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Listening, Looking, Writing, Introducing: Notes Towards Day 1 (Tues, Sept. 1)

Anne Dalke's picture

on board: /oneworld/arts-resistance/rhetorics-silence-f15-sylla-ship
dumb, sober, fertile, alive, musical, listening, noisy, baffled, peaceful

I. who among us can read Spanish?
...invite us into silence

Pablo Neruda, "A callarse"

Ahora contaremos doce
y nos quedamos todos quietos.

Por una vez sobre la tierra
no hablemos en ningun idioma,
por un segundo detengamonos,
no movamos tanto los brazos.

Seria un minuto fragante,
sin prisa, sin locomotoras,
todos estariamos juntos
en una inquietud instantanea.

Los pescadores del mar frio
no harian danio a las ballenas
y el trabajador de la sal
miraria sus manos rotas.

Los que preparan guerras verdes,
guerras de gas, guerras de fuego,
victorias sin sobrevivientes,
se pondrian un traje puro
y andarian con sus hermanos
por la sombra, sin hacer nada.

No se confunda lo que quiero
con la inaccion definitiva:
la vida es solo lo que se hace,
no quiero nada con la muerte.

Si no pudimos ser unanimes
moviendo tanto nuestras vidas,
tal vez no hacer nada una vez,
tal vez un gran silencio pueda
interrumpir esta tristeza,
este no entendernos jamas
y amenazarnos con la muerte,
tal vez la tierra nos ensenie
cuando todo parece muerto
y luego todo estaba vivo.

Ahora contare hasta doce
y tu te callas y me voy.

[another volunteer, to read the English version?]
KEEPING QUIET, by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

II. This is a real invitation.
"I'll count to twelve ... and I will go."
You'll go too; I encourage you to go outside,
to wander in the woods behind English House,
but you can stay inside, I don't care.
The only rule is that you must keep quiet for the next 15 minutes, til 2:45.
No talking, no devices.
Keep still, keep moving, whatever--but
Be silent. Observe. Listen.

III. When we return: 5 more minutes of silent writing, about what just happened.

in his poem, The Silence, Wendell Barry writes,

Though the air is full of singing
my head is loud
with the labor of words....

Though the beech is golden
I cannot stand beside it
mute, but must say

"It is golden," while the leaves
stir and fall with a sound
that is not a name....

The third stanza of another of his poems, "How to be a Poet," counsels,

Accept what comes from silence.  
Make the best you can of it.  
Of the little words that come  
out of the silence ...
make a poem that does not disturb  
the silence from which it came.

Don't know how we can make a poem that does not disturb the silence....?
But let's try to hold on to some semblance of quiet, as we begin speaking.
Let's go 'round, say our names (I'm still learning) and some short selection
of what we have written. Let's keep some silence between our speaking discussing, just listening.

What did we attend to? What did we (not) attend to? What kinds of silence did we "hear"?
How did we experience silence? Did you feel unnaturally silenced, as if you were choosing silence, or...?
Was it a relief, an irritation, a puzzle? Comfortable, uncomfortable...?

In 1972, the novelist, poet, playwright, and psychiatrist Paul Goodman described "The Nine Kinds of Silence": Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each. There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy; the sober silence that goes with a solemn animal face; the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts; the alive silence of alert perception, ready to say, “This… this…”; the musical silence that accompanies absorbed activity; the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear; the noisy silence of resentment and self-recrimination, loud and subvocal speech but sullen to say it; baffled silence; the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos.

Do any of these words describe what we have been experiencing this afternoon? What other kinds have we described/might have we experienced, or want to?

IV. I started this course on the "rhetorics of silence"
with our own experiences of silence (though these were other-imposed;
we'll also have some self-imposed silences!)
Working out from and adding to our own experience,
we'll be asking a range of questions this semester, about
--how we experience the silence of others,
--whether-and-how we silence others,
--how we read silence in the classroom,
--in what other spaces we experience silence (our own and others),
--how the understanding of silence might vary, in different classes, genders, cultures, religions,
--and what sorts of possibilities might silence open for us.
Those are some of the questions.

V. Here, finally, are some statements....! Our overfull "syllaship" is on-line @
you should bookmark this, and check it in preparation for every class;
it will change as the semester goes on, so be sure to "re-fresh" each time you go back.

You'll have reading (and this week some viewing) to do for each class;
for the first three weeks, you'll find it all available, via active on-line links from the syllabus;
you should print it off and mark it up, or read it on-line using digital annotation tools;
DO NOT COME to class without an accessible text! (fine to bring your computers...)

