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THE AESTHETICS OF SILENCE / SUSAN SONTAG

I Every era has to reinvent the project of "spirituality" for itself. (Spirituality = plans, terminologies, ideas of deportment aimed at the resolution of painful structural contradictions inherent in the human situation, at the completion of human consciousness, at transcendence.) In the modern era, one of the most active metaphors for the spiritual project is "art." The activities of the painter, the musician, the poet, the dancer et al, once they ere grouped together under that generic name (a relatively recent move), have proved to !e a peculiarly adapta!le site on hich to stage the formal dramas !esetting consciousness, each individual or" of art !eing a more or less astute paradigm for regulating or reconciling these contradictions. #f course, the site needs continual refur!ishing. $hatever goal is set for art eventually proves restrictive, matched against the idest goals of consciousness. %rt, itself a form of mystification, endures a succession of crises of demystification& older artistic goals are assailed and, ostensi!ly, replaced& outgro n maps of consciousness are redra n. 'ut hat supplies all these crises ith their energy ( an energy held in common, so to spea" ( is the very unification of numerous, )uite disparate activities into a single genus. %t the moment at hich "art" comes into !eing, the modern period of art !egins. *rom then for ard, any of the activities therein su!sumed !ecomes a profoundly pro!lematic activity, each of hose procedures and, ultimately, hose very right to e+ist, can !e called into )uestion. *ollo ing on the promotion of the arts into "art" comes the leading myth a!out art, that of the "a!soluteness" of the artist,s activity. In its first, more unreflective version, this myth considered art as an e+pression of human consciousness, consciousness see"ing to "no itself. (The critical principles generated !y this myth ere fairly easily arrived at- some e+pressions ere more complete, more enno!ling, more informative, richer than others.) The later version of the myth posits a more comple+, tragic relation of art to consciousness. .enying that art is mere e+pression, the ne er myth, ours, rather relates art to the mind,s need or capacity for self/estrangement. %rt is no longer understood as consciousness e+pressing and therefore, implicitly, affirming itself. %rt is not consciousness per se, !ut rather its antidote ( evolved from ithin consciousness itself. (The critical principles generated !y this myth ere much harder to get at.) The ne er myth, derived from a post/psychological conception of consciousness, installs ithin the activity of art many of the parado+es involved in attaining an a!solute state of !eing descri!ed !y the great religious mystics. %s the activity of the mystic must end in a via negative, a theology of 0od,s a!sence, a craving for the cloud of un"no ingness !eyond "no ledge and for the silence !eyond speech, so art must tend to ard anti/art, the elimination of the "su!ject" (the "o!ject," the "image"), the su!stitution of chance for intention, and the pursuit of silence. In the early, linear version of art,s relation to consciousness, a struggle as held to e+ist !et een the "spiritual" integrity of the creative impulses and the distracting "materiality" of ordinary life, hich thro s up so many o!stacles in the path of authentic su!limation. 'ut the ne er version, in hich art is part of a dialectical transaction ith consciousness, poses a deeper, more frustrating conflict- The "spirit" see"ing em!odiment in art clashes ith the "material" character of art itself. %rt is unmas"ed as gratuitous, and the very concreteness of the artist,s tools (and, particularly in the case of language, their historicity) appears as a trap. 1racticed in a orld furnished ith second/hand perceptions, and specifically confounded !y the treachery of ords, the activity of the artist is cursed ith mediacy. %rt !ecomes the enemy of the artist, for it denies him the reali2ation, the transcendence, he desires. Therefore, art comes to !e estimated as something to !e overthro n. % ne element enters the art/ or" and !ecomes constitutive of it- the appeal (tacit or overt) for its o n a!olition ( and, ultimately, for the a!olition of art itself. II The scene changes to an empty room. 3im!aud has gone to %!yssinia to ma"e his fortune in the slave trade. $ittgenstein has first chosen schoolteaching, then menial or" as a hospital orderly. .uchamp has turned to chess. %nd, accompanying these e+emplary renunciations of a vocation, each man has declared that he considers his previous achievements in poetry. philosophy, or art as trifling, of no importance. 'ut the choice of permanent silence doesn,t negate their or". #n the contrary, it imparts

retroactively an added po er and authority to hat as !ro"en off& disavo al of the or" !ecoming a ne source of its validity, a certificate of unchallengea!le seriousness. That seriousness consists in not regarding art (or philosophy practiced as an art form- $ittgenstein) as something hose seriousness lasts forever, an "end," a permanent vehicle for spiritual am!ition. The truly serious attitude is one that regards art as a "means" to something that can perhaps !e achieved only !y a!andoning art& judged more impatiently, art is a false ay or (the ord of the .ada artist 4ac)ues 5ach6) a stupidity. Though no longer a confession, art is more than ever a deliverance, an e+ercise in asceticism. Through it, the artist !ecomes purified ( of himself and, eventually, of his art, The artist (if not art itself) is still engaged in a progress to ard "the good." 'ut formerly, the artist,s good as mastery of and fulfillment in his art. 7o it,s suggested that the highest good for the artist is to reach that point here those goals of e+cellence !ecome insignificant to him, emotionally and ethically, and he is more satisfied !y !eing silent than !y finding a voice in art. Silence in this sense, as termination, proposes a mood of ultimacy antithetical to the mood informing the self/conscious artist,s traditional serious use of silence- as a 2one of meditation, preparation for spiritual ripening, an ordeal hich ends in gaining the right to spea". (8f. 5alery, 3il"e) So far as he is serious, the artist is continually tempted to sever the dialogue he has ith an audience. Silence is the furthest e+tension of that reluctance to communicate, that am!ivalence a!out ma"ing contact ith the audience hich is a leading motif of modern art, ith its tireless commitment to the "ne " and9or the "esoteric" Silence is the artist,s ultimate other/ orldly gesture& !y silence, he frees himself from servile !ondage to the orld, hich appears as patron, client, audience, antagonist, ar!iter, and distorter of his or". Still, in this renunciation of "society," one cannot fail to perceive a highly social gesture. Some of the cues for the artist,s eventual li!eration from the need to practice his vocation come from o!serving his fello artists and measuring himself against them. %n e+emplary decision of this sort can !e made only after the artist has demonstrated that he possesses genius and e+ercised that genius authoritatively. :aving already surpassed his peers, !y the standards hich he ac"no ledges, pride has only one place left to go. *or, to !e a victim of the craving for silence is to !e, in still a further sense, superior to everyone else. It suggests that the artist has had the it to as" more )uestions than other people, as ell as that he possesses stronger nerves and higher standards of e+cellence. (That the artist can persevere in the interrogation of his art until he or it is e+hausted isn,t in dou!t. %s 3en6 8har has ritten, "7o !ird has the heart to sing in a thic"et of )uestions") III The e+emplary modern artist,s choice of silence isn,t often carried to this point of final simplification, so that he !ecomes literally silent. ;ore typically, he continues spea"ing, !ut in a manner that his audience can,t hear. ;ost valua!le art in our time has !een e+perienced !y audiences as a move into silence (or unintelligi!ility or invisi!ility or inaudi!ility)& a dismantling of the artist,s competence, his responsi!le sense of vocation ( and therefore as an aggression against them. ;odern art,s chronic ha!it of displeasing, provo"ing, or frustrating its audience can !e regarded as a limited, vicarious participation in the ideal of silence hich has !een elevated as a prime standard of seriousness in the contemporary scene. 