The World of Silence

Silence and the Human Face

   The human face is the ultimate frontier between
silence and speech. It is the wall from which language
   Silence is like one of the organs of the human face.
Not only the eyes and mouth and brow are in the human
face, but silence is there as well. It is everywhere in the
face; it is the foundation of every part.
   The cheeks are the walls that cover up the word from
the sides. But the violent motion of the lines of the nose
shows that what is held together between the surfaces of
the cheeks wants to get outside.
   From the vault of the brow silence does not strive out-
ward; it trickles inwardly like dew.
   From the two openings of the eyes comes light instead 
of language, light that brings brightness into the gathering
of silence in the face. If it were not so, the silence would
be dark.
   When the mouth speaks it is as if not the mouth itself
but the silence behind it were pressing it into speech. The
silence is so full that it would drive the face upwards if it
could not relax and release itself in language. It is as
though silence itself were whispering words to the mouth.
Silence listens to itself when the mouth is speaking.
   In silence the lines of the mouth are like the closed
wings of a butterfly. When the word starts moving, the
wings open and the butterfly flies away.

   This extraordinary act of the creation of speech from
silence occurs unnoticed and undramatically in the face.
Therefore there is a calm in the face. All its movements
are calm, for nothing can be important any longer now
that the greatest event, the creation of the word, proceeds
so calmly. It is very mysterious that silence is not dimin-
ished by the word that comes from silence, but that its
density is increased thereby and that the word itself is
increased by the greater density of the silence.
   The power of silence was once so great in the human
face that all external happenings were absorbed by this
silence. The resources of the world were thereby as it
were unspent and unexhausted.

   If man had no language he would be nothing but an
image and a symbol and identical with his own image, like
the animal that is exactly as it looks. The animal's appear-
ance is its nature, its image is its word. If man had no
language then he and the creatures of the earth would be
only images and symbols. The earth would be full of
memorials; God, would have set up creation only as
were a memorial to Himself.
   But man has language, and he is thereby more than an
image and a memorial. He is master of his own image,
for through the word he decides whether he will or will
not accept what appears of his nature in the image, the
outward appearance and form that he presents to the
world, as himself. Through the word he is free to raise
himself above his own image and external appearance, to
become more than his image.
   Man can be what he looks like but he does not need to:
he can decide through language whether he wants to rise
above the image of his face.

          When Zopyrus, who boasted that he could tell a man's
          character from his appearance, met Socrates and forecast
          the presence in Socrates of many vices, he was laughed
          to scorn—by all except Socrates himself. Socrates agreed
          with him: he, Socrates, had come into the world with
          those vices, but he had rid himself of them with the aid of
          reason. (Cicero)

Therein is the dignity of the human face: that it is where
man decides whether he will accept what is expressed
merely in the silent image of the face. Through this
decision man is raised out of the merely natural flow of
creation, and creates himself anew through the power of
mind and spirit. Man does not need to be dependent on
his external appearance: the word remains the final judge
and master.
   Man is determined more by language than by anything
else. He is more related with language than with his
physical body and the physical order of nature. The
solitude around the human body is there because man has
been lifted high above all the other physical phenomena
of nature. Language watches over him and he belongs to
language. But the transparency of the human figure
comes from the relationship of man to language: the spirit
that is in language makes the human figure transparent,
loosens it so that the human form stands there as if it were
not bound to the material body at all.

   When man ceases to rise through language above what
he seems to be—that is, above his purely external
appearance, this external body is then separated from
the word and becomes pure nature—but fallen, evil
   Perhaps man has broken out into the great barbarism of
our time because having become now a purely animal
nature after losing the order that is established by the
spirit in language, he is trying to establish a connection
between himself and the animal order.
   Having fallen from the word, human nature is also no
longer able to establish a connection between itself and
the order of extra-human nature. It lies in an abyss be-
tween the word that is no longer present with it and the
rest of nature with which it cannot establish a connection.
Malignantly it lies between nature and the word. In the
place of the word it has mere shouting and emptiness in
the place of silence. "Man can preserve his human form
only so long as he believes in God."(Dostoevsky)

   The human form in itself, without the word, the silent
human form, is like a mere external phenomenon; that is
to say. it is as though it appears in one moment only to
vanish in the next. Animals appear like that, too: like a
picture in a dream belonging more to the evanescent dream
than to stable reality. Animals seem to have dropped out
of a human dream. Man is always a little frightened at
things that have fallen out of his own dreams and then stand
staring at him as if they were completely foreign to him.
   Animals have a violent actuality. Nothing makes its
actual presence felt so violently as an animal, and yet it
is merely the actuality of a passing moment. It is the
same actuality of the moment which is the quality of
images in dreams. (The snake has not even this actuality
of the moment. It is as it were always slithering through
holes, like a trickling stream between two holes, which is
what makes it so sinister in contrast to other animals and
in contrast to man. Birds, on the other hand, are not lack-
ing in actuality. They fly quickly past, it is true, but the
way of their flight is like an arch that returns again and
again to its beginning.)
   It is only through language that man becomes more than
a mere physical phenomenon and breaks through the
limitations of his own body. Through language he
becomes firmly established: not a fleeting, transient
animal, but a firm, enduring reality, held fast by language.
The word takes man out of the state of pure momentary
actuality of the animal into the state of the moment that
endures. The word that is truth creates an enduring
reality, and an enduring support not only for what it
holds fast itself but for things outside itself as well.

