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The Rhetorics of Silence

Anne Dalke's picture

Anne Dalke, English 228, Bryn Mawr College,
Fall 2012, TTh 2:15-3:45, English House Lecture Hall
(or, preferably, out in front of the building!)
  Class Members, Schedule for "Structuring Silence," and 360 Semester's Calendar
Our On-Line Conversation: for the whole 360 and for Silence alone
Protected Reading File & Notes Towards Class Discussion
  Checklist and Instructions for Preparing Your Final Portfolio

The Void of Silence

This class is part of a cluster of three courses in a 360° called Women in Walled Communities: Silence, Voice, Vision, which focuses on the constraints and agency of individual actors in the institutional settings of women's colleges and prisons.

 “Every sentence is a prison” (Emerson).

"That silence …

 It’s a meadow…
Silence is a game of dodgeball @ dusk…
Silence is the Old city of partition and quarter…"
 (Robin Becker, “Against Silence”)

“Like the zero in mathematics, silence is an absence with a function, and a rhetorical one at that” (Cheryl Glenn, Unspoken:  A Rhetoric of Silence, 2004). This English course will consider silence as a rhetorical art and political act, an imaginative space and expressive power that can serve many functions, including that of opening new possibilities among us. We will share our own experiences of silence, re-thinking them through the lenses of how it is explained in philosophy, enacted in classrooms, and performed by various genders, cultures and religions. 

Taking as our point of departure Elizabeth Ellsworth’s query, “What kind of educational project would redefine the silence of the unknowable, freeing it from…’Absence, Lack, and Fear,’ and make of that silence ‘a language of its own that changes the nature and direction of speech itself?” we will situate ourselves on the margins of conventional discourse, on the edges of language, to explore a conceptual understanding of silence as a source of active transformation, a form of active resistance that challenges how social meaning is made. Acknowledging the recalcitrance and contingency of the medium of language, the disparity between what is experienced and what it is possible to say, we will explore silence as an alternative space to think, feel, dream and observe. Possible theoretical positions, and practices deriving therefrom, will be drawn from philosophy, linguistics, cultural studies, feminist inquiry and religious thought; concrete applications will draw on a variety of cultural expressions, including the visual language of the Deaf.

Course Requirements
Each week:
*  3 hours of class discussion
*  6 hours of reading and reflecting, preparing for class discussion
* 1/2-hour of on-line writing (due each Sunday by 5 p.m.)

We will read three book-length texts, which are available in the College Bookshop:
I, Rigoberta Menchu; Brothers and Keepers; and Eva's Man. All the other, shorter texts
are available on-line (see link to protected reading file, above, and syllabus below;
we'll explore some on-line annotation tools to help your on-line reading).

Once/month: a "web event" (a total of four 3-pp. projects)

Before fall break: a writing conference with Anne

End of semester: final performance, on-line presentation, checklist and e-portfolio

Learning Goals for the course include solitary experiences of silence, in practice, close observation and reflection; shared, dialogic, critical thinking about such experiences; reading and interpreting written, visual and material texts about silence; finding effective ways of expressing and acting in response to our emergent understandings, including the possibility of clearing some space not to articulate them.

(cf. syllabus statement from Access Services): we will all of us need a little space, a little "slack," @ some time during the course of the semester;  to "accomodate this," our shared responsibility involves letting one another know when we can't show up, making alternative arrangements (for ex, if you need to miss class, read the course notes, do another posting "saying" what you might have said, had you been here...)

I. Listening, Looking, Writing, Introducing....

Day 1 (T, Sept. 4): Listening to Silence
go outside for 15 minutes: be silent. observe. write. return. share (something)
Wendell Barry. The Silence
Simon and Garfunkel. Sounds of Silence
John Cage. 4’33”

By 5 p.m. Wed (Sept. 5): upload your own "visualization of silence" on our on-line course conversation.

You will return to this on-line conversation on Serendip by 5 p.m. every Sunday evening. When you don't have an assigned paper, please write a paragraph or two reflecting on our week's conversation, alternating between "stand-alone" postings, and those written in response to your classmates' reflections....

Day 2 (Th, Sept. 6): Visualizing Silence
before class, look @
Edvard Munch. "The Scream,"
The Silent Scream, The Silent Scream, The Silent Scream and The Silence Supercut
watch a silent film: Phantom of the Opera (1925), Nosferatu (1922), or ....?