'ut it is also a contradictory form of participation in the ideal of silence. It,s contradictory not only !ecause the artist still continues ma"ing or"s of art, !ut also !ecause the isolation of the or" from its audience never lasts. $ith the passage of time and the intervention of ne er, more difficult or"s, the artist,s transgression !ecomes ingratiating, eventually legitimate. 0oethe accused <leist of having ritten his plays for an "invisi!le theatre." 'ut in time the invisi!le theatre !ecomes "visi!le" The ugly and discordant and senseless !ecome "!eautiful." The history of art is a se)uence of successful transgressions. The characteristic aim of modern art, to !e unaccepta!le to its audience, can !e regarded as the inverse statement of the unaccepta!ility to the artist of the very presence of an audience ( in the familiar sense, an assem!ly of voyeuristic spectators. %t least since 7iet2sche o!served in The Birth of Tragedy that an audience of spectators as e "no it, those present hom the actors ignore, as un"no n to the 0ree"s, a good deal of contemporary art seems moved !y the desire to eliminate the audience from art, an enterprise that often presents itself as an attempt to eliminate "art" altogether. (In favor of "life"=) 8ommitted to the idea that the po er of art is located in its po er to negate, the ultimate eapon in the artist,s inconsistent ar ith his audience is to verge closer and closer to silence. The sensory or conceptual gap !et een the artist and his audience, the space of the missing or ruptured dialogue, can also constitute the grounds for an ascetic affirmation. Samuel 'ec"ett spea"s of "my dream of an art unresentful of its insupera!le indigence and too proud for the farce of giving and receiving." 'ut

there is no a!olishing a minimal transaction, a minimal e+change of gifts, just as there is no talented and rigorous asceticism that doesn,t produce a gain (rather than a loss) in the capacity for pleasure. %nd none of the aggressions committed intentionally or inadvertently !y modern artists have succeeded in either a!olishing the audience or transforming it into something else. (% community engaged in a common activity=) They cannot. %s long as art is understood and valued as an "a!solute" activity, it ill !e a separate, elitist one. Elites presuppose masses. So far as the !est art defines itself !y essentially "priestly" aims, it presupposes and confirms the e+istence of a relatively passive, never fully initiated, voyeuristic laity hich is regularly convo"ed to atch, listen, read, or hear ( and then sent a ay. The most that the artist can do is to play ith the different terms in this situation vis/a/vis the audience and himself. To analyse the idea of silence is to analyse his various alternatives ithin this essentially unaltera!le situation. I5 :o literally can the notion of silence !e used ith respect to art= Silence e+ists as a decision ( in the e+emplary suicide of the artist (<leist, >autreamont), ho there!y testifies that he has gone "too far"& and in such model renunciations !y the artist of his vocation already cited. Silence also e+ists as a punishment ( self/punishment, in the e+emplary madness of artists (:olderlin, %rtaud) ho demonstrate that one,s very sanity may !e the price of trespassing the accepted frontiers of consciousness& and, of course, in penalties (ranging from censorship and physical destruction of art/ or"s to fines, e+ile, prison for the artist) meted out !y "society" for the artist,s spiritual nonconformity or for su!version of the group sensi!ility. 'ut silence can,t e+ist in a literal sense as the e+perience of an audience. It ould mean that the spectator as a are of no stimulus or that he as una!le to ma"e a response. 'ut this can,t happen or !e induced programmatically. The non/a areness of any stimulus, the ina!ility to ma"e a response, can result only from a defective presentness on the part of the spectator, or a misunderstanding of his o n reactions (misled !y restrictive ideas a!out hat ould !e a "relevant" response). 'ut so far as any audience consists of sentient !eings in a situation, there can !e no such thing as having no response at all. 7or can silence, in its literal state, e+ist as the property of an art or" ( even of or"s li"e .uchamp,s readymades or 8age,s 4'33", in hich the artist has ostentatiously done no more to satisfy any esta!lished criteria of art than set the o!ject in a gallery or situate the performance on a concert stage. There is no neutral surface, no neutral discourse, no neutral theme, no neutral form. Something is neutral only ith respect to something else. (%n intention= %n e+pectation=) %s a property of the or" of art itself, silence can e+ist only in a coo"ed or nonliteral sense. (1ut other ise- if a or" e+ists at all, its silence is only one element in it.) Instead of ra or achieved silence, one finds various moves in the direction of an ever/receding hori2on of silence ( moves hich, !y definition, can,t ever !e fully consummated. #ne result is a type of art hich many people characteri2e pejoratively as dum!, depressed, ac)uiescent, cold. 'ut these privative )ualities e+ist in a conte+t of the artist,s o!jective intention, hich is al ays discerni!le. To cultivate the metaphoric silence that,s suggested !y conventionally lifeless su!jects (as in much of 1op %rt) and to construct "minimal" forms hich seem to lac" emotional resonance are in themselves vigorous, often tonic choices. %nd, finally, even ithout imputing o!jective intentions to the art/ or", there remains the inescapa!le truth a!out perception- the positivity of all e+perience at every moment of it. %s 4ohn 8age has insisted, "there is no such thing as silence. Something is al ays happening that ma"es a sound." (8age has descri!ed ho , even in a soundless cham!er, he still heard at least t o things- his heart!eat and the coursing of the !lood in his head). Similarly, there is no such thing as empty space. %s long as a human eye is loo"ing there is al ays something to see. To loo" at something that,s "empty" is still to !e loo"ing, still to !e seeing something ( if only the ghosts of one,s o n e+pectations. In order to perceive fullness, one must retain an acute sense of the emptiness hich mar"s it off& conversely, in order to perceive emptiness, one must apprehend other 2ones of the orld as full. (In Through the Looking Glass,%lice comes upon a shop "that seemed to !e full of all manner of curious things ( !ut the oddest part of it all as that henever she loo"ed hard at any shelf, to ma"e out e+actly hat it had on it, that particular shelf as al ays )uite empty, though the others round it ere cro ded full as they could hold.") "Silence" never ceases to imply its opposite and to demand on its presence. 4ust as there can,t !e "up" ithout "do n" or "left" ithout "right," so one must ac"no ledge a surrounding environment of sound or language in order to recogni2e silence. 7ot only does silence e+ist in a orld full of speech and other sounds, !ut any given silence ta"es its identity as a stretch of time !eing perforated !y

