The World of Silence

The World Without Silence

   Nothing has changed the nature of man so much
as the loss of silence. The invention of printing,
technics, compulsory education—nothing has so altered
man as this lack of relationship to silence, this fact that
silence is no longer taken for granted, as something as
natural as the sky above or the air we breathe.
   Man who has lost silence has not merely lost one human
quality, but his whole structure has been changed thereby. 

   Formerly silence covered all things: man had first to
break through the covering of silence before he could get
close to an object, and the silence protected even the
thoughts he wanted to think himself. Man could not
throw himself directly at things and ideas: they were
shielded by the silence surrounding them, and man was
protected from moving towards them all too quickly. The
silence was stationed in front of things and ideas. It was
there objectively. It was encamped there like a defending
army. Man moved slowly and quietly towards ideas and 
things. The silence was always present between the move-
ment from one idea to another, from one thing to another.
The rhythm of the silence punctuated the movement.
   Every movement became a special act: the silence, the
primitive rock of silence had to be removed before one
could move forward. But then when one arrived at
an idea, one was really there with the idea, and the idea
or the thing really existed for the first time. The concrete 
reality was, as it were, created in the direct personal
encounter with man.
   Today man no longer moves deliberately to ideas and
things. They are absorbed into his own emptiness, they
rush at him, they swirl around him. Man no longer
thinks, he has his thinking done for him. Cogito, ergo sum
has been replaced by cogitor, ergo non sum.
   The earth was once no less occupied than it is today,
but it was occupied by silence, and man was unable to
seize everything in it as it was all held fast by silence. Man
did not need to know everything: the silence knew it all
for him. And as man was connected with the silence, he
knew many things through the silence.

   The heaven of silence no longer covers the world of
ideas and things today, restraining them with its weight
and pressure. Where it used to be there is now an empty
space, and things are as it were drawn up by suction into
the space where the silence used to dwell. Things are
exposed, uncovered and pressing upwards. More and
more things are constantly pushing their way upwards,
and that is the real "revolt of the masses", this rebellion
of things and ideas that are no longer held down by the
pressure of silence.
   Man is not even aware of the loss of silence: so much is
the space formerly occupied by the silence so full of things
that nothing seems to be missing. But where formerly the
silence lay on a thing, now one thing lies on another.
Where formerly an idea was covered by the silence, now a
thousand associations speed along to it and bury it.
   In this world of today in which everything is reckoned
in terms of immediate profit, there is no place for silence.
Silence was expelled because it was unproductive, because
it merely existed and seemed to have no purpose.
   Almost the only kind of silence that there is today is due
to the loss of the faculty of speech. It is purely negative:
the absence of speech. It is merely like a technical hitch
in the continuous flow of noise.
   There is still perhaps a little silence; a little is still
tolerated. Just as the almost completely exterminated
Indians are still allowed a little living space in their
miserable reservations, so sometimes silence is allowed a
chink of space in the sanatoria between two and three in 
the afternoon: "An hour of silence" and in the "two 
minutes' silence" in which the masses must be silent "in
remembrance of..." But there is never a special silence
in memory of the silence that is no more.
   It is true that silence still exists as a true silence in
monastic communities. In the Middle Ages the silence
of the monks was still connected with the silence of other
men outside the monastery. Today the silence in the
monasteries is isolated; it lives literally only in monastic