Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

What Does Silence Look Like? Notes Towards Day 2 (Thurs, Sept. 3)

Anne Dalke's picture

re-locating into English House I

I. as promised,
we'll start today with 12 minutes of breath, sound and body meditation,
our guide is Diana Winston, who directs the Mindfulness Center @ UCLA--so:
get comfortable (in an upright position):

each of us sharean image that arose for us during our shared meditation?
(just say it, don't explain it)

I found this recording among the resources offered by
the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education,
which is trying to transform higher education by
recovering and developing contemplative dimensions
of teaching, learning and knowing;  they offer grants to support
the use of contemplative practices throughout the curriculum;
two BMC fac'y membershave received these:
Linda-Susan Beard in the English Dept, & Michelle Francl in Chemistry.
Linda-Susan is on leave this year, but Michelle will join us @ the end of the semester
(if you can't wait: a link to a webinar she offered on Contemplative Science).
She used her grant to adapt a number of practices for her chemistry students,
to help them develop stillness and patience,
to improve their focus and attentiveness,
to extend their grasp of their work.  She believes that
such practices have the potential not only to produce better scientists,
but to allow scientists to "form themselves," as people who
"can listen attentively enough to the world to hear what needs to be done." 
She has also twice taught in a 360 on Contemplative Traditions,
which included 10 days in Japan.
We're staying here and going to prison...

II. so welcome back!
questions re: using Serendip, anything else re: all the coursekeeping matters I reviewed on Tuesday?
our topic for the next two weeks will be "Silence In Class" (as I said: we are starting experientially!)
our topic for next Tuesday will be "Writing Silence." To prepare, please read Peter Elbow's 10-p. essay,
"Silence: A Collage," and the seven Emily Dickinson poems on silence he references,
#407, 633, 932, 1473, 1681, 1700, 1750 (which I gathered on a website).

On Thursday, Skyping with Sheila Pinkel (posting next week will be in response to some of
her questions; I'll get them up this weekend, if you want to look @ 'em ahead of time....)

I forgot to mention, on Tuesday, that I will always put up my course notes before class,
so if you want a preview, pleased anticipation, preparation, you are welcome to look;
if you'd rather be surprised, don't bother. This is a resource, an archive, useable if
you have to miss class; not a full account (none of conversation), but a sense of the arc...

III. On Tuesday, we listened to the "sounds
of silence" outside (and inside ourselves);

we also listened, inside, to a few poems
and reflections about silence:
Pablo Neruda, Wendell Berry, Paul Goodman.

For today, I asked you to upload your own "visualization of silence,"
to show us what it looks like to you. Did you look @ them, read the
descriptions? Let's look @ them together. As I show your image,
please call out 1 noun, 1 verb, 1 adjective that highlight the
dimensions of silence which your image foregrounds
don't tell the stories (remember the meditation?),
"silence" all those details, abstract to the larger idea
(warming up for "silent writing" on Tuesday).

Remembering the visuals, reviewing the ideas:
can we organize these descriptions into any sense-making pattern?
What are the dimensions of silence that we are attending to right now?

IV. Let's enlarge these by looking @ others' visualizations.
I asked you to look  @ Edvard Munch's  "The Scream" (1893 -1910),
@ least part of a silent film, like Nosferatu (1922) or Phantom of the Opera (1925),
(maybe?) the anti-abortion video, The Silent Scream (1984),
the anti-bullying show, The Silent Scream (2010), and
the Silence Supercut (2011).

I also asked you to listen to
3 aural representations of silence --
in some ways more paradoxical:
to represent silence in sound
(can you represent silence in sound??):
John Cage's 4’33” (1952),
Simon and Garfunkel's The Sound of Silence (1964),
The Dead Birds' The Silent Scream (2009).

I want to know what you think about this
paradox of representing silence musically...
Do any of these compositions open up our sense of what silence is, can be?
Do any of them stretch or challenge the images we've chosen?

John Cage said (like Shira!) that silence is "impossible":
in his compositions, he uses silence as an aural "blank canvas" to reflect the dynamic flux of ambient sounds surrounding each performance; the music of the piece is natural sounds of the players, the audience, the building, and the outside environment. “There is no such thing as absolute silence, something is always happening that makes a sound. [The listeners] missed the point. What they thought was silence, because they didn’t know how to listen, was full of accidental sounds. You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third the people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.”

What happens repeatedly in the "silence supercut," after 'silence' is called for? Does silence follow?

V. let's write about (again) what we have seen:
"Silence is...."

Close by reading this litany aloud....