sound. (Thus, much of the !eauty of :arpo ;ar+,s muteness derives from his !eing surrounded !y manic tal"ers.) % genuine emptiness, a pure silence, are not feasi!le ( either conceptually or in fact. If only !ecause the art/ or" e+ists in a orld furnished ith many other things, the artist ho creates silence or emptiness must produce something dialectical- a full void, an enriching emptiness, a resonating or elo)uent silence. Silence remains, inescapa!ly, a form of speech (in many instances, of complaint or indictment) and an element in a dialogue. 5 %esthetic programs for a radical reduction of means and effects in art ( including the ultimate demand, for the renunciation of art itself ( can,t !e ta"en at face value, undialectically. These are neither consistent policies for artists nor merely hostile gestures aimed at audiences. Silence and allied ideas (li"e emptiness, reduction, the "2ero degree") are !oundary notions ith a comple+ set of uses& leading terms of a particular spiritual and cultural rhetoric. To descri!e silence as a rhetorical term is, of course. far from condemning this rhetoric as fraudulent or in !ad faith. The truth of myths is never a literal truth. The myths of contemporary art can !e evaluated only in terms of the diversity and fruitfulness of their application. In my opinion, the myths of silence and emptiness are a!out as nourishing and via!le as one could hope to see devised in an "un holesome" time ( hich is, of necessity, a time in hich "un holesome" psychic states furnish the energies for most superior or" in the arts today. %t the same time, one can,t deny the pathos of these myths. This pathos arises from the fact that the idea of silence allo s, essentially, only t o types of valua!le development. Either it is ta"en to the point of utter self/negation (as art) or else practiced in a form that is heroically, ingeniously inconsistent. 5I The art of our time is noisy ith appeals for silence. % co)uettish, even cheerful nihilism. #ne recogni2es the imperative of silence, !ut goes on spea"ing any ay. .iscovering that one has nothing to say, one see"s a ay to say that 'ec"ett has announced the ish that art ould renounce all further projects for distur!ing matters on "the plane of the feasi!le," that art ould retire, " eary of puny e+ploits. eary of pretending to !e a!le, of !eing a!le, of doing a little !etter the same old thing, of going further along a dreary road." The alternative is an art consisting of "the e+pression that there is nothing to e+press, nothing ith hich to e+press, nothing from hich to e+press, no po er to e+press, no desire to e+press, together ith the o!ligation to e+press." *rom here does this o!ligation derive= The very aesthetics of the death ish seems to ma"e of that ish something incorrigi!ly lively. %pollinaire says, "4,ai fait des gestes !lancs parmi les solitudes." 'ut he is ma"ing gestures. Since the artist can,t em!race silence literally and remain an artist, hat the rhetoric of silence indicates is a determination to pursue his activity more deviously than ever !efore. #ne ay is indicated !y 'reton,s notion of the "full margin." The artist is enjoined to devote himself to filling up the periphery of the art/space, leaving the central area of usage !lan". %rt !ecomes privative, anemic ( as suggested !y the title of .uchamp,s only effort at film ma"ing, "%nemic 8inema," a or" from the period ?@AB/AC. 'ec"ett descri!es the idea of an "impoverished painting." painting hich is "authentically fruitless, incapa!le of any image hatsoever." #ne of 4er2y 0roto s"i,s manifestoes for his Theatre >a!oratory in 1oland is called "1lea for a 1oor Theatre." 'ut these programs for art,s impoverishment must not !e understood simply as terroristic admonitions to audiences, !ut as strategies for improving the audience,s e+perience. The notions of silence, emptiness, reduction, s"etch out ne prescriptions for loo"ing, hearing, etc. ( specifically, either for having a more immediate, sensuous e+perience of art or for confronting the art or" in a more conscious, conceptual ay. 5II 8onsider the connection !et een the mandate for a reduction of means and effects in art, hose hori2on is silence, and the faculty of attention. *or, in one of its aspects, art is a techni)ue for focusing attention, for teaching s"ills of attention. ($hile this aspect of art is not peculiar to it ( the hole of the human environment might !e descri!ed in this ay, as a pedagogic instrument ( it,s surely a particular. intensive aspect of or"s of art.) The history of the arts is the discovery and formulation of a repertory of o!jects on hich to lavish attention& one could trace e+actly and in order ho the eye of art has panned over our environment, "naming," ma"ing its limited selection of things hich people then !ecome a are of as significant, pleasura!le, comple+ entities. (%s #scar $ilde pointed out, people didn,t see fogs !efore certain ?@th century poets and painters taught them ho to& surely, no one sa as much of the variety and su!tlety of the human face !efore the era of the movies.)

#nce, the artist,s tas" seemed to !e simply that of opening up ne areas and o!jects of attention. That tas" is still ac"no ledged, !ut it has !ecome pro!lematic. The very faculty of attention has come into )uestion, and !een su!jected to more rigorous standards. %s 4asper 4ohns has said, "%lready it,s a great deal to see anything clearly, for e don,t see anything clearly." 1erhaps the )uality of the attention e !ring to !ear on something ill !e !etter (less contaminated, less distracted) the less e are offered. *urnished ith impoverished art, purged !y silence, one might then !e a!le to !egin to transcend the frustrating selectivity of attention, ith its inevita!le distortions of e+perience. Ideally, one should !e a!le to pay attention to everything. The motion is to ard less and less. 'ut never has "less" so ostentatiously advanced itself as "more." In the light of the current myth, in hich art aims to !ecome a "total e+perience," soliciting total attention. the strategies of impoverishment and reduction indicate the most e+alted am!ition, art could adopt. Dnderneath hat loo"s li"e a strenuous modesty, if not actual de!ility, one may discern an energetic secular !lasphemy- the ish to attain the unfettered, unselective, total consciousness of "0od." 5III >anguage seems a privileged metaphor for e+pressing the mediated character of art/ma"ing and the art/ or". #n the one hand, speech is !oth an immaterial medium (compared ith, say, images) and a human activity ith an apparently essential sta"e in the project of transcendence, of moving !eyond the singular and contingent (all ords !eing a!stractions, only roughly !ased on or ma"ing reference to concrete particulars). 'ut, on the other hand, language is the most impure, the most contaminated, the most e+hausted of all the materials out of hich art is made. This dual character of language ( its, a!stractness, and its "fallenness" in history ( can serve as a microcosm of the unhappy character of the arts today. %rt is so far along the la!yrinthine path ays of the project of transcendence that it,s hard to conceive of it turning !ac", short of the most drastic and punitive "cultural revolution." Eet at the same time, art is foundering in the de!ilitating tide of hat once seemed the cro ning achievement of European thought- secular historical consciousness. In little more than t o centuries, the consciousness of history has transformed itself from a li!eration, an opening of doors, !lessed enlightenment, into an almost insupporta!le !urden of self/consciousness. It,s impossi!le for the artist to rite a ord (or render an image or ma"e a gesture) that doesn,t remind him of something. Dp to a point, the community and historicity of the artist,s means are implicit in the very fact of intersu!jectivity- each person is a !eing/in/a/ orld. 