   The momentary actuality of the animal and the endur-
ing reality of man are such absolutely different qualities
that man could never have come straight out of animal in
to human nature. A special act was necessary: the act
of truth through the word—for man to receive his unique-
ly human nature.
   When man loses the word in which lie truth and the
power to create the enduring reality of human nature, he
becomes animal-like, transient and fluid, and this pro-
duces more transience and fluidity. Man simply swims
aimlessly about in an enormous, swiftly scurrying fluid,
trying to move faster than the fluid.

   The man who no longer rises, with the word, through
the decision of the spirit, above the limitations of his own
body, is identical with his appearance and his hand-
writing.  One can tell the character of such a man from
his face and his handwriting and from his psychological
reactions. But the man who is known in this way is not
the real man but the man whose stature has been dimin-
ished by the separation from the real word. Physiognomy,
graphology and psychology are reliable in their findings
only in so far as they apply to this diminished man. By
claiming to be anthropology they in fact give a kind of
scientific standing to this reduced state of man. This
anthropology has the dark, subterranean quality that is
common to everything concerned with man reduced to
the level of the animal.
   It is not only the fault of the phsyiognomist, the graph-
ologist, and the psychologist, that man is judged and
measured in this way. It is predominately his own fault
for not rising above the state of pure factuality in which
he finds himself placed. The face of such men lacks the
invisible center to which the several parts move and from
which they are ordered. Instead they stand incoherently
in an already divided face, provoking the observer to
divide it still further. It lies all uncovered and exposed,
inviting examination. What is lacking above all in such
a face is the silence which demands silence from and in
fact creates silence in the observer.
   In such a face the experiences it has undergone are all
too deeply engraven, all too clearly evident, and all too
obtrusive and important. There is no breadth of silence
to balance out and absorb the lines that mark the face.
   The fact that the deep lines etched by experience vanish
in the silence points to the important revelation that there
is another world beyond personal experience, where the
subjective is not important: the world of the objective.
   If there is no silence in the face, then the word is no
longer covered by the silence, before it comes out of the 
mouth: all words are openly present in the face. And
even when words are not actually being spoken there is no
longer a true silence: it only means that the word-machine
is taking a rest. Even when the mouth is closed, noises
rush out not only from the mouth but from every part of
the face. The whole face is nothing but a race between
the various parts to see which can shout the loudest.

   The landscape and the countryside influence the human
body and the human face, but the silent power of the
landscape needs the silence in the human face if it is to
exert its influence. Landscape can shape the human face
if it is to exert its influence. Landscape can shape the
human face only through the medium of silence. The
powers of the landscape are far-reaching and they need
a wide approach-the wide approach of silence, through
which they can travel into the human face and shape it
   The silent landscape becomes a speaking silence in the
human face. The mountain dweller has the image of the
mountains firmly etched in his face. Towering rocks are
the bones in such a face. Passes, hiding places, and
mountain peaks are present in such a face, and the
brightness of the eyes over the cheeks is like the brightness
of the sky over the dark enfolded mountains.
   Tokens of the sea are likewise clearly imaged in the
faces of those who live by the sea. The raised parts of the 
face-the nose, mouth, and projections-are like frozen
ships on the wide sea of the face.

          The swiftly gliding ship came near to the shore. Then
          Poseidon came near, struck it with the palm of his hand
          and behold: suddenly turned to stone, it lay firmly rooted
          on the ground of the sea. (Homer)

   The eyes seem to gaze from the distance out over the
frozen ships of their own face. Sometimes when the sea
outside is calm as though its very depths are slumbering,
sometimes the frozen ships attempt to move. —But
suddenly two heavy ships travel outside over the real sea,
and the ships of the face are frozen again as they were
   The landscape has its own monument in the human
face, and the human face seems to hover over its own
landscape, raising itself above and beyond itself, saved
from itself. The subjective is no longer accentuated and
the objective in the human face becomes clearly visible.
This is a sign that the human face does not belong only
to itself.
   It does not mean, however, that subjectivity is destroyed
when the human face participates in the objective. The
subjective is simply put in its proper place, like the signa-
ture of the painter in a medieval picture: a monogram
consisting of the initials of the master's christian and
surname half hidden in a corner of the picture.
   If there is no silence in the face, the face then becomes
in the true sense of the word urbanized, uprooted from
the countryside, literally self-possessed, just as a city is
more self-possessed, more wrapped up in itself than in
the countryside.
   The landscape cannot appear in such a face, but man
may sometime still have a "relationship" with the
countryside, may still have an inward understanding of it.
Such a face is then empty of landscape but too much filled 
instead with "inwardness". Or rather, there is no silence
and no landscape there to cover and protect the "inward-

          Today there are no sea and no mountains in the face. The
          face no longer welcomes them, it thrusts them out. There
          is no place for them in the face. Everything is so pointed,
          that it seems as if the outside world has been shaken off,
          pushed away by this sharp pointedness in the face. The
          trees have been sawed down in the face, the mountains 
          shoveled away and the sea drained off—and the great
          city has built itself into the emptiness of the face.
          (The Human Face, Picard)