5 p.m. Sun, Sept. 9: Web event #1 (3 pp.)
-- beginning with your own, or a classmate's, or another visualization/vocalization of silence, reflect on your own experiences of silencing and being silenced.
When, where and why do you think has this happened? Post these reflections in our on-line class conversation.

I. Silence In Class

One can make a strategy of taking away from [students] the authority of their marginality .... To be out is really to be in – inside the realm of the visible, the speakable, the culturally intelligible” ... engaging in ... dialogue about “personal” or “private” aspects of yourself ... can make you TOO easy to understand ... maintaining the liminal ... position ... means that you do not become “culturally intelligible”. You can’t be mainstreamed; your deviance cannot be absorbed ...“cannot be contained” (Gayatri Spivak, Outside in the Teaching Machine)

We will begin and end each classtime with five minutes of shared silence.
Please sign up, twice, for taking your turn at structuring this space.

Day 3 (T, Sept. 11): Writing Silence
Peter Elbow. “Silence:  A Collage.” Everyone Can Write: Essays Toward a Hopeful Theory of Writing and Teaching. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 173-183 [this link leads directly to the Bryn Mawr network; to access the text from Haverford, enter the title into Tripod, and follow the instructions to "Connect...from Haverford"].

Emily Dickinson's poems on silence: #407, 633, 932, 1473, 1681, 1700, 1750 ...

Day 4 (Th, Sept. 13): Talking Silence
Jane Tompkins. "Talking in Class." A Life in School: What the Teacher Learned. Reading, Massachusetts, Addison-Wesley, 1996. 62-65 (in our password protected file).

Anne Dalke. “Silence is so Windowful: Class as Antechamber.” Teaching to Learn/Learning to Teach: Meditations on the Classroom. New York: Peter Lang, 2002. 95-114 (in our password protected file).

By 5 p.m. Sunday evening, post a paragraph or two reflecting on our week's conversation.

Day 5 (T, Sept. 18): On Being Silenced
Lisa Delpit. "The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People's Children." Harvard Educational Review 58, 3 (August 1988): 280-298.

Heejung S. Kim and Hazel Rose Markus. Chapter 11--"Speech and Silence; an Analysis of the Cultural Practice of Talking," OR Greg Dimitriadis, Chapter 14--"Popular Culture, Pedagogy and Urban Youth: Beyond Silenced Voices." In MIchelle Fine and Lois Weis, Eds. Beyond Silenced Voices: Class, Race, and Gender in United States Schools. Rev. New Paltz: State University of New York Press, 2005. 181-196, 233-250 (in our password protected file).

Day 6 (Th, Sept. 20): Margaret Price. Chapter 1. "Listening to the Subject of Mental Disability: Intersections of Academic and Medical Discourses." Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011. 25-57 (in our password protected file).

5 p.m. Sun, Sept. 23: Web event #2 (3 pp.) -- "Talk back" to your first essay, to those of others in the class, and/or to our class-wide discussions: how would you now visualize-and-vocalize silence? How might you now tell the story of your own and others’ silences in the classroom?

II. Silent Cultures

a being who could not renounce saying many things would be incapable of speaking….Each people leaves some things unsaid, to be able to say others…any given silence has its identity as a stretch of time being perforated by sound (Ortega y Gasset).

Days 7-8 (T, Sept. 25-Th, Sept. 27): I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala. Second Edition. Elisabeth Burgos-Debray, Ed. Ann Wright, Trans.  1983; rpt. Brooklyn: Verso, 2010. 320 pp.

By 5 p.m. on Sun, Sept. 30, 1/2 of you (chandrea, couldntthinkof, Dan, Erin, HsBurke, Hummingbird, ishin, jhunter) have postings due --afterthoughts from this week, or questions anticipating next week; the other 1/2 of you should read these (and if you want, respond) by Monday @ 5.

Day 9 (T, Oct. 2): Doris Sommer. "Advertencia/Warning" and "No Secrets for Rigoberta." Proceed with Caution, When Engaged by Minority Writing in the Americas. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999. ix-xv, 115-137 (in our password protected file).