'ut this normal state of affairs is felt today (particularly in the arts using language) as an e+traordinary, earying pro!lem. %s 7iet2sche said- "#ur pre/eminence- e live in the age of comparison, e can verify as has never !een verified !efore." Therefore, " e enjoy differently, e suffer differently- our instinctive activity is to compare an unheard num!er of things." >anguage is e+perienced not merely as something shared !ut something corrupted, eighed do n !y historical accumulation. Thus, for each conscious artist, the creation of a or" means dealing ith t o potentially antagonistic domains of meaning and their relationships. #ne is his o n meaning (or lac" of it)& the other is the set of second/order meanings hich !oth e+tend his o n language and also encum!er, compromise, and adulterate it. The artist ends !y choosing !et een t o inherently limiting alternatives. :e is forced to ta"e a position that,s either servile or insolent- either he flatters or appeases his audience, giving them hat they already "no , or he commits an aggression against his audience, giving them hat they don,t ant. ;odern art thus transmits in full the alienation produced !y historical consciousness. $hatever the artist does is in (usually conscious) alignment ith something else already done, producing a compulsion to !e continually rechec"ing his situation. :is o n stance ith those of his predecessors and contemporaries. 8ompensating for this ignominious enslavement to history, the artist e+alts himself ith the dream of a holly ahistorical, and therefore unalienated, art. IF %rt that is "silent" constitutes one approach to this visionary, ahistorical condition. 8onsider the difference !et een "loo"ing" and "staring." % loo" is (at least, in part) voluntary& it is also mo!ile, rising and falling in intensity as its foci of interest are ta"en up and then e+hausted. % stare has, essentially, the character of a compulsion& it is steady, unmodulated, "fi+ed." Traditional art invites a loo". %rt that,s silent engenders a stare. In silent art, there is (at least in principle) no release from attention, !ecause there has never, in principle, !een any soliciting of it. % stare is perhaps as far from history, as close to eternity, as contemporary art can get. F Silence is a metaphor for a cleansed, noninterfering vision, in hich one might envisage the ma"ing of art/ or"s that are unresponsive !efore !eing seen, unviola!le in their essential integrity !y human

scrutiny. The spectator ould approach art as he does a landscape. % landscape doesn,t demand from the spectator his "understanding," his imputations of significance, his an+ieties and sympathies& it demands, rather, his a!sence, that he not add anything to it. 8ontemplation, strictly spea"ing, entails self/forgetfulness on the part of the spectator- an o!ject orthy of contemplation is one hich, in effect, annihilates the perceiving su!ject. It is to such an ideal plenitude to hich the audience can add nothing, analogous to the aesthetic relation to "nature," that a great deal of contemporary art aspires ( through. various strategies of !landness, of reduction, of deindividuation, of alogicality. In principle, the audience may not even add its thought. %ll o!jects, so conceived, are truly full. This is hat 8age must mean hen, right after e+plaining that there is no such thing as silence !ecause something is al ays happening that ma"es a sound, he says "7o one can have an idea once he starts really listening." 1lenitude ( e+periencing all the space as filled, so that ideas cannot enter ( means impenetra!ility, opa)ueness. *or a person to !ecome silent is to !ecome opa)ue for the other& some!ody,s silence opens up an array of possi!ilities for interpreting that silence, for imputing speech to it. The ays in hich this opa)ueness induces an+iety, spiritual vertigo, is the theme of 'ergman,s Persona. The theme is reinforced !y the t o principal attri!utions one is invited to ma"e of the actress, deli!erate silence. 8onsidered as a decision relating to herself, it is apparently the ay she has chosen to give form to the ish for ethical purity& !ut it is also, as !ehavior, a means of po er, a species of sadism, a virtually inviola!le position of strength from hich to manipulate and confound her nurse/ companion, ho is charged ith the !urden of tal"ing. 'ut it,s possi!le to conceive of the opa)ueness of silence more positively, free from an+iety. *or <eats, the silence of the 0recian urn is a locus for spiritual nourishment- "unheard" melodies endure, hereas those that pipe to "the sensual ear" decay. Silence is e)uated ith arresting time ("slo time"). #ne can stare endlessly at the 0recian urn. Eternity, in the argument of <eats, poem, is the only interesting stimulus to thought and also presents us ith the sole occasion for coming to the end of mental activity, hich means endless, unans ered )uestions ("Thou, silent form, cost tease us out of thought9%s cloth eternity"), so that one can arrive at a final e)uation of ideas ("'eauty is truth, truth !eauty") hich is !oth a!solutely vacuous and completely full. <eats, poem )uite logically ends in a statement that ill seem, if one hasn,t follo ed his argument, li"e empty isdom, li"e !anality. Time, or history, !ecomes the medium of definite, determinate thought. The silence of eternity prepares for a thought !eyond thought, hich must appear from the perspective of traditional thin"ing and the familiar uses of the mind as no thought at all ( though it may rather !e an em!lem of ne , "difficult" thin"ing. FI 'ehind the appeals for silence lies the ish for a perceptual and cultural clean slate. %nd, in its most hortatory and am!itious version, the advocacy of silence e+presses a mythic project of total li!eration. $hat,s envisaged is nothing less than the li!eration of the artist from himself, of art from the particular art or", of art from history, of spirit from matter, of the mind from its perceptual and intellectual limitations. $hat a fe people "no no is that there are ays of thin"ing that e don,t yet "no a!out. 7othing could !e more important or precious than that "no ledge, ho ever un!orn. The sense of urgency, the spiritual restlessness it engenders cannot !e appeased. Surely, it,s some of that energy hich has spilled over into the radical art of this century. Through its advocacy of silence, reduction, etc., art commits an act of violence upon itself, turning art into a species of auto/manipulation, of conjuring ( trying to help !ring these ne ays of thin"ing to !irth. Silence is a strategy for the transvaluation of art, art itself !eing the herald of an anticipated radical transvaluation of human values. 'ut the success of this strategy must mean its eventual a!andonment, or at least its significant modification. Silence is a prophecy, one hich the artist,s actions can !e understood as attempting to fulfill and to reverse. %s language al ays points to its o n transcendence in silence, silence al ays points to its o n transcendence ( to a speech !eyond silence. 'ut can the hole enterprise !ecome an act of !ad faith if the artist "no s this, too= FII % famous )uotation- "Everything that can !e thought at all can !e thought clearly. Everything that can !e said at all can !e said clearly. 'ut not everything that can !e thought can !e said." 7otice that $ittgenstein, ith his scrupulous avoidance of the psychological issue, doesn,t as" hy, hen, and in hat circumstances someone ould ant to put into ords "everything that can !e thought" (even if he could), or even to utter ( hether clearly or not) "everything that could !e said."

