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notes on silence

Andrew Shenker, with a unique and inter-woven take on silence, presents Notes on Silence, a series of sketches and notations based on a close listening of
Art on Purpose’s ongoing series of Addressing Silence interviews.


Some Words:

i came to philosophy (as a discipline) by accident, in college.  i was a business major and on a path to inherit a store that belonged to my father -- and his father before him.  it was a pharmacy/liquor/convenience store near the bay bridge.  and i could not see myself following this path and yet could not see any other either. 


i was, perhaps, a mischievous kid, though not with ill intent. most importantly, it was about the humour.  a serious humour. and i guess, in this first class, an introductory class, i found something close to my heart – if not close to the humour … as close as i’d like.


so i followed, not knowing where it might lead, but confident that it would be involved  with the most difficult questions.


finally, there was language that began to address “regions” of experience that had previously led me without words, a way to proceed … with myself and so also with others, in difficult matters.


what a relief to find existing vocabulary to help defend and nourish what was still far from clear, though becoming less inaccessible.


philosophy, as i found it, provided spaces for questioning our most treasured possessions, spaces opening from a love of wisdom … beginning with wonder, and it was not the task of philosophy to do away with this wonder, bring it to an end, so to speak … extinguish, through answers, or names, for example … of sickness.


(and i think here of antigone, who speaks of being sick with wonder).


it (philosophy) was not, as far as i could tell, in the business of giving false hope or comfort, as a name for a nameless disease tends to help with the fear of the one going through it. 


and so with silence, the problem becomes how to speak of it (and it is not an it) without doing away with it in the process.  how, in other words, our breaking with silence … feeds back into, enlivens, makes richer, more nuanced, this silence which moves us in the first place.


and, in moving back toward this initial opening, it often happens that one is not completing a circular path, but rather moving in a seemingly more haphazard manner, though, in time, the accumulation of these apparent leaps may build up to something more solid, and capable of transfer -- like an ingot of metal, a word etc.


there is always the danger of driving away the very “things” we are trying to get close to by/through the ways in which we “handle” them, whether painting, writing, speaking, dancing, playing …  and silence is a particularly good example of this difficulty, and especially with regard to speaking -- as speech is broken silence. 


so one begins to wonder whether something broken can somehow be transformed to the point of being equal to that which moved it to begin with; whether something broken can be restored like humpty dumpty and, in doing so, reflect the very “thing” (silence, for example) which brought it to pieces.  or, whether we will forever remain in a mode of apology – insofar as an apology is an inferior substitute. 


perhaps it is because the problem of silence moves me towards this dilemma in ways that are both obvious and illusive, tangible yet loose and airy … that i see much room for conversations to approach what is much heavier as well,  (for instance, slavery …) in less formal yet not unrigorous ways.  ways that borrow from each another, without seeking at once for a whole that would make sense of the parts, but giving ourselves over to these parts and, to some extent, getting carried away … despite the gravity, with laughter. 


a laughter as important to know as the catastrophes which may also bring us, through silence, together.  


if only we had more and more teachers whose noise acted upon us like that of a musician’s upon another’s playing.  and here i am  thinking of a young girl who had just returned from a morning recital and was speaking with her mother about it.  being close by and not a complete stranger, i asked if she had been nervous.  she said, quickly, no … as her teacher was there playing louder.


as for my mark making practice, perhaps it can be approached in terms of apology; an apology that wants to be given and taken away simultaneously, recognizing it is not enough, but also knowing something of the importance of having something to show.


i am interested in the sound of words as much as the meaning, and the marks these words make on a page that are not limited to the structure of sentences, but flow also into patterns that could not have occurred without these very letters and words, belonging,  simultaneously to other dimensions, and capable, perhaps, of becoming more and more equal to the silence they’d prefer to uphold.



Text on Wall:

how else to begin with silence than silence itself, quiet down … leave undisturbed

that which would somehow emerge, without touching

and so remain intact, whole – despite its removal

in coming to terms

of a problem’s beginning and ends.


thus, a desire to begin in the middle

both real and imaginary, neutral

something that works, perhaps elliptical … imperfectly developed: a thesis,

or rather, parenthesis


an open container, full of hope and poison … but i repeat myself,  so to speak …


am in touch, move, not unlike infants, back and forth, along the threshing floor