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Writing Silence: Notes Towards Day 3 (Tues, Sept. 8)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. On Thursday we had a very abstract discussion of "what silence is," fueld by the visualizations you had selected:
we made some progress in unpacking the binary of silence and speech, of chosen and forced;
we acknowleged the paradox of a silent scream, of speaking that can be a form of silencing...
Rosa asked us to consider how humancentric all our formulations are: is there a silence beyond us,
in the universe, not defined by our sense of social obligation or performance?

II. I promised that today we'd do something more grounded, specifically in classroom practices.
In his "collage," Peter Elbow gave us a list of analogies between silence and freewriting:

  • Both are quiet.
  • Both encourage you to communicate with yourself.
  • Both involve relinquishing control, letting go; thus sometimes fear.
  • Both tend to start with jabber, jabber, jabber, noise, static, baloney. Yet both often lead to--or at least
    clear space for--voice, nonbaloney, and langauge and thinking that are grounded in actual experience....
  • In silent sitting and freewriting, there is often a feeling of fellowship or companionship in a "gathered" separateness.
  • Both silence and freewriting are hard to classify in terms of "input" vs. "output."
    Both are times of "producing" but also "waiting for things to arrive."
  • Both give relief from logic and linearity.
  • Both consist of one part of the self ministering to another part of the self.

III. So (obviously!) today our beginning "silence" will be the activity of silent freewriting. Write down "silence is..." and then let's see where we go...when you find yourself falling "silent" on the page, just write "silence is, silence is, silence is..." until something else arises. You will not share what you have written; you don't have to "produce" anything, but just be quiet, listen to your thoughts, record them....We will do this for 10 minutes.

what was that like....?

IV. Now I want us to do another, much more directed, form of "writing silence."

Peter Elbow (also) says, "the collage form is important here. The force of the collage is the force of embedded silence: asterisks, gaps. Parts don't 'flow' in the logical order" demanded by 'good writing.' The collage is jagged and broken rather than smooth. What a relief. Parataxis rather than hypotaxis: nonconnection, nonsubordination. And the collage doesn't say what it's saying. It's just a bundle of fragments....power [is] generated by disruptive discontinuity and disorder....By using unconnected fragments and putting them in the "wrong" order, the collage sucks the reader in. The reader has to make the connections. Whenever there is silence, the reader must enter in, read in, participate...the reader of silence is implicated in the text in a new way...for she...must join with the writer to understand and decipher the silences...."

[the "silencing" of Latinate words: Elbow's, in using them? yours, in not looking up the meanings?
parataxis--from Greek for 'act of placing side by side'; writing technique of using simple sentences using coordinating conjunctions
hypotaxis--from Greek for 'act of placing beneath'; writing technique that highlights inequality/hierarchy in parts of the sentence, w/ subordination ("after," "because," "if"....) or premodification]

I think poetry--all that silence!--all those spaces on the page!--works the same way
(the fear of all that white space keeps many of us from reading/enjoying poetry). For example, ED's poems,
esp. #407:
It is the Ultimate of Talk -
The Impotence to Tell -

& 1681:
The perfectest communication
Is heard of none -

so here's the second writing exercise:
re-writing the silent writing essay you just wrote into an ED-like poem:

re-read, slowly, what you wrote, then re-write the lines that have some heft...
don't worry about connections (think Elbow's "collage")...
just listen for (and re-record) some words with weight, some phrases with presence

we will take 15 minutes for this, and we will read these aloud.....

then: what was it like? what got left out as the silence came in? what came in?
What was clarified, what complexified, in this process?

this exercise resembles what I had you do, last week,
describing your visualizations of silence in three words (1 noun, 1 verb, 1 adjective...
trying to surround our descriptions of silence WITH silence....)
story also of the student who substituted a haiku for her final paper in my Gender and Science class,
a "crystalization" of what she might have said in prose...

V. Reading ED: two poems?

VI. tomorrow night s into Riverside;
BEFORE YOU COME TO SUPPER you need to respond to the material and questions that Sheila's put out there...
the more thought you put into these the more she can speak to
reading for Thursday's class, so put two hours into this conversation and posting tonight/tomorrow..