FIII #f everything that,s said, one can as"- hy= (Including- hy should I say that= %nd- hy should I say anything at all=) To this I ould add the thesis that, strictly spea"ing, nothing that,s said is true. (Though one can !e the truth, one can,t ever say it.) Still, things that are said can sometimes !e helpful ( hich is hat people ordinarily mean hen they consider something said to !e true. %mong its many uses, speech can enlighten, relieve, confuse, e+alt, infect, antagoni2e, gratify, grieve, stun, animate. $hile language is regularly used to inspire to action, some ver!al statements, either ritten or oral, of a highly styli2ed "ind are themselves used as the performing of an action (as in promising, s earing, !e)ueathing). %nother use of speech, if anything more common than that of provo"ing actions- speech provo"es further speech. 'ut speech can silence, too. This indeed is ho it must !e& ithout the polarity of silence, the hole system of language ould fail. %nd !eyond its generic function as the dialectical opposite of speech, silence ( li"e speech ( has its more specific, less inevita!le uses, too. #ne use for silence- certifying the a!sence or renunciation of thought. This use of silence is often employed as a magical or mimetic procedure in repressive social relationships. as in the regulations a!out spea"ing to superiors in the 4esuit order and in the disciplining of children. (It should not !e confused ith the practice of certain monastic disciplines, such as the Trappist order, in hich silence is !oth an ascetic act and a !earing itness to the condition of !eing perfectly "full.") %nother, apparently opposed, use for silence- certifying the completion of thought. (<arl 4aspers- ":e ho has the final ans ers can no longer spea" to the other, as he !rea"s off genuine communication for the sa"e of hat he !elieves in.") Still another use for silence- providing time for the continuing or e+ploring of thought. 7ota!ly, speech closes off thought. (8f., the enterprise of criticism, in hich there seems no ay for a critic not to assert that a given artist is this, he,s that, etc.) 'ut if one decides an issue isn,t closed, it,s not. This is presuma!ly the rationale !ehind the voluntary e+periments in silence that some contemporary spiritual athletes, lI"e 'uc"minister *uller, have underta"en, and the element of isdom in the other ise mainly authoritarian, philistine silence of the orthodo+ *reudian psychoanalyst. Silence "eeps things "open." Still another use for silence- furnishing or aiding speech to attain its ma+imum integrity or seriousness. Everyone has e+perienced ho , hen punctuated !y long silences, ords eigh more& they !ecome almost palpa!le. #r ho , hen one tal"s less, one starts feeling more fully one,s physical presence in a given space. Silence undermines "!ad speech," !y hich I mean dissociated speech ( speech dissociated from the !ody (and, therefore, from feeling), speech not organically informed !y the sensuous presence and concrete particularity of the spea"er and of the individual occasion for using language. Dnmoored from the !ody, speech deteriorates. It !ecomes false, inane, igno!le, eightless. Silence can inhi!it or counteract this tendency, providing a "ind of !allast, monitoring and even correcting language hen it !ecomes inauthentic. 0iven these perils to the authenticity of language ( hich doesn,t depend on the character of any isolated statement or even group of statements, !ut on the relation of spea"er, speech, and situation), the hypothetical project of saying clearly "everything that can !e said" suggested !y $ittgenstein,s remar"s loo"s fearfully complicated. (:o much time ould one have= $ould one have to spea" )uic"ly=) The philosopher,s hypothetical universe of clear speech ( hich assigns to silence only "that hereof one cannot spea"") ould seem to !e a moralists, or a psychiatrist,s, nightmare ( at the least, a place no one should lightheartedly enter. Is there anyone ho ants to say "everything that could !e said"= The psychologically plausi!le ans er ould seem to !e no. 'ut yes is plausi!le, too ( as a rising ideal of modern culture. Isn,t that hat many people do ant today ( to say everything that can !e said= 'ut this aim cannot !e maintained ithout inner conflict, in part inspired !y the spread of the ideals of psychotherapy, people are yearning to say "everything" (there!y, among other results, further undermining the crum!ling distinction !et een pu!lic and private endeavors, !et een information and secrets). 'ut, in an overpopulated orld !eing connected !y glo!al electronic communication and jet travel at a pace too rapid and violent for an organically sound person to assimilate ithout shoc", people are also suffering from a revulsion at any further proliferation of speech and images. Such different factors as the unlimited "technological reproduction" and near/ universal diffusion of !oth printed language and speech as ell as images (from "ne s" to "art o!jects"), and the degenerations of pu!lic language ithin the realms of politics and advertising and entertainment, have produced, especially among the !etter educated inha!itants of hat sociologists call "modern mass society," a devaluation of language. (I should argue, contrary to ;c>uhan, that a devaluation of the po er and credi!ility of images has ta"en place that,s no less profound than. and

essentially similar to, that afflicting language.) %nd, as the prestige of language falls, that of silence rises. I am alluding, at this point, to the sociological conte+t of the contemporary am!ivalence to ard language. The matter, of course, goes much deeper than this. In addition to the specific sociological determinants that must !e counted in, one must recogni2e the operation of something li"e a perennial discontent ith language that has !een formulated in each of the major civili2ations of the #rient and #ccident, henever thought reaches a certain high, e+cruciating order of comple+ity and spiritual seriousness. Traditionally, it has !een through the religious voca!ulary. ith its meta/a!solutes of "sacred" and "profane," "human" and "divine," that the disaffection ith language itself has !een charted. In particular, the antecedents of art,s dilemmas and strategies %re to !e found in the radical ing of the mystical tradition. (8f., among 8hristian te+ts, the ;ystica Theologica of .ionysius the %reopagite, the anonymous 8loud of Dn"no ing. the ritings of 4aco! 'oehme and ;eister Ec"hart& and parallels in Gen and Taoist te+ts and in the ritings of the Sufi mystics.) The mystical tradition has al ays recogni2ed, in 7orman 'ro n,s phrase, "the neurotic character of language. ('oehme says the language that %dam spo"e as different from all "no n languages. :e calls it "sensual speech," the unmediated e+pressive instrument of the senses, proper to !eings integrally part of sensuous nature ( that is, still employed !y all the animals e+cept that sic" animal, man. This, hich 'oehme calls the only "natural language," the sole language free from distortion and illusion, is hat man ill spea" again hen he recovers paradise.) 'ut in our time, the most stri"ing developments of such ideas have !een made !y artists (along ith certain psychotherapists) rather than !y the timid legatees of the religious traditions. E+plicitly in revolt against hat is deemed to !e the dessicated, categori2ed life of the ordinary mind, the artist issues his o n call for a revision of language. % good deal of contemporary art is moved !y this )uest for a consciousness purified of contaminated language and, in some versions, of the distortions produced !y conceiving the orld e+clusively in conventional ver!al (in their de!ased sense, "rational" or "logical") terms. %rt itself !ecomes a "ind of counter/violence, see"ing to loosen the grip upon consciousness of the ha!its of lifeless, static ver!ali2ation, presenting models of "sensual speech." If anything, the volume of discontent has !een turned up since the arts inherited the pro!lem of language from religious discourse. It,s not just that ords, ultimately, on,t do for the highest aims of consciousness& or even that they get in the ay. %rt e+presses a dou!le discontent. $e lac" ords, and e have too many of them. It reflects a dou!le complaint. $ords are crude, and they,re also too !usy ( inviting a hyperactivity of consciousness hich is not only dysfunctional, in terms of human capacities of feeling and acting, !ut hich actively deadens the mind and !lunts the senses. >anguage is demoted to the status of an event. Something ta"es place in time, a voice spea"ing hich points to the "!efore" and to hat comes "after" an utterance- silence. Silence, then, is !oth the precondition of speech, and the result or aim of properly directed speech. #n this model, the artist,s activity is the creating or esta!lishing of silence& the efficacious art or" leaves silence in its a"e. Silence, administered !y the artist, is part of a program of perceptual and cultural therapy, often on the model of shoc" therapy rather than persuasion. Even if the artist,s medium is ords, he can share in this tas"- language can !e employed to chec" language, to e+press muteness. ;allarm6 thought it as precisely the jo! of poetry. using ords, to clean up our ord/clogged reality ( !y creating silences around things. %rt must mount a full/scale attac" on language itself, !y means of language and its surrogates, on !ehalf of the standard of silence. FI5 In the end, the radical criti)ue of consciousness (first delineated !y the mystical tradition, no administered !y unorthodo+ psychotherapy and high modernist art) al ays lays the !lame on language. 8onsciousness, e+perienced as a !urden, is conceived of as the memory of all the ords that have ever !een said. <rishnamurti claims that e must give up psychological, as distinct from factual, memory. #ther ise, e "eep filling up the ne ith the old, closing off e+perience !y hoo"ing each e+perience into the last. $e must destroy continuity ( hich is insured !y psychological memory), !y going to the end of each emotion or thought. %nd after the end, hat supervenes (for a hile) is silence. F5 In his Bth .uino Elegy, 3il"e gives a metaphoric statement of the pro!lem of language and recommends a procedure for approaching as far to ard the hori2on of silence as he considers feasi!le.

