Max Picard




Silence as the Origin of Speech

                                       1   
    Speech came out of silence, out of the fullness of
silence. The fullness of silence would have exploded
if it had not been able to flow out into speech.
   The speech the comes out of silence is as it were justi-
fied by the silence that precedes it. It is the spirit that
legitimizes speech, but the silence that precedes speech is
the pregnant mother who is delivered of speech by the
creative activity of the spirit. The sign of this creative
activity of the spirit is the silence that precedes speech.
    Whenever a man begins to speak, the word comes from
silence at each new beginning.
    It comes so self-evidently and so unobtrusively as if
it were merely the reverse of silence, merely silence turned
around. Speech is in fact the reverse of silence, just as
silence is the reverse of speech.
    There is something silent in every word, as an abiding 
token of the origin of speech. And in every silence there
is something of the spoken word, as an abiding token of
the power of silence to create speech.
    Speech is therefore essentially related to silence.
    Not until one man speaks to another, does he learn that
speech no longer belongs to silence but to man. He learns
it through the Thou of the other person, for through the
Thou the word first belongs to man and no longer to
silence. When two people are conversing with one
another, however, a third is always present: Silence is
listening. That is what gives breadth to a conversation:
when the words are not moving merely within the narrow
space occupied by the two speakers, but come from afar,
from the place where silence is listening. That gives the
words a new fullness. But not only that: the words are
spoken as it were from the silence, from that third person,
and the listener receives more than the speaker alone is
able to give. Silence is the third speaker in such a conver-
sation. At the end of the Platonic dialogues it is always as
though silence itself were speaking. The persons who
were speaking seem to have become listeners to silence.

                                       2
    At the beginning of creation, we are told, God Himself
spoke with man. It was as though man still did not really
dare to speak the word, did not yet dare to possess the
word; as though God, by speaking with man, wanted to 
get man into the habit of using words.

            When we recall the beauty, the might and the manifold-
            ness of language, ranging over the whole earth, there
            seems something almost superhuman in it, something
            that does not seem to have had its origin in man, some-
            thing the perfection of which man has in fact corrupted
            and destroyed. (Jakob Grimm) 
 
    The origin of language is impenetrable, like that of
every creature, because it came from the perfect love of
the Creator. Only if man were to live constantly in perfect
love, could he learn the origin of language and of all
creatures.
            

                                       3
    The clearly defined and wholly immediate word arises
from the indefinite, far-ranging prehistoric realm of 
silence.
    Silence reveals itself in a thousand inexpressible forms:
in the quiet of dawn, in the noiseless aspiration of trees
towards the sky, in the stealthy descent of night, in the 
silent changing of the seasons, in the falling moonlight,
trickling down into the night like a rain of silence, but
above all in the silence of the inward soul,—all these
forms of silence are nameless: all the clearer and surer is
the word that arises out of and in contrast to the nameless
silence.
   There is no greater natural world than the natural
world of silence; no greaterworld of spirit than the lin-
guistic world of spirit formed by the natural world of
silence.
    Silence is a world in itself, and from this world of
silence speech learns to form itself into a world: the world
of silence and the world of speech confront each other.
Speech is therefore opposed to silence, but not as an
enemy: it is only the other side, the reverse of silence.
One can hear silence sounding through speech. Real
speech is in fact nothing but the resonance of silence.

                                       4
    The sound of music is not, like the sound of words,
opposed, but rather parallel to silence.
    It is as though the sounds of music were being driven
over the surface of silence.
    Music is silence, which in dreaming begins to sound.
    Silence is never more audible than when the last sound
of music has died away.
    Music is far-ranging, and could occupy the whole of
space. This does not in fact happen, for music occupies
space very slowly, shyly, rhythmically, always returning
to the same basic melodies so that it might seem that the
sounds of music never moved away at all, that music were
everywhere and yet always in a definite limited place. In
music the distance and the nearness of space, the limitless
and the limited are all together in one gentle unity that is
a comfort and a benefaction to the soul. For however far
the soul may range in music it is everywhere protected and
brought home safely again. That is also why music
has such a calming effect on nervous people: it brings
a wideness to the soul in which the soul can be without
fear.

                                       5
    Language is a world, not a mere appendage to another
world. It has a fullness that goes out beyond the limits of
the expedient: there is more in language than would be
necessary for mere understanding and information.

    It is true that language belongs to man, but it also
belongs to itself. There is more pain and joy and sadness
in it than man can get out of it for himself. It is as though,
independently of man, language keeps back enough pain,
sadness, joy, and jubilation for itself.
    Language sometimes creates poetry of its own accord
and as it were all for itself.

                                       6
    Silence can exist without speech, but speech cannot
exist without silence. The word would be without depth
if the background of silence were missing. Nevertheless
silence is not more than speech; on the contrary, silence
on its own, the world of silence without speech, is the
world before creation, the world of unfinished creation, a
world of menace and danger to man. Not until speech
comes out of silence does silence come out of pre-creation
into creation, out of the prehistoric into the history of
man, into close relationship with man, becoming part of
man and a lawful part of speech. But speech is more than 
silence, because truth is first expressed concretely by
speech, not by silence.
    It is through speech that man first becomes man:

Man reveals himself as the being that speaks. (Heidegger) 

    Silence is fulfilled only when speech comes forth from
silence. Speech gives it meaning and honor. Through
speech silence, that wild, prehuman monster, is trans-
formed into something tame and human.

    The outward face of speech is thus: it is like solid
blocks of lava erupted from the surface of silence, lying
scattered about and connected one with another by the
surface of silence.
    And as the mass of the sea is greater than the mass of
the land, so that of silence is greater than that of speech.
But just as the mainland has more being than the sea, so
speech is more powerful than silence; it has a greater
intensity of being.
   
                                       7
    Silence is woven into the very texture of human nature,
but it is only the basis on which the higher appears.
    In the human mind silence is merely knowledge of the
Deus absconditus, the hidden god.
    In the human spirit silence is merely the silent harmony
with things and the audible harmony of music.
    In the human body silence is the fount of beauty.
   But as beauty is more than the physical body, and music
more than the inaudible ground of the spirit, and the
revealed God more than the Deus Absconditus, so speech
is more than silence.

                                       8
    Of his own accord, man would never have been able to
create speech out of silence. Speech is so completely
different from silence that man himself would never have
been able to make the leap from silence to speech.
    The fact that two contrary phenomena like silence and
speech are so closely allied as to seem to belong together,
could never have been achieved by man, but only by an
act of God Himself. The contiguity of silence and speech is
a sign of that Divine state in which they are perfectly united.

    It was inevitable that speech should come out of silence.
For since Christ the Divine Word came down to men from
God, the "still small voice", the way of the transformation
of silence into speech was traced out for all time. The
Word that appeared two thousand years ago was on the
way to man from the beginning of time, and therefore
from the very beginning there was a breach between
silence and speech. The event of two thousand years ago
was so miraculous that all silence from time immemorial
was torn open by speech. Silence trembled in advance of 
the event and broke in two.