You should also buy, check out, or plan to share three book-length works:
two memoirs, I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala;
and John Edgar Wideman's Brothers and Keepers;
as well as a novel by Gayle Jones, Eva's Man. (We'll be using
Brothers and Keepers as one of our texts in prison, too).

What's unique about this class is that -- besides talking w/ each other in person,
and handing in one piece of more formal writing each month,
and having conferences about your writing -- we will be meeting virtually
each week in an inbetween space: our on-line/cluster forum @

By 5 p.m. tomorrow evening, and then by 5 p.m. each Wednesday thereafter,
I am asking you to post a comment in that space,
reflecting on our discussion from the week before, or anticipating what's upcoming
(more deliberate than speaking in class, less formal than written work:
excellent place for showcasing revisionary thinking).

[I know that this is going to push you, but there's no way I can use
what you post, unless I have time to review it before class!--and
I teach an ESem on T/Th mornings...]

Learning to be a public intellectual, thinking out loud:
it's on the internet, not a closed space, so readable-by-the-world,
and discussable in class (starting point for most class meetings....).
There is a "private" option, which you may want to use occasionally,
but the default is a public one.

You all have been registered for a Serendip account in May, and so should be set to go...
you received an e-mail last Thursday from the site administrator
(if you didn't, check your spam filter; if you can't find it, go to the login screen, and click to "request new password."
If you logged in once already, and didn't change your password, you will also need to request a new one.
If you can't login, send an email to
/exchange/contact-serendip, and we'll take care of it quickly.)
The message you *should* have gotten included an assigned username and password.
Use those to log in to the course website. There are "posting instructions" on the cluster homepage
(listed @ the top of the "group links" on the right); follow those to get started. You'll also see,
under the text block, several "tags," including those for my course notes. When you post for me,
you should always tag it "English"; when you post for Jody, "Education"; and for Joel, "Political Science."

Give careful consideration to the matters of the username and avatar which will appear w/ each of your postings:
after logging in, you can click on "my account" and change your username to something of your choice.
Think about whether you want your words associated w/ your (full/partial/symbolic/pseudo-) name, 
and whether you will want it so associated in 1, 2, 5 years....the content will remain on-line long after you've left the College.

This informal writing is background/preparation/warm-up/frequent source
for your more “formal” writing assignments, which will also
take the form of four "web events," due once/month
(four 3-pp. projects just for me, the first one due Wednesday in two weeks:
there will also be two final cluster-wide projects about your prison experiences,
which we'll start talking about next week.

That's the basic pattern for our thinking-and-writing:
for each Tuesday and Thursday class,
we'll have some new material to read and discuss together.
By 5 p.m. each Wednesday evening, post a short comment in our
on-line course forum, reflecting back on/for forwards toward our discussion.

What is (probably) also distinct about this cluster is the form of evaluation:
we will not grade any of your individual papers. At the end of the semester,
you will complete a portfolio of all your work, and evaluate yourself.
The checklist of our expectations are all on-line
(this is not mysterious: be present in class and conferences,
contribute in-person and on-line, post your web events on time,
be responsive to instruction, engaged in the conversation...).

I will put up notes towards our class discussions; if you need to miss a class,
you should tell me ahead of time, and why; you should read over the notes,
and do an extra posting on "what you would have said," if you had been here.

N.B.: my belief in education as a collective endeavor,
our shared responsibility for each other's learning

What else?
Questions about any of these details of "course-keeping"?

reminder that links to all these pages--on-line course forum,
syllabus, instructions for posting, a growing file of my "course notes"
--are available as links from our course home page @

For Thursday, listen to
John Cage, 4’33”(1952),
Simon and Garfunkel, The Sound of Silence (1964),
The Dead Birds, The Silent Scream (2009).

What is a silent scream? if it's a scream, is it silence?

Also look @ Edvard Munch's painting, "The Scream" (1893 -1910),
some portion of a silent film, such as Nosferatu (1922) or Phantom of the Opera (1925),
(trigger warning, and FINE TO PASS ON ANY of these assignments...)
the anti-abortion video, The Silent Scream (1984),
a description of Action Network's anti-bullying show, The Silent Scream (2010), and
The Sounds of Silence: Silence Supercut (2011).

By tomorrow @ 5 p.m. upload your own "visualization of silence" on
our on-line course conversation (see instructions below the text block for uploading images).
include a sentence or two explaining why you chose this image.