% prere)uisite of "emptying out" is to !e a!le to perceive hat one is "full of," hat ords and mechanical gestures one is stuffed ith. li"e a doll& only then, in polar confrontation ith the doll, does the "angel" appear, a figure representing an e)ually inhuman though "higher" possi!ility, that of an entirely unmediated, trans/linguistic apprehension. 7either doll nor angel, human !eings remain situated ithin the "ingdom of language. 'ut for nature, then things, then other people, then the te+tures of ordinary life to !e e+perienced from a stance other than the crippled one of mere spectatorship, language must regain its chastity. %s 3il"e descri!es it in the @th Elegy, the redemption of language ( hich is to say, the redemption of the orld through its interiori2ation in consciousness) is a long, infinitely arduous tas". :uman !eings are so "fallen" that they must start simply, ith the simplest linguistic act- the naming of things. 1erhaps no more than this minimal function can !e preserved from the general corruption of language. 3il"e suggests that language may very ell have to remain ithin a permanent state of reduction. Though perhaps. hen this spiritual e+ercise of confining language to naming is perfected, it may !e possi!le to pass on to other, more am!itious uses of language, no more must !e attempted than ill allo consciousness to !e unestranged from itself. *or 3il"e the overcoming of the alienation of consciousness is conceiva!le& and its means are not, as in the radical myths of the mystics, through transcending language altogether. It is enough. according to 3il"e, to cut !ac" drastically the scope and use of language. % tremendous spiritual preparation (the contrary of "alienation") is re)uired for this deceptively simple act of naming- nothing less than the scouring and harmonious sharpening of the senses (the very opposite of such violent projects, ith roughly the same end and informed !y the same hostility to ver!al/rational culture, as "systematically deranging the senses"). 3il"e,s remedy lies half ay !et een e+ploiting the num!ness of language as a gross, fully/installed cultural institution and yielding to the suicidal vertigo of pure silence. 'ut this middle ground of reducing language to naming can !e claimed in )uite another ay than his. 8ontrast the !enign nominalism proposed !y 3il"e (and proposed and practiced !y *rancis 1onge) ith the !rutal nominalism adopted !y many other artists. The more familiar recourse of modern art to the aesthetics of the catalogue, the inventory, is not made ( as in 3il"e ( ith an eye to "humani2ing" things, !ut rather to confirming their inhumanity, their impersonality, their indifference to and separateness from human concerns. (E+amples of the "inhumane" preoccupation ith naming- 3oussel,s Impressions of Africa- the sil"/screen paintings and early films of %ndy $arhol& the early novels of %lain 3o!!e/0rillet, hich attempt to confine language to the function of !are physical description and location.) 3il"e and 1onge assume that there are priorities- rich as opposed to vacuous o!jects, events ith a certain allure. (This is the incentive for trying to peel !ac" language, allo ing the "things" themselves to spea".) ;ore decisively, they assume that if there are states of false (language/clogged) consciousness, there are also authentic states of consciousness ( hich it,s the function of art to promote. The alternative vie denies the traditional hierarchies of interest and meaning, in hich some things have more "significance" than others. The distinction !et een true and false e+perience, true and false consciousness is also denied- in principle, one should desire to pay attention to everything. It,s this vie , most elegantly formulated !y 8age though one finds its practice every here, that leads to the art of the inventory, the catalogue, surfaces& also "chance." The function of art isn,t to promote any specific e+perience, e+cept the state of !eing open to the multiplicity of e+perience, hich ends in practice !y a decided stress on things usually considered trivial or unimportant. The attachment of contemporary art to the "minimal" narrative principle of the catalogue or inventory seems almost a parody of the capitalist orld/vie , in hich the environment is atomi2ed into "items" (a category em!racing things and persons. or"s of art and natural organisms), and in hich every item is a commodity ( that is. a discrete, porta!le o!ject. There is a general leveling of value promoted in the art of inventory, hich is itself only one of the possi!le approaches to an ideally uninflected discourse. Traditionally, the effects of an art/ or" have !een unevenly distri!uted, in order to induce in the audience a certain se)uence of e+perience- first arousing, then manipulating, and eventually fulfilling emotional e+pectations. $hat is proposed no is a discourse ithout emphases in this traditional sense. (%gain, the principle of the stare as opposed to the loo".) Such art could also !e descri!ed as esta!lishing great "distance" (!et een spectator and art o!ject, !et een the spectator and his emotions). 'ut, psychologically, distance often is involved ith the most intense state of feeling, in hich the distance or coolness or impersonality ith hich something is treated measures the insatia!le interest that thing has for us. The distance that a great deal of "anti/ humanist" art proposes is actually e)uivalent to o!session ( an aspect of the involvement in "things" of hich the "humanist" nominalism of 3il"e has no intimation. F5I

"There is something strange in the acts of riting and spea"ing," 7ovalis rote in ?H@@. "The ridiculous and ama2ing mista"e people ma"e is to !elieve they use ords in relation to things. They are una are of the nature of language ( hich is to !e its o n and only concern, ma"ing it so fertile and splendid a mystery. $hen someone tal"s just for the sa"e of tal"ing he is saying the most original and truthful thing he can say." 7ovalis, statement may help e+plain something that at first seems parado+ical- that the age of the idespread advocacy of art,s silence should also contain an increasing num!er of or"s of art that !a!!le. 5er!osity and repetitiveness is a particularly noticea!le tendency in the temporal arts of prose, fiction, music, film, and dance, many of hich appear to cultivate a "ind of ontological stammer ( facilitated !y their refusal to heed the incentives for a clean, anti/redundant discourse supplied !y linear, !eginning/middle/and/end construction. 'ut actually, there,s no contradiction. *or the contemporary appeal for silence has never indicated merely a hostile dismissal of language. It also signifies a very high estimate of language ( of its po ers, of its past health, and of the current dangers it poses to a free consciousness. *rom this intense and am!ivalent valuation proceeds the impulse for a discourse that appears !oth irrespressi!le (and, in principle. intermina!le) and strangely inarticulate, painfully reduced. #ne even senses the outlines of a su!liminal rationale ( discerni!le in the fictions of Stein, 'urroughs, and 'ec"ett ( that it might !e possi!le to out/tal" language, or to tal" oneself into silence. This is an odd and not very promising strategy, one might thin", in the light of hat results might reasona!ly !e anticipated from it. 