
from the world of dissipation into the world of wholeness.
It gives things something of its own holy uselessness, for
that is what silence itself is: holy uselessness.
Above all things, it is necessary that one should leave
untouched the virgin soil, divinely built according to
pure law. (Hölderlin)
Here in silence is the Holy Wilderness, because the
wilderness and the building of God are one. There is no
movement here to be regulated by the law: existence and
activity are one in silence. It is as though the whole orbit
of a star were to be suddenly concentrated into a single
light: that is the unity of existence and activity concen-
trated in silence.
Silence gives to things inside something of the power
of its own autonomous being. The autonomous being in
things is strengthened in silence. That which is develop-
able and exploitable in things vanishes when they are in
Through this power of autonomous being, silence
points to a state where only being is valid: the state of the
Divine. The mark of the Divine in things is preserved by
their connection with the world of silence.