Day 10 (Th, Oct. 4):  John Edgar Wideman. "In Praise of Silence." Callaloo 22, 3 (Summer 1999): 547-549.

Yves-Charles Grandjeat. "'These Strange Dizzy Pauses:' Silence as Common Ground in J.E. Wideman's Texts." Callaloo 22, 3 (Summer 1999): 685-694 (you can skip pp. 690-693, but be sure to read the final paragraph!)

By 5 p.m. on Sun, Oct 7, 1/2 of you (3 "J's"--jo, Owl, Uninhibited--Michaela and the "S's"--sara, Sarah, Sasha, sdane & Sharaai) have postings due --afterthoughts from this week, or questions anticipating next week; the other 1/2 of you should read these (and if you want, respond) by Monday @ 5.

Days 11-12 (T, Oct. 9-Th, Oct. 11):
John Edgar Wideman. Brothers and Keepers. New York: Vintage, 1995. 226 pp.

-----. "Personal History: Father Stories." The New Yorker. August 1, 1994: 36-41.

FALL BREAK (Oct. 12-21)

5 p.m. Sun (Oct. 21): please post AS A COMMENT TO THIS POST a short description of the sort of activism which interests you, and any ideas you have about what particular form this action might take.

A number of possible venues for activism have been emerging from our conversations (giving feedback to the Mural Arts Program, and/or offering an alternative form of art-making in some of the neighborhoods we visited on our tour? working with YASP on a door-to-door campaign? advocating for the future of Perry House? what other activism is likely to emerge during the next 6 weeks, as we spend time inside The Cannery?).

We would like you to 1) structure your final work in this 360°around one of these actions and also 2) find some way to present those projects to the larger bi-co community (or beyond it). A number of these will need advance work (especially if we are to co-ordinate w/ others outside the bi-co), so we'd like to begin brainstorming together the directions in which we might go, both individually and collectively.

We will then begin having shared conversations about when and how to move forward ….

Day 13 (T, Oct. 23): Samuel Beckett, Footfalls (1975).

Mark Lord and Catharine Slusar will join us for class today, to share their in-process performance-and-production of Footfalls.

Day 14 (Th, Oct. 25): John G. Rives. Deaf Jam. September 10, 2006.

Clayton Valli. Hands. 1990.

Ella Mae Lentz. Eye Music. 1995.

Christine Sun Kim. Is Unlearning Sound Etiquette and "Partial Thesis Statement" (in our password protected file).

Brenda Jo Brueggeman. "Words Another Way: Of Presence, Vision, Silence, and Politics in Sign Language Poetry." Lend Me Your Ear: Rhetorical Constructions of Deafness. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 2002. 201-236 (in our password protected file).

Joint meeting with Christine Sun Kim and Kristin Lindgren's HC class, Portraits of Disability and Difference

5:30-7:30 p.m. Fri, Oct. 26, opening @ Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery,
HC including Christine’s performance/ installation

5 p.m. Mon, Oct. 29: Web event #3 (3 pp.)--explore your current understanding of cultural variations in the understanding of silence. You can write a conventional analytical paper (a number of us have talked about my giving you a hand up w/ this form); you can also experiment with the "performative form" that might best convey some of your understanding of that variation (make a storyboard for a film, begin a script for a theater piece, sketch out an interactive performance piece, or...?)

III. Engendering Silence

“These are not natural silences, that necessary time for renewal, lying fallow, gestation, the natural cycle of creation. The silences I speak of here are unnatural; the unnatural thwarting of what struggles to come into being, but cannot. In the old, the obvious parallels: when the seed strikes stone; the soil will not sustain; the spring is false; the time is drought or blight or infestation; they frost comes premature. This book is about such silences. It is concerned with the relationship of circumstances—including class, color, sex; the times, climate into which one is born—to the creation of literature…. A passion and a purpose inform its pages:…hatred for all that, societally rooted…slows, impairs, silences writers (Tillie Olsen, Silences).

Day 15 (T, Oct. 30): Hurricane Sandy

Day 16 (Th, Nov. 1): catching up, reflecting on all we've been up to...

By 5 p.m. on Sun, Nov. 4, 1/2 of you (chandrea, couldntthinkof, Dan, Erin, HsBurke, Hummingbird, ishin, jhunter) have postings due --afterthoughts from this week, or questions anticipating next week; the other 1/2 of you should read these (and if you want, respond) by Monday @ 5.