'ut perhaps not so odd. after all, hen one o!serves ho often the aesthetic of silence appears hand in hand ith a !arely controlled a!horrence of the void. %ccommodating these t o contrary impulses may produce the need to fill up all the spaces ith o!jects of slight emotional eight or ith even, large areas of !arely modulated color or evenly/ detailed o!jects, or to spin a discourse ith as fe possi!le inflections, emotive variations. and risings and failings of emphasis. These procedures seem analogous to the !ehavior of an o!sessional neurotic arding off a danger. The acts of such a person must !e repeated in the identical form, !ecause the danger remains the same& and they must !e repeated endlessly, !ecause the danger never seems to go a ay. 'ut the emotional fires feeding the art discourse analogous to o!sessionalism may !e turned do n so lo one can almost forget they,re there. Then all that,s left to the ear is a "ind of steady hum or drone. $hat,s left to the eye is the neat filling of a space ith things, or, more accurately, the patient transcripttion of the surface detail of things. #n this vie , the "silence" of things, images, and ords is a prere)uisite for their proliferation. $ere they endo ed ith a more potent. individual charge, each of the various elements of the art or" ould claim more psychic space and then their total num!er might have to !e reduced. F5II Sometimes the accusation against language is not directed against all of language !ut only against the ritten ord. Thus Tristan T2ara urged the !urning of all !oo"s and li!raries to !ring a!out a ne era of oral legends. %nd ;c>uhan, as everyone "no s, ma"es the sharpest distinction !et een ritten language ( hich e+ists in "visual space") and oral speech ( hich e+ists in "auditory space"), praising the psychic and cultural advantages of the latter as the !asis for sensi!ility. If ritten language is singled out as the culprit, hat ill !e sought is not so much the reduction as the metamorphosis of language into something looser, more intuitive, less organi2ed and inflected, nonlinear (in ;c>uhan,s terminology) and ( noticea!ly ( more ver!ose. 'ut of course, it is just these )ualities that characteri2e many of the great prose narratives ritten in our time. 4oyce, Stein, 0adda, >aura 3iding, 'ec"ett, and 'urroughs employ a language hose norms and energies come from oral speech, ith its circular repetitive movements and essentially first person voice. "Spea"ing for the sa"e of spea"ing is the formula of deliverance," 7ovalis said. (.eliverance from hat= *rom spea"ing= *rom art=) I should argue that 7ovalis has succinctly descri!ed the proper approach of the riter to language, and offered the !asic criterion for literature as an art. 'ut hether oral speech is the privileged model for the speech of literature as an art is a )uestion that remains undecided. F5III % corollary of the gro th of this conception of art,s language as autonomous and self/sufficient (and, in the end, self/reflective) is a decline in "meaning," as traditionally sought in or"s of art. "Spea"ing for the sa"e of spea"ing" forces us to relocate the meaning of linguistic or para/linguistic statements. $e are led to a!andon meaning (in the sense of references to entities outside the art or") as the criterion for the language of art in favor of "use." ($ittgenstein,s famous thesis, "the meaning is the use," can !e, should !e, rigorously applied to art.) ";eaning" partially or totally converted into "use" is the secret !ehind the idespread strategy of

literalness, a major development of the aesthetics of silence. % variant on this- hidden literality, e+emplified !y such different riters as <af"a and 'ec"ett. The narratives of <af"a and 'ec"ett seem pu22ling !ecause they appear to invite the reader to ascri!e high/po ered sym!olic and allegorical meanings to them and, at the same time, repel such ascriptions. The truth is that their language, hen it is e+amined, discloses no more than hat it literally means. The po er of their language derives precisely from the fact that the meaning is so !are. The effect of such !areness is often a "ind of an+iety ( li"e the an+iety one feels hen familiar things aren,t in their place or playing their accustomed role. #ne may !e made as an+ious !y une+pected literalness as !y the Surrealists, "distur!ing" o!jects and une+pected scale and condition of o!jects conjoined in an imaginary landscape. $hatever is holly mysterious is at once !oth psychically relieving and an+iety provo"ing. (% perfect machine for agitating this pair of contrary emotions- the 'osch dra ing in a .utch museum that sho s trees furnished ith t o ears at the sides of their trun"s, as if they ere listening to the forest, hile the forest floor is stre n ith eyes.) 'efore a fully conscious or" of art, one feels something li"e the mi+ture of an+iety, detachment, pruriency, and relief a physically sound person feels hen he glimpses an amputee. 'ec"ett spea"s favora!ly of a or" of art hich ould !e a "Total o!ject, complete ith missing parts, instead of partial o!ject. Iuestion of degree." E+actly hat a totality is, hat constitutes completeness in art (or anything else) is precisely the pro!lem. That pro!lem is, in principle, an unresolva!le one. The fact is, that hatever ay a or" of art is, it could have !een ( could !e ( different. The necessity of these parts in this order is never a given state& it is conferred. The refusal to admit this essential contingency (or openness) is hat inspires the audience,s ill to confirm the closedness of a or" of art !y interpreting it, and hat creates the feeling common among reflective artists and critics that the art or" is al ays someho in arrears of or inade)uate to its "su!ject." 'ut unless one is committed to the idea that art "e+presses" something, these procedures and attitudes are far from inevita!le. FIF This tenacious concept of art as "e+pression" is hat gives rise to one common, !ut du!ious, version of the notion of silence, hich invo"es the idea of "the ineffa!le." The theory supposes that the province of art is "the !eautiful," hich implies effects of unspea"a!leness, indescri!a!ility, ineffa!ility. Indeed, the search to e+press the ine+pressi!le is ta"en as the very criterion of art& and sometimes, for instance, in several essays of 5alery, !ecomes the occasion for a strict ( and to my mind untena!le ( distinction !et een prose literature and poetry. It is from this !asis that 5alery advanced his famous argument (repeated in a )uite different conte+t !y Sartre) that the novel is not, strictly spea"ing, an art form at all. :is reason is that since the aim of prose is to communicate, the use of language in prose is perfectly straightfor ard. 1oetry, !eing an art, should have )uite different aimsto e+press an e+perience hich is essentially