The World of Silence

The Radio

This book was written in 1948. 
Needless to say, today it is seamless to substitute mass media for radio. 

   The noise of words today is not merely a small part
of the world, for a whole world, the world of radio,
is based upon it.
   Radio is a machine producing absolute verbal noise.
The content hardly matters any longer; the production
of noise is the main concern. It is as though words
were being ground down by radio, transformed into an
amorphous mass.
   There is no silence in radio or true words either, for
a situation has been created in which silence is no longer
missed and words are no longer missed either, in which
words are ground down to a mere radio-noise, in which
everything is present and at the same time nothing is 
   Radio has occupied the whole space of silence. There 
is no silence any longer. Even when the radio is turned
off the radio-noise still seems to go on inaudibly. Radio-
noise is so amorphous that it seems to have no beginning
and no end; it is limitless. And the type of man formed by
the constant influence of this noise is the same: formless,
undecided inwardly and externally, with no definite
limits and standards.
   There is no longer any space in which it is possible to
be silent, for space has all been occupied now in advance.
It is as if men were afraid that silence might break out
somewhere and destroy the noise of radio. And so all
space is filled with noise, it dares not be silent, it is con-
stantly on guard against silence.
   There is no more silence, only intervals between radio-
   Not only what exists already but also what will exist in
the future is occupied by radio in advance. Man is accom-
panied by the noise of the present into a future which
is also noise and which is therefore already familiar to him
before it actually takes place. Both the present and the
future bore him because he already knows what is coming.
   In this world of radio-noise there is no present. What
the radio transmits is never directly present to man; the
object is never directly present. Everything on the radio
is constantly on the move, in a state of perpetual flux;
nothing is concretely fixed and stable. Past, present and
future are all mixed up together in one long drawn-out noise.
   Therefore the noise of radio destroys man. Man who
should confront objects concretely is deprived of the power
of present concrete experience.
   This is what makes the man who lives in this world of
radio so bad-tempered, so ill at ease: everything is thrown
at him by the radio but nothing is really there at all.
Everything slips away from him.
   Past, present and future are all mixed up together in
this world. Everything that might happen in the future
is already contained in the mixture, and that is what makes
the man who lives in this world of radio so hopeless.

   This never-ending noise of radio that is always the
same and taken for granted everywhere, comes to impress
man by its very continuity and matter-of-course-ness as
something natural, like the never-ending murmuring of
water and the wind—just as natural and inevitable as that.
The opposite of the natural—this radio-noise—is able to
appear as natural as the sounds of nature herself! And
this "natural" noise that has arisen because of man's
spiritual defection constantly appeals to the merely
physical, to the merely instinctive and vitalistic in man.

   Radio is not like something made by man, it makes man.
It is not something that proceeds from man, it is something
that comes to man, surrounds him and covers him. Man
has become merely an appendage of the noise of radio.
Radio produces the noise and man imitates the motion of
the noise. It is his only life.
   Radio fills everything and produces everything—all
human feeling and wishing and knowing, and even man
himself as a person. Man is produced by the radio,
experiences himself through the radio for the first time.
Just as some people need another person or an occupation
to make sure that they still exist themselves, so many
people first become aware of themselves today through
the radio. But whereas it needs a personal action in order
to establish a relationship to another person or to an
occupation, radio is available all the time, even before a
man has decided that that is what he wants to make sure he
is alive. And it establishes the relationship, not the person.
   It seems as if man can establish a connection between
himself and the world only through the mediacy of radio.
   Everything comes to him through the radio. Anything
or any opinion you want to force on man you need only
get included in the general mixture of radio-noise and it
will be accepted, for everything can be insinuated into man
through the radio.

