Salon 21 Silence

Silence is multifaceted. It can be broken, for example, or imposed, bought, inevitable. It can be a gift, a curse, or a prison. Recently, a litany of infamous episodes of impunity in the face of abuses of power has brought to the fore silence’s gloomier side. These episodes have shed light on personal and collective tragedies of individuals and social groups that have been silenced. At the same time, in our increasingly loud and hyper-connected world, silence is hailed as an invaluable counterpoint, and it has even become a commodity. Lauded for its benefits on mental health and productivity, silent meditation has entered our schools, offices, hospitals, and C-suites. Silence has become an industry but for some, it is just a reality of life. In this salon, we addressed some of the tensions and contradictions that undergird the modern cult of silence, exploring the topic through the lens of arts, politics, and physiology.

Among the many questions that we tackled: How many facets of silence do we know? How and when has silence punctuated or pockmarked history? What is silence’s dark side, especially in sociology and politics? Are silence, slowness, and solitude necessary ingredients to the preservation of sanity? Or, are “people wasting valuable thinking time on meditation and mindfulness and should stop trying to clear their heads” as the Oxford scholar Theodore Zeldin recently professed? When is silence dangerous? Does silence nurture or stifle creative expression and production? How have artists made use of silence as a creative medium to incite introspection and reflection upon the human condition? How have politicians made use of it? Is there a thing as “too much silence?”

This salon took place on December 4th, 2017.


Reading Resources


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Sun Kim, Christine, The Enchanting Music of Sign Language, Ted Talk (Aug 2015)


Boorstein, Sylvia reads Keeping Quiet, 1958, by Pablo Neruda (2015)

Palmer, Amanda reads Protest, 1914, by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (2017)