ineffa!le& using language to e+press muteness. In contrast to prose riters, poets are engaged in su!verting their o n instrument- and see"ing to pass !eyond it. Insofar as this theory assumes that art is concerned ith 'eauty, it isn,t very interesting. (;odern aesthetics is crippled !y its dependence upon this essentially vacant concept. %s if art ere "a!out" !eauty, as science is "a!out" truthJ) 'ut even if the theory dispenses ith the notion of 'eauty, there is still a more serious o!jection to !e made. The vie that the e+pression of the ineffa!le is an eternal function of poetry (considered as a paradigm of all the arts) is naively unhistorical. $hile surely a perennial category of consciousness, the ineffa!le has certainly not al ays made its home in the arts. Its traditional shelter as in religious discourse and, secondarily (cf. the Hth Epistle of 1lato), in philosophy. The fact that contemporary artists are concerned ith silence ( and, therefore, in one e+tension, ith the ineffa!le ( must !e understood historically, as a conse)uence of the prevailing myth of the "a!soluteness" of art to hich I,ve referred throughout the present argument. The value placed on silence doesn,t arise !y virtue of the nature of art, !ut is derived from the contemporary ascription of certain "a!solute" )ualities to the art o!ject and to the activity of the artist. The e+tent to hich art is involved ith the ineffa!le is something more specific, as ell as contemporary- art, in the modern conception, is al ays connected ith systematic transgressions of a formal sort. The systematic violation of older formal conventions practiced !y modern artists gives their or" a certain aura of the unspea"a!le ( for instance, as the audience uneasily senses the negative presence of hat else could !e, !ut isn,t !eing, said& and as any "statement" made in an aggressively ne or difficult form tends to seem e)uivocal or merely vacant. 'ut these features of ineffa!ility must not !e ac"no ledged at the e+pense of one,s a areness of the positivity of the or" of art. 8ontemporary art, no matter ho much it,s defined itself !y a taste for negation, can still !e

analy2ed as a set of assertions, of a formal "ind. *or instance, each or" of art gives us a form or paradigm or model of "no ing something, an epistemology. 'ut vie ed as a spiritual project, a vehicle of aspirations to ard an a!solute, hat any or" of art supplies is a specific model for meta/social or meta/ethical tact, a standard of decorum. Each art/ or" indicates the unity of certain preferences a!out hat can and cannot !e said (or represented). %t the same time that it may ma"e a tacit proposal for upsetting previously consecrated rulings on hat can !e said (or represented), it issues its o n set of limits. FF T o styles in hich silence is advocated- loud and soft. The loud style is a function of the unsta!le antithesis of "plenum" and "void." 7otoriously, the sensuous, ecstatic, translinguistic apprehension of the plenum can collapse in a terri!le. almost instantaneous plunge into the void of negative silence. $ith all its a areness of ris"/ta"ing (the ha2ards of spiritual nausea, even of madness), this advocacy of silence tends to !e frenetic, and overgenerali2ing. It is also fre)uently apocalyptic, and must endure the indignity of all apocalyptic thin"ing- namely, to prophecy the end, to see the day come, to outlive it, and then to set a ne date for the incineration of consciousness and the definitive pollution of language and e+haustion of the possi!ilities of art/discourse. The other ay of tal"ing a!out silence is more cautious. 'asically, it presents itself as an e+tension of a main feature of traditional classicism- the concern ith modes of propriety, ith standards of seemliness. Silence is only "reticence" stepped up to the nth degree. #f course, in the translation of this concern from the matri+ of traditional classical art, the tone has changed ( from didactic seriousness to ironic open/mindedness. 'ut hile the clamorous style of proclaiming the rhetoric of silence may seem more passionate, more su!dued advocates (li"e 8age, 4ohns) are saying something e)ually drastic. They are reacting to the same idea of art,s a!solute aspirations (!y programmatic disavo als of art)& they share the same disdain for the "meanings" esta!lished !y !ourgeois rationalist culture, indeed for culture itself in the familiar sense. 'ut hat is voiced !y the *uturists, some of the .ada artists, and 'urroughs as a harsh despair and perverse vision of apocalypse, is no less serious for !eing proclaimed in a polite voice and as a se)uence of playful affirmation. Indeed, it could !e argued that silence is li"ely to remain a via!le notion for modern art and consciousness only so far as it,s deployed ith a considera!le, near systematic irony. It is in the nature of all spiritual projects to tend to consume themselves ( e+hausting their o n sense, the very meaning of the terms in hich they are couched. ($hich is hy "spirituality" must !e continually reinvented.) %ll genuinely ultimate projects of consciousness eventually !ecome projects for the unravelling of thought itself. 8ertainly, art conceived as a spiritual project is no e+ception. %s an a!stracted and fragmented replica of the positive nihilism e+pounded !y the radical religious myths, the serious art of our time has moved increasingly to ard the most e+cruciating inflections of consciousness. 8onceiva!ly, irony is the only feasi!le counter eight to this grave use of art, as the arena for the ordeal of consciousness. The present prospect is that artists ill go on a!olishing art, only to resurrect it in a more retracted version. %s long as art !ears up under the pressure of chronic interrogation, it ould seem a good thing that some of the )uestions have a certain playful )uality. 'ut this prospect depends, perhaps, on the via!ility of irony itself. *rom Socrates for ard, there are countless itnesses to the value of irony for the private individualas a comple+, serious method of see"ing and holding one,s truth, and as a method of saving one,s sanity. 'ut as irony !ecomes the good taste of hat is, after all, an essentially collective activity ( the ma"ing of art ( it may prove less servicea!le. #ne need not spea" as categorically as 7iet2sche, ho thought the spread of irony throughout a culture al ays signified the floodtide of decadence and the approaching end of that culture,s vitality and po ers. In the post/political, electronically connected cosmopolis in hich all serious modern artists have ta"en out premature citi2enship, certain organic connections !et een culture and "thin"ing" (and art is certainly no , mainly, a form of thin"ing) may have !een !ro"en, so that 7iet2sche,s diagnosis no longer applies. Still, there remains a )uestion as to ho far the resources of irony can !e stretched. It seems unli"ely that the possi!ilities of continually undermining one,s assumptions can go on unfolding indefinitely into the future, ithout !eing eventually chec"ed !y despair or !y a laugh that leaves one ithout any !reath at all