   Radio-noise is therefore the new reality, and only what
is contained in the noise, only what takes place through
the mediacy of radio, is of any worth. An event seems real
only when it is a part of the noise produced by radio, when
it comes out of it. A bomb explodes before you, a factory
collapses, and the event enters the retina of the eye but it
is hardly noticed in actual fact until it is taken up into the
universal noise of radio. Anything you see yourself by
yourself with your own eyes is suspect and does not
become a real event until you hear it as a part of the noise
coming from the radio set.
   This noise therefore falsifies the direct relationship
between the person and the object. Radio entirely
destroys the proper mode of knowledge and experience.
   What is this "proper mode of knowledge"? When we
are listening to someone or when we are reading, the act
of listening and reading seems to be an unrepeatable,
unique and living action. In such listening and reading,
truth presents itself as something unique and therefore
personal. But the knowledge thrown at us by the radio
is mechanically repeatable, the personal element is lacking
both in the act of communication and in the act of listen-
ing. Radio destroys the basic character of knowledge,
which should come from man and be for man. Statements
can be transmitted by radio, but a statement is not a
truth, for it is essential to truth not only that an object is
revealed but that the truth revealed in the object shall be
related to man.
   The truth that is brought to us by reading or by direct
personal encounter has an immediate personal reference:
the reader or the listener is called upon to reconstruct, as
her reads or listens, the intellectual process that the speaker
or the writer has already completed. By listening or
reading the direct relationship to the object is preserved
intact. It is this natural relationship that is lacking in the
radio.  The truth that is brought to us by reading or by direct
personal encounter has an immediate personal reference:
the reader or the listener is called upon to reconstruct, as
he reads or listens, the intellectual process that the speaker
or the writer has already completed. By listening or
reading the direct relationship to the object is preserved
intact. It is this natural relationship that is lacking in the
radio. The knowledge that the radio transmits seems to
have been completed once and for all; the listener is not
summoned to repeat the process; the facts are simply
squeezed into the person listening like so much material
into empty boxes. It is as though neither came from
nor were intended for human beings at all. The meaning
of knowledge is falsified by the radio.

   We have said that only what appears as part of the noise
of the radio is considered of having any value. But not
only are events seen in the guise in which they come
through the radio, but they are experienced like that from
the start, as if they were already the property of the radio,
even before they come through the radio. The inhuman
thing about all this is that events are often prepared for
radio presentation from the very start. Sometimes, for
example, events in war are not allowed to run as they
would, left to themselves, but are modified with a view
to their presentation through the radio. What takes place
is not what really is happening, but what is intended
shall happen, what can become noise on the radio. This
is what we may call the suspension of all reality.
   This is the reason modern war is so monstrous: its
terrible reality is not seen in itself, but only as a part of the
noise of radio. It does not stand concretely before the
human mind in itself and therefore it is not properly
controlled. Perhaps war is becoming more and more
violent and terrible today because it wants to be seen as
what it really is, to be seen quite clearly as the terrible
thing it really is and not as a mere part of the noise of the
   In times in which the power of silence was still effective,
war was heard from the background of silence, and against
this background it became absolutely clear. There was
still an elemental simplicity in its terrors, and its noise
subsided again in the death that it brought in its train. In
these earlier forms of war man simply suffered it in
silence. It was not an object for discussion, but an
elemental experience.
   Today war is not even a rebellion against silence; it is
merely the biggest whirl of noise in the general noisy
bustle of life. If war reports were not blaring out from
the radio every minute of the day the cannon fire and the
wails of the dying would be heard everywhere. In the
silence the wails of the dying would be heard and they
would weigh down even the sound of the guns. In the
silence the war would be heard so loud that it would be-
come intolerable. But the constant noise of the war reports
levels down the sound of guns and the cries of the
dying to the general and universal noise. War becomes a
part of the general noise of radio, adapted to it; and as a
result it is taken for granted like everything that appears
in the noise of the radio.
   It is as though the many and great deaths that take
place today were an attempt to restore a zone of silence.
When the noise-machine reaches a maximum as it does
today, then silence shows itself as a maximum of death.

   Radio is autonomous noise itself. It has occupied all
space: man has been pushed to the edge of space and he
can only worm his way through a few remaining gaps and
crevices in space.
   At six in the morning he is called to early morning
physical jerks, at 6:20 to a piece of music, at 7 to news
from all over the world, then again to music. At 8 he is
called to prayer. At half past eight he is surrounded by
recipes for housewives, at 9 by Bach and so on. The radio
machine does not seem to be in the least dependent on man
at all. It is as though it were just listening to itself all the
time. A pianforte piece by Chopin is answered by some
jazz and this in its turn by a talk about vitamins. Radio
seems to be engaged in a conversation with itself. Man
has been pushed on one side; he is simply a machine-
hand attending to the radio noise-machine.
   The whole world has become radio-noise. Anything
that is not usable on the radio is cast out, rejected. The
radio is so powerful that you can pass outside a house and
hear a Tchaikovsky symphony coming out of the window,
then go on a few steps and out of the window of the next
house the same music can still be heard. This same music
is present everywhere, wherever you go. It is omni-
present. It is as though you had not moved on at all, but
had been standing on the same spot, although in fact you
were moving all the time. The reality of movement is 
made unreal. The noise of radio seems to be independent
of space and time, and as much taken for granted as the 
air we breathe.