Day 17 (T, Nov. 6):  Alexandra Juhasz et. al. Released: 5 Short Videos about Women and Prison. Hollywood, CA: Lightning Dubbs, 2001. Videodisc: 28 minutes.

Tillie Olsen. “Silences in Literature" and "Silences: Its Varieties." Silences. New York: Dell, 1978. 6-21, 142-151 (in our password protected file).

Michelle Balaev. "Trends in Literary Trauma Theory." Mosaic: A Journal for the Comparative Study of Literature. June 1, 2008 (in our password protected file).

Jason Stanley. The Ways of Silencing. The New York Times (June 25, 2011).

Everyone also has a SECOND POSTING DUE for the whole 360 early next week. Please review the postings everyone did, on returning from fall break, describing the sort of activism that interests you--and then BY TUESDAY, Nov. 6, @ 5 p.m., PLEASE POST AS A COMMENT HERE a description of your current thinking about our final projects for this class. How have your own thoughts about your project evolved? Do you see your project as standing alone, or as allied w/ others? What independent actions, and what clusters of activism, can you now see emerging among our proposals? We will meet in the DVR for supper, 6-7:30 on Wed, Nov. 7, to discuss and organize further. Before coming to supper, please also read the second round of comments posted here, and arrive ready to share your thoughts towards next steps.

Day 18 (Th, Nov. 8): Maxine Hong Kingston. “No Name Woman” and (in our password protected file) “A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe.” Woman Warrior: Memoirs of A Girlhood Among Ghosts, 1976. 3-19, 189-243.

By 5 p.m. on Sun, Nov. 11, 1/2 of you (3 "J's"--jo, Owl, Uninhibited--Michaela and the "S's"--sara, Sarah, Sasha, sdane & Sharaai) have postings due --afterthoughts from this week, or questions anticipating next week; the other 1/2 of you should read these (and if you want, respond) by Monday @ 5.

Day 19 (T, Nov. 13): Adrienne Rich. "Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying." 1975; rpt. On Lies, Secrets and Silence, 1979. 185-194 (in our password protected file).

Wendy Brown. "Chapter 5: Freedom's Silences." Edgework: Critical Essays on Knowledge and Politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005. 83-97 (in our password protected file).

Day 20-21 (Th, Nov. 15) Gayl Jones. Eva's Man. Boston: Beacon, 1987. 186 pp.

By 11 a.m. on Sun, Nov. 18, a 360-wide assignment: each group (the Perry House project should now be divided into several working groups) post a 1-paragraph proposal outlining your intentions for your final project: your current plans, the resources you've identified, the dilemmas and questions you'd like feedback on --and your names.

By 5 p.m. on Sun, Nov. 18, 1/2 of you (chandrea, couldntthinkof, Dan, Erin, HsBurke, Hummingbird, ishin, jhunter) have postings due --afterthoughts from this week, or questions anticipating next week; the other 1/2 of you should read these (and if you want, respond) by Monday @ 5.

Day 21 (T, Nov. 20):
Eva's Man, continued

5 p.m. Wed, Nov. 21: Web event #4 (3 pp.)--Explore your current understanding now of gendered silences, by carefully and closely reading a literary text in which they are present. (Models for this sort of critical practice include Doris Sommer's reading of I, Rigoberta Menchu; Grandjeat's reading of Brothers and Keepers;  Sweeney's reading of Eva's Man

Thankgiving Break (Th, Nov. 22)

Day 22 (T, Nov. 27):  "Making Silence Visible/Animating the Silence/Leaving Room for Silence,
with Jen Rajchel, assistant director of the Tri-Co Digital Humanities Initiative

"Dialogue Between a Quaker and his Neighbor in Hertford, about the Murder of Mrs. Sarah Stout," and
"Lothario's Answer to Sarah the Quaker in the Shades" (London: A. Moore, 1729; both in our password protected file).

IV. Practicing Silence

"Our true experiences are not at all garrulous. They could not communicate themselves even if they tried. Whatever we have words for, that is already dead in our hearts. In all talk there is a grain of contempt" (Frederick Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols).

