The World of Silence

The Remains of Silence

   It is as though the last residuum of silence were
to be destroyed; as though an order had been made for a
census of the residue of silence in every person and in every
house, and for that residue to be exterminated, as an enemy.
   Airplanes scour the sky for the silence encamped
behind the clouds. The propeller beats are like so many
blows against the silence.
   The great cities are like enormous reservoirs of noise.
Noise is manufactured in the city, just as goods are
manufactured. The city is the place where it is always 
kept in stock, completely detached from the object from
which it came. It broods over the city and falls down on
men and things.
   But in the night, when the lights are out, the streets
seem like shafts down which the noise has fallen and in
which it has disappeared. Men and things doze wearily,
as they are no longer filled with the noise. People roam
along by the houses like shadows, and the walls of the
houses seem like the front walls of enormous dilapidated
and disintegrated tombs.
   In sleep, however, with their ears on the pillow, men
seem to be listening to the depths of the earth, to the van-
ished noise or perhaps to the vanished silence.
   The great city is a fortress against the silence, around
which destruction hovers in its feverish activity. There is
a striving towards destruction, a search for death, a search
for the silence after death.

   Silence no longer exists as a world, but only in fragments,
as the remains of a world. And as man is always frightened
by remains, so he is frightened by the remains of silence.
   Sometimes in a city a man suddenly collapses and dies
in the midst of the noise of the highway. It is then as if all
at once the shreds of silence, still lying around, amongst
the tree tops by the roadside, suddenly descend on the
dead man. It is as if these remains of silence had crept
down to the silence of the dead man in the roadway, and
there is a momentary stillness in the city. The remains of
silence are with the fallen man in order to disappear with
him into death, to disappear through the fissure of death.
The dead man takes the last remains of silence with him.

   Silence is no longer taken for granted. When it is still
sometimes found in a person, it seems like a museum
piece or a phantom.
   Christine B. was perfect when she sat in silence; every-
thing was then right about her. She was like a peasant
woman running a big farm simply by being there herself.
When Christine B. sat there saying nothing, one knew
the words that were coming out unheard from the silence.
One hearkened for those words, one was with Christine
B., and at the same time in the distant place where those
words coming from the silence seemed to become sound.
One was, through the magic of this silence, here and at the
same time in a distant place.
   But as soon as Christine B. spoke, her words were noisy,
and she, too, the whole woman, was noisy. It was as though
she did not possess the silence that was in her at all. She
moved about so nervously, as though it was not merely not
in her but as though there were no silence left anywhere.
   Christine certainly still had silence within her, but it was
utterly isolated from her, shut off from the word, and there-
fore shut off from the person. The words were living a life
of their own, and the silence was a living life of its own: it
was lonely. Words and silence were so isolated from one
another in her that it seemed as if when she spoke, only
words were present in her, and when she was silent only
silence. In the silence Christine was cut off from her own
words, and so utterly permeated by the silence that it
seemed as if she were demonically possessed by the last
remains of silence in the world. She sat there like a ghost
of silence within the noise of others.

   It is true that in the world of noise there are still words
that come from the world of silence, but they are lonely
in the world of noise, and the silence that is round the
edge of such words is shot through with melancholy. The
words seem to come from the dark ground of melancholy,
not from the darkness of silence. Like the black-edged
butterfly, the Camberwell Beauty, such lonely words
hover around in the world of noise.
   It is true that in the world of noise there are still words
that come from the world of silence, but like ancient
treasures excavated from the earth they belong to a
different world. The men of noise are frightened for a
moment when they hear such authentic words, and this
moment of fright is also a moment of silence—until the
massive steam roller of noise arrives to level down the
word and the silence, to take them with it and destroy
   Such words, which retain an authentic relationship to
silence in the midst of the noise—it is as if the god himself
were to step forth from the white marble of an excavated
statue. For a moment men, cars, and planes would stand
still; the sudden appearance of the god would be like a
halt-sign to everything on the move. But in the very next
moment a car would come along and carry the god away
and disappear with him in the noisy traffic that would
have already started up again, and the god would become
a mere tiny part of the noisy, moving traffic.

   It is true that silence, as a world of its own, has been
destroyed; sound has occupied everything; the earth
seems to belong to it. There is no world unity of the
spirit or of religion or politics. But there is a world unity
of noise. In it all men and all things are connected one 
with another.
   But these still remain: the quietness of dawn, and the
furtive fall of night.
   Never was the silence of these things more perfect than
now; never was it more beautiful. The silence of these
things is lonely: the power of silence, which once went out
from them to the other things of earth and to men, is now
confined to itself. Things are silent for themselves. One
poor man once said to another: "Nobody gives me his
respects, so I give myself my own respects, on my own."
So are these things: no one gives them silence, no one
takes it from them. They give it to themselves and have
it for themselves alone.