Animals and Silence
The nature of man is more apparent in language
than in his external appearance. "Speak, that I may
see thee!" said Socrates.
The nature of animals, on the other hand, is expressed
completely in their appearance. An animal is exactly as
it looks; it must be so. Man can be as he looks but he need
not be, for he can rise above his outward appearance
through the gift of language: he can be more than is
outwardly apparent. Man becomes apparent in language,
animals in the silence of their physical appearance.
This is the perfection of animals—that there is no
discrepancy in them, as there is in man, between being and
appearance, inward and outward nature. This perfect cor-
respondence is what constitutes the innocence of animals.
"So much time was spent on the inward nature of man that
his 'surface' (appearance) had to be endowed more spar-
ingly", said Goethe. The very colorful surface of some
animals seems like an attempt to break through the silence by
means of violent color. The silence that could not give
rise to language changed itself into the very violent color.
If it is so, as Plato says, that animals arose from man
(Timaeus) so that he, man, might arise—if it is so, then
with the animal in man the dense silence of nature was
also expelled from man so that the word might have room
to be the word.
But animals remain near to man, and with them the
dense silence that is in them.
In earlier times animals were more important to man
than they are today. The silence of animals made human
speech and human movement heavier and slower. Animals
carry silence around with them on behalf of man. They
carry not only the burden of things on their backs but also
the burden of silence.
Animals are creatures that lead silence through the
world of man and language and are always putting silence
down in front of man. Many things that human words
have upset are set at rest again by the silence of animals.
Animals move through the world of words like a caravan
Animals are images of silence. They are animal
images of silence more than they are animals. As the
starry images scan the silence of heaven, so the animal
images of earth scan the silence of the earth.
A whole world, that of nature and that of animals, is
filled with silence. Nature and animals seem like protu-
berances of silence. The silence of animals and the silence
of nature would not be so great and noble if it were merely
a failure of language to materialize. Silence has been
entrusted to the animals and to nature as something
created for its own sake.
The silence of animals is different from the silence of
men. The silence of men is transparent and bright
because it confronts the word, releasing the word in every
moment and receiving it back into itself again. It is a
relaxed silence, touched by the word and touching the
The silence of men is like the night in northern lands
illuminated by the light of day.
Animals have a heavy silence. Like a block of stone.
Animals stride over the blocks of silence, trying to tear
themselves away but always chained to them.
Silence is isolated in animals; therefore they are lonely.
It is as though the silence in animals were materially
tangible. It makes its way right through the outside of
the animal, and animals are unredeemed not only because
they lack speech, but also because the silence itself is
unredeemed: it is a hard, coagulated silence.
It is true that the raven croaks, the dog barks, and the
lion roars. But animal voices are only chinks in the
silence. It is as though the animal were trying to tear open
the silence with the force of its body.
"A dog barks today exactly as it barked at the beginning
of Creation", said Jacob Grimm. That is why the barking
of dogs is so desperate, for it is the vain effort, since the
beginning of creation until the present day, to split the
silence open, and this attempt to break the silence of
creation is always a moving thing to man.
The voices of the birds are not desperate like the voices
of the other animals. Birds seem to throw the notes of
their songs like balls against the silence, as in a game;
they seem to catch their own notes again as they fall back
from the surface of silence.