Day 23 (Th, Nov. 29): George Kalamaras. "Reclaiming the Tacit Dimension." Reclaiming the Tacit Dimension: Symbolic Form in the Rhetoric of Silence. State University of New York Press, 1994. 1-12 (in our password protected file).

Caroline Stephen. Selections from Quaker Strongholds, 1890. Rpt. Quaker Spirituality: Selected Writings. Ed. Douglas Steere. New York: Paulist Press, 1984. 239-258 (in our password protected file).

Gordon Hempton, The Last Quiet Places. Radio show/Podcast. May 10, 2012.

By 5 p.m. on Sun, Dec. 2, 1/2 of you (3 "J's"--jo, Owl, Uninhibited--Michaela and the "S's"--sara, Sarah, Sasha, sdane & Sharaai) have postings due --afterthoughts from this week, or questions anticipating next week; the other 1/2 of you should read these (and if you want, respond) by Monday @ 5.

Day 24 (T, Dec. 4):  Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. La Respuesta/The Response. 1690; Electra Arenal and Amanda Powell, eds. and trans. New York: Feminist Press, 1994. 39-105 (in our password protected file).

Day 25 (Th, Dec. 6): Sister Linda-Susan Beard will join us for class

Sister Linda Susan Beard. Silence is the Winter Name of God. August 28, 2002.

Sister Joan Chittister. Seeking the Interior Life. Program #4806. Good November 7, 2004.

James Kullander. Be Not Silent: Sister Joan Chittister Speaks Out On War, Feminism, And The Catholic Church. The Sun Magazine. Issue 308. June 2007.

By 5 p.m. on Sun, Dec 9, everyone should post their afterthoughts from this week; please consider doing this in response to one another as well as in "stand-alone" form.


My father used to say,
"Superior people ...sometimes enjoy solitude,
and can be robbed of speech
by speech which has delighted them.
The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence;
not in silence, but restraint." (Marianne Moore, "Silence")

Days 26-27 (T, Dec. 11-Th, Dec. 13): working on our final projects

1-3:30 p.m. Mon, Dec. 17, in Goodhart Teaching Theater:
sharing with the larger community what we have been learning

6-8 p.m. Celebratory Supper @ Anne's apartment in Center City

12:30, Fri, Dec. 21:
Final Project
In the final projects you are co-creating for our 360 on Women in Walled Communities, we are expecting multi-pronged, cross-disciplinary endeavors that involve both collaborative and individual components, including
    • a public demonstration, 1-3 pm, Mon, Dec. 17, of a tangible project that you have created together,
    • which builds on the particular skills, knowledge and experience of all students in the group, and
    • draws in some way on the Education, English and Criminal Justice knowledge you have acquired over the course of the semester.

In the final e-portfolio of your work, due on Serendip by 12:30, Fri, Dec. 21, we will expect critical reflection about the ways in which your final product brought together the different angles of vision (individual and disciplinary) listed above:

    • how did each of the three courses/disciplines inform your final project?
    • how did completing the project push your thinking in each of these disciplines?
    • in what ways is your project a response to one of the several important, ongoing questions of the semester: how we might take meaningful action  in the world? (Feel free to use this query as a way to think both about how your project offers an effective way forward, and/or as a place to highlight what Tillie Olsen calls "foreground and background silences," those times that precede or follow action, those spaces when we need to slow down and think.)   

Additional Reading (what we didn't quite get to....;)
Anne Dalke. "'On Behalf of the Standard of Silence': The American Female Modernists and the Powers of Restraint." Soundings: An Interdiscipinary Journal 78, 3-4 (Fall-Winter 1995): 501-519 (in our password protected file).

Jonathan Foer. Seven Attempted Escapes from Silence (libretto).

Karim Haddad. First Attempted Escape From Silence: Tunnels.

Thelonious Monk. 'Round Midnight (Piano Solo).

Leslie Marmon Silko. "Language and Literature from a Pueblo Indian Perspective." Critical Fictions, ed. Philomena Mariani. Seattle: Bay Press, 1991. 83-93 (in our password protected file).

John Edgar Wideman."The Silence of Thelonious Monk." Callaloo 22, 3 (Summer 1999): 550-557.

Anne's Reading Notes

To be considered for this 360°, students must preregister and submit this questionnaire: