The World of Silence

Man Between Silence and Speech

   In the moment before man speaks, language still
hovers over the silence it has just left; it hovers be-
tween silence and speech. The word is till uncertain
where to turn: whether to return wholly into the silence
and vanish therein or whether to make a clear break with
silence by becoming a sound. Human freedom decides
whither the word shall go.
   As opposed to the word that is in silence, the spoken
word is not merely communication with another person.
It is qualitatively different from the word that is in silence.
By becoming sound a word is not merely drawn out of the
silence and communicated to others, but rather set off
against the other words that are still in the silence. The
spoken word isolates an idea more than it is isolated in the
silence, for in the moment in which it is spoken aloud it
stands apart and receives a special value of its own. An
idea that is in the silence may very well be clearly marked
off from all other ideas, but the decision as to which idea 
or ideas shall receive special prominence and value has
not yet been made. While the words are still enclosed in
silence, man has not yet taken the risk of a firm decision.
Not until the word is spoken or written does man identify
himself absolutely with the word.

   The word that is in the silence dwells in a world that
transcends the world of sight—that is the world of silence.
The gleam of transparency that the word has comes from
the gleam of that invisible world, the gleam that descends
on the word when it is still enclosed in human silence.

   Silence calls forth sadness in man, for it reminds him
of that state in which the fall caused by the word
had not yet taken place. Silence makes man yearn for that
state before the fall of man, and at the same time it makes
him anxious, for in the silence it is as though any moment
the word may suddenly appear and with the word the
first fall into sin take place again. That is why men regard
the poet as presumptuous because he, the poet, whose
only material is language, does not seem to bother about
the fact that man fell from the word into sin. But man
also feels himself drawn to the poet because the word is
still in its original state in poetry, like the very first word
that made him man; and this makes him happy.

   When man is silent he finds himself, not subjectively 
but phenomenologically, in the state that preceded the
creation of language. That is to say, when a man is silent
he is like man awaiting the creation of language for the first
time. It is true that in the silence man has the word, but
the word is almost on the point of vanishing. In the 
silence man is as it were ready to give the word back to
the Creator from whom he first received it. Therefore
there is something holy in almost every silence.
   In silence man is as one who is on the point of returning
the word to whence it came. But in the next moment, the
moment in which he speaks, he is as one who has just
received the word from the silence. In the silence man
almost ceases to be man but he comes back again with the
speaking of the first word. If one considers closely a man
who begins to speak after a long silence, it is as though
before one's eyes he had just been created man
through the word, re-confirmed as man by the word.
   Out of the silence, again and again, as though by a
creative act, comes the word, the absolutely other. This
creative act thereby becomes embodied in the basic
structure of man.
   Creativeness is so much part of man that we cannot
regard it as something exceptional and peculiar in man,
but rather as the normal characteristic that makes man
man in the first place, like speech. Creativeness is just as
much part of the basic human structure as speech.
   If, however, speech loses its connection with silence,
then in the place formerly occupied by silence there is
only the emptiness of the abyss. Language disappears
into this emptiness as formerly into silence. Words are
absorbed by the emptiness, and a monstrous fear arises
in man that he may cease to be man when the last word
has vanished into the emptiness of the abyss.

   Here, therefore, in the silence man lives between his
destruction (since silence can be the beginning of the
absolute loss of the word) and his resurrection.
   This is the central place of Faith: in the silence it is as
though man were ready to surrender the word through
which he became man, and returns it to God from whom
he received it, believing that he will receive it back again.
   Here in this central place, Pascal destroyed himself
 before he rose again as the Pascal of the Mémorial and the
Pensées. After the destruction, he was like a man receiving
the word for the first time.
   He could speak only in fragments; every sentence in
the Mémorial and the Pensées is like the first sentence ever.
   It is as though he wanted always to begin where he
himself was begun, as though he wanted to repeat again
and again and never to leave that unique event through
which he received the word as for the first time and
through which he rose again from the death of the spirit.
These fragments are no mere fragments but the sum total
of the resurrection of man.