The World of Silence

The Silence in Speech

   Speech and silence belong together. To see
speech without silence is like seeing Shakespeare's
fools without the solidity of Shakespeare's heroes, or like
seeing the martyrdom of the saints in medieval pictures
without their transfiguration. Speech and silence, hero
and fool, martyrdom and transfiguration—all are a unity.
   Speech must remain in relationship with the silence
from which it raised itself up. It belongs to human nature
that speech should turn back to silence, for it belongs to
human nature to return to the place whence it has come.
   Human speech is determined not only by truth but also
by goodness: in goodness speech returns to its origins.
   It is important that speech remains in relationship with
silence through goodness, for it means that from the very
beginning goodness is part of the texture of every word,
that in the very structure of language there is an inclination
towards goodness. In the word that was related to the
greatest silence was the greatest goodness.
   Words that merely come from other words are hard and
aggressive. Such words are also lonely, and a great part
of the melancholy in the world today is due to the fact
that man has made words lonely by separating them from
silence. This repudiation of silence is a factor of human
guilt, and the melancholy in the world is the outward
expression of that guilt. Language is surrounded by the
dark rim of melancholy, no longer by the rim of silence.

   Silence is present in language, therefore, even after
language has arisen out of silence. The world of language
is built over and above the world of silence. Language can
only enjoy security as it moves about freely in words and
ideas in so far as the broad world of silence is stretched
out below. From the breadth of silence language learns to
achieve its own breadth. Silence is for language what the
net stretched out taut below him is for the tightrope walker.
   The mind, the infinite mind that is in language, needs
to have below it the infinity of silence so that it can build
its own arch of infinity over it. It is quite possible for the
mind to be infinite and immeasurable of its own accord.
But the silence underneath helps it to move freely in its
own infinity.
   Silence is the natural basis for the immeasurable infinity
of mind. It is the natural basis for the mind in any case:
that which is unutterable in the language of the mind
connects the mind with silence, makes it at home in the
world of silence.
   Language must remain in intimate relationship with
silence. The transparent, hovering way of silence makes
language itself transparent and hovering. It is like a 
bright cloud over silence, a bright cloud over the placid
lake of silence.
   Silence provides a natural source of re-creation for
language, a source of refreshment and purification from
the wickedness to which language itself has given rise.
In silence language holds its breath and fills its lungs with
pure and original air.
   Even when language remains the same, it is able to
appear as something original and new as it emerges from
silence. Truth, which is always expressed in the same
words, does not therefore become solidified.
   The spirit is also able to give to language refreshing
draughts of new life. There is a kind of refreshment that
comes from contact with natural silence, and another
kind that is produced by the spirit. Perfection is achieved
when the original power and freshness of the natural
silence and of the spirit meet and are combined in one per-
son, as in Dante and Goethe.

        Now thou has finished thine appointed task her below,
        stern Mind, and a gentle playful sun has streamed into
        the last evening storm on thy breast and filled the storm
        with roses and gold. The globe and all earthly things
        from which the fleeting worlds are formed were much too
        small and light for thee. For thou was searching for
        something higher than life behind life, not thine own self,
        no mortal or immortal being but the Eternal, the Alpha,
        the God—the appearance of the things of this world
        below, both the evil and the good, was so indifferent to
        thee. Now thou art resting in the real world of being,
        death has taken from thy dark heart the whole sultry
        cloud of life and the eternal Light stands uncovered, the
        Light thou hast sought so long: and thou, one of its rays,
        dwells once again in the fire.         (Jean Paul, Titan)

   These words of Jean Paul are like round balloons con-
trolled invisibly from below by silence. It is as though
everything said here aloud in words had already happened
in silence, for that is what gives the words their quality
of sure certainty, intimacy and sublimity. As if in a dream
the words imitate the movements that have already
happened in the silence.
   In Goethe language assumes a more self-conscious
attitude towards silence than in Jean Paul. It is the victory
of language over silence which is supremely important,
not in the sense of a boastful triumph but in the sense of 
the consciousness and pride of a man who knows that it is
language that has first made him a man and who therefore
shows pride in his use of words.

   Man lives between the world of silence from which he
comes and the world of the other silence to which he goes
—the world of death. Human language also lives between
these two worlds of silence and is upheld by them. That
is why language has a double echo: from the place whence
it came and from the place of death.
   Language receives innocence, simplicity, and originality
from the silence whence it came, but its short duration,
its fragility, and the fact that language never entirely
corresponds to the things it is describing, come from the
second silence, from death.
   The marks of both worlds are evident in the language 
of Jean Paul: the innocence and originality, and at the same
time the readiness to depart, and the fleeting transience
of language.

