MoMA R&D

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 will address 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 we will tackle are: 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.

Speakers

Reading Resources

SILENCED VOICES

Ahmed, Leila, A Quiet Revolution: The Veil’s Resurgence, from the Middle East to America, Yale University Press (2011)


Erard, Michael, Why Sign-Language Gloves Don’t Help Deaf People, The Atlantic (11.09.2017)

Hilleary, Cecily, Native American Hand Talkers Fight to Keep Sign Language Alive, Voice of America (04.03.2017)

Hooks, Bell, This is the Oppressor’s Language, in Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, Routledge, pp.167-175 (1994)

Matar, Hisham, The Unsaid: The Silence of Virginia Woolf, The New Yorker (11.10.2014)

Rich, Adrienne, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978, W. W. Norton & Company (1979)

BREAKING THE SILENCE

Baldwin, James, An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis (11.19.1970)

Bohlen, Celestine, As Code of Silence Cracks, Mafia Changes Rules, The New York Times (10.11.1995)

Cobb, Jelani, The Matter of Black Lives, The New Yorker (03.14.2016)

Lorde, Audre, The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, Crossing Press, pp. 40-44 (1984)

Moore, Suzanne, Silence is the sexual abuser’s friend. Those who know, must speak up, The Guardian (10.09.2017)

Ricci, Kimberly, DeRay Mckesson On Black Lives Matter And Refusing To Be Silenced, Uproxx (08.24.16)

Solnit, Rebecca, Silence is Broken, in The Mother of All Questions, Haymarket Books, ch.I (2017)

SILENCE AND DEMOCRACY

Beckhusen, Robert, Super-silent owl drone will spy on you without you ever noticing, Wired (07.19.12)

Crary, Johanthan, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, Verso (2014)

Davidson Sorkin, Amy, The Silent Majority, The New Yorker (11.06.2017)

Hampton, Keith and Rainie, Lee, Social Media and the ‘Spiral of Silence’, Pew Research Center (08.26.2014)

Polonski, Vyacheslav, Are internet populists ruining democracy for the rest of us?, The Conversation (08.04.2016)

Turner, Karen, Mass surveillance silences minority opinions, The Washington Post (03.28.2016)

TOO MUCH SILENCE

Knapton, Sarah, Mindfulness is stopping the world from thinking, The Telegraph (05.26.2015).




McDermon, Daniel, How Much Silence Is Too Much? I Found out, The New York Times (04.07.2017)

Newton, Paula, Iranian exile speaks out on colorless ‘white torture’, CNN (10.29.2008)

Thomas, David, Fowler, Simon, and Johnson, Valerie, The Silence of the Archive, Facet Publishing (2017)

Whippman, Ruth, Be happy, not mindful, The Guardian (01.01.2017)

SILENCE IN THE ARTS

Busechian, Roberta, Lawrence Abu Hamdan: The Political Implications of Sound and Silence, Digicult (2016)

Cage, John, Silence: Lectures and Writings, Wesleyan University Press (1961)

Emmerman, James, After Orlando, the Iconic Silence = Death Image Is Back. Meet One of the Artists Who Created It, Slate (07.13.2016)


Kahn, Douglas, John Cage: Silence and Silencing, The Musical Quarterly, vol.81, no4, pp. 556-598 (Winter 1997)

Sember, Robert and Gere, David, “Let the Record Show …”: Art Activism and the AIDS Epidemic, American Journal of Public Health, vol.96, no6, pp.967-969 (June 2006)

Watercutter, Angela, The Sound of Silence: How Gravity Created a Terrifying Score for Outer Space, Wired (10.07.13)

SILENCE AND INSPIRATION

Frayer, Lauren, The Outspoken Spanish Nun Who’s Made Herself A Political Force, NPR (09.24.2014)

Iyer, Pico, The Joy of Quiet, The New York Times (12.29.2011)

Lusher, Adam, Life lessons from modern day hermits, The Telegraph (09.19.2012)

Popova, Maria, Paul Goodman on the Nine Kinds of Silence, Brainpickings (01.12.2015)

Rubin, Courtney, Silent Discos Let You Dance to Your Own Beat, The New York Times (06.17.2015)

Sontag, Susan, The Aesthetics of Silence, in Styles of Radical Will, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1969)

IN PURSUIT OF SILENCE

Kagge, Erling, Silence: In the Age of Noise, Pantheon Books (2017)

Prochnik, George, In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise, Doubleday (2010)

Scott, Laurence, What Does Silence Mean in the Age of Digital Noise?, Literary Hub (08.16.2016).

THE LUXURY OF SILENCE

Biguenet, John, The Luxury of Silence, The Atlantic (10.03.2015)

Kagge, Erling, The power of silence in the smartphone age, The Guardian (09.23.2017)

Schama, Chloe, Silence Is Now a Luxury Product, New Republic (03.04.2014)

To the Editor of The New York Times: Freedom of Silence, The New York Times (08.22.1922)

THE EXTINCTION OF SILENCE

Asher, Claire, The world now sounds different, BBC-Earth (11.11.2016)

Sample, Ian, Noise pollution is making us oblivious to the sound of nature, The Guardian (02.16.2015)

Tingley, Kim, Whisper of the Wild, The New York Times (03.15.2012)

WATCH

Bergman, Ingmar, The Silence, Svensk Filmindustri (1963)

Gorris, Marleen, A Question of Silence, Quartet Films (1982)


Gröning, Philip, Into Great Silence, Zeitgeist Films (2005)

Krause, Bernie, The Voice of the Natural World, Ted Talk (June 2013)

Rauschenberg, [Robert Discussion on the White Painting three panel (1951) at SFMOMA, (May 1999) (Video edited by Richard Robertson, 2012)

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

LISTEN

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

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