   Radio noise is penetrating everywhere, and all the time
it has the appearance of continuity. It gives its appearance
of continuity to man, and as a result man, who is in fact
lacking in continuity, does not realize that he is lacking in
continuity. His own inward discontinuity disappears
behind the constant flow of the radio—which is nothing
but the continuity of discontinuity. The difference be-
tween continuity and discontinuity has been removed,
just as all the differences and distinctions vanish in the noise
of radio.
   Through the continuity of radio-noise, therefore, man
is inspired with a false sense of security. He is led to
imagine that radio represents something continuous
and that he is himself continuous. A man goes to his
work: radio accompanies him, it surrounds him at his
work. He goes to sleep, and radio-noise is the last thing
in his consciousness before he sleeps. He wakes up, and
radio-noise is there again, as if it were something quite
independent of man altogether, something more real
than man himself, and the guarantee of his own contin-
uity. It is always around him, always available, the one
thing that seems always ready to care for him, to provide
for him.
   God, the eternally Continuous, has been deposed, and
continuous radio-noise has been installed in His place.
And the fact that although it is a discovery of man it
nevertheless seems to be independent of him, gives it an
appearance of twilight mysticism.
   It has been said that man need not necessarily become
discontinuous through the influence of radio, that he is
free after all to select the programs that suit him. I
remember a speaker in a debate on the death penalty in
the 1930's in Baden-Baden stating that he could not
understand why there was so much talk about the death
penalty, since it is not the moment in which death comes
which is painful but rather the fear of death, and the
delinquent was still free to be afraid or not to be afraid
as he wished. In just the same way we are free to select
from the radio program what would assure the contin-
uity of our inner life.
   In this pseudo-continuity man forgets that everything of
essential value is brought into being by a particular,
limited, creative act, and he completely loses touch with
the spontaneous element in life. This is the wicked thing
about radio. None of the elemental phenomena of life,
such as truth, loyalty, love, faith, can exist in this world of
radio-noise, for these elemental phenomena are direct,
clearly defined and clearly limited, original, firsthand
phenomena, while the world of radio is the world of the
circuitous, the involved, the indirect. In such a world the
elemental phenomena are ruined.

   Many people think that radio can educate man to
appreciate the true, the good, and the beautiful, but it
must be remembered that it is not the true word that man
meets here but the noise of words in which the good, the
true, and the beautiful only come to the surface to dis-
appear again. The content of the program is merely
something with which to fill in the noise. The good, the
true, and the beautiful are leveled down in the general
noise in which all real differences and distinctions are
   It is said that the peasant on a lonely, isolated farm is
enabled to take part in the wider life of the nation through
the radio. But this more general life into which the
peasant is taken up is not the organic life of the community
to which the individual can join his own concrete life and
enlarge it by so doing, but rather an abstraction from real
life in which the individual is diminished and dissolved.
   The solitude of the mountains is a concrete reality
within the peasant in a lonely mountain village. He is
identified with and he is the incarnation of the solitude of
nature. This concreteness, this image of the mountains in
the peasant, is destroyed by the radio, which makes the
peasant a leveled-down part of an abstraction that has
the appearance of representing something universal be-
cause it is vague. But it is only vaguely, not really,

   Man is no longer aware of the radio-noise all around
him. He does not hear the constant hum of the radio: it
has become a kind of noisy silence of which he hardly
takes any notice at all, however loud it may be all around
   This is a sign of the deepest possible contempt for
language, that this constant stream of words is allowed
to be turned on and no attention paid to it.
   Radio educates man not to listen to words, which means
not to listen to man speaking. And therefore it takes man
away from the Thou, and from Love.

   Man ought to be sad to think that he has lost contact
with the true word. But radio-noise fills up the space
within him where the word used to be, and man does not
notice that the word has been taken away from him. He 
does not notice it but it is noticed in him without his
knowledge, and that makes him restless and nervous.
   It seems to me that this is the cause of many modern
psychoses: an unlimited mass of words is thrown into us
through the radio, words that really demand an answer.
But there are too many words for an answer to be possible,
and no answer is even expected, for at every moment a
new mass of words is thrown out.
   The people who still know somehow or other that an
answer must be given to everything that is brought before
the human mind become confused. They feel that an
answer ought to be given, but there is no time and no
room in which it can be given, and out of this confusion
of mind a psychosis can very easily develop which may
show itself in all kinds of inhibitions. Such a psychosis
may serve as an escape from a world that has taken the
most essential thing in life from man: his power to
answer and to be responsible.

   Wireless sets are like constantly firing automatic
pistols shooting at silence.
   Behind all this noise the enemy lurks in hiding: silence.
   The noise of radio is becoming more and more violent,
because the fear is becoming more and more acute that it
may be suddenly attacked by silence and the real word.
   Sometimes, when above all the noise of radio one sees
the silence of the heavens above and in the silence the
all-absorbing Light, absorbing almost the walls of heaven,
then one holds one's breath half in fear and half in joy lest
in the very next moment the noise of the radio may be
absorbed by this light and disappear therein.