   In the modern world language is far from both worlds
of silence. It springs from noise and vanishes in noise.
Silence is today no longer an autonomous world of its
own; it is simply the place into which noise has not yet
penetrated. It is a mere interruption of the continuity of
noise, like a technical hitch in the noise-machine—that
is what silence is today: the momentary breakdown of
noise. We no longer have definite silence and definite
language, but simply words that are being spoken and
words that have not yet been spoken—but these are
present, too, standing around like tools that are not being
used; they stand waiting there menacingly or boringly.
   The other silence, the silence of death, is also absent in
language today, just as real death is absent in the modern
world. Death is no longer an autonomous world of its
own, but merely something negative: the extreme end of
what we call life: life emptied to the last dregs—that is
what death is today. Death itself has been killed. Death
today is far removed from that death of which the follow-
ing sentence was spoken:

    Man dies only once in his life, and as he lacks experience
    of the event he bungles it. So that he may die success-
    fully, he must learn how to die by following the instruct-
    ion of experienced men who know what it means to die
    in the midst of life. Asceticism gives us this experience
    of death.    (Florensky)

   When language is no longer related to silence it loses its
source of refreshment and renewal and therefore something
of its substance. Language today seems to talk automatic-
ally, out of its own strength, and, emptying and scattering
itself, it seems to be hastening to an end. There is some-
thing hard and obstinate in language today, as though it
were making a great effort to remain alive in spite of its
emptiness. There is also something desperate in it, as
though it were expecting its emptiness to lead it to a
relentless end, and it is this alteration of obstinacy and
despair which makes it so restless. By taking it away from
silence we have made language an orphan. The tongue
we speak today is no longer a mother-tongue but rather an
orphaned tongue. It sometimes seems as though man were
ashamed of the language he has separated from its parent:
man hardly feels he can dare to communicate his words
to another. He talks more to himself and into himself, as
though he wanted to crush, crumple, and destroy the
words he speaks and throw them like ruins down into the
emptiness of his own soul.
   It is only in the language of the poets that the real word,
the word connected with silence, still sometimes appears.
It is like a ghost, full of sadness that it is only a ghost and
must disappear again. Beauty is the dark cloud in which
such words appear only to disappear again.

   Language sinks down again into the silence. It can be
forgotten, There is an oblivion in language, it seems, so
that language should not be too violent. The supremacy
that language has over silence is thereby mitigated.
   The sinking of words into oblivion is as it were a sign
that things belong to us only temporarily and can be
called back to whence they came.
   When a word sinks into oblivion, it is forgotten, and
this forgetting prepares the way for forgiveness. That is a
sign that love is woven into the very structure of language:
words sink into the forgetfulness of man so that in forget-
ting he may also forgive.
   The disappearance and forgetting of a word also pre-
pares the way for death. Just as the word that makes us
human disappears, so man himself dies: death also is
woven into the very structure of language.
   Today it seems as though language had been robbed of
its forgetfulness: every word is present somewhere in the
general noise of words around us. In the general noise of
words everything emerges for a moment, only to disappear
again. Everything is there at the same time and yet not
there at all. There is no longer any present immediacy of
the word and therefore no forgetting. Forgetting is no
longer done by man directly but proceeds outside his
control in the general noise of words jostling one with
another. But that is not a forgetting at all, but merely a
disappearing. And so there is no forgiving either in the
world today; since now one can never get rid of a word or
a thing, it is always bound to turn up again somewhere.
And it is also a fact that one never really has a word or a
thing today—and that is why people are so nervous.

   We have said that language comes from silence and
returns to silence. It is as though behind silence were the
absolute word to which, through silence, human language
moves. It is as though the human word were sustained
by the absolute word. Because it is there, the human
word is not scattered as the dust. Man would have to be
constantly regaining the realm of language if it were not
secured from attack in the absolute word. All human
words seem to move around that word.
   Silence is like a remembrance of that word. The
different languages are like different attempts to find the
absolute word. It is as though words had agree to divide
themselves up into various languages, in order to attempt
the discovery of the absolute word from different direct-
ions. Languages seem to be like so many expeditions to
find the absolute word.

   If there were only one language, this language would be
in a much too triumphant position in regard to silence.
Language would seem too much like territory conquered
from silence, and silence too much subject to the will of
language. Man might become arrogant about this one
extraordinary conquest. In fact he did become arrogant
when all men had only one language:

      Behold, the people is one, and they all have one language;
      and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be
      restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.    (Gen. 2:6)

   As soon as there are many languages, however, lan-
guages are inter-related. No single one is exclusive; each
is merely one among many.
   The extraordinary thing is now no longer the existence
of a single language but that truth is mediated through 
many languages. There is now a new unity of languages
based on the fact that the one truth is expressed through 
all languages.