Silence and Contamination

Silence is intimidating because there isn’t a single symbol, or reference, that is associated with it, contaminating it in the way a lot of words are rooted in this violent and oppressive language. It is also kind of a paradox because there is a word for silence, the letters, s-i-l-e-n-c-e, spelling it out, something you say either out loud or reading in your head to represent it, even though it is the opposite of sound altogether. It is almost like being required to shout the word “whisper.” Even written out on a page, the blank space is more frequently used, and more effective than putting the word “silence.” Language was not constructed with silence in mind, and thus has an interesting relationship with it.

In “An interview with an Empire” M. NourbeSe Philip talks about fracturing and fragmenting language as a means of decontaminating the english language, which she deeply distrusts, due to its traumatic and brutal history. She uses this method in Zong! as well as using silence as a means of conveying that which cannot be conveyed through the english language. I find silence to be a more neutral material to work with. I am not sure that her act of taking apart the english language in this way will actually decontaminate it, but it definitely makes a powerful artistic statement. It makes me question whether or not it is too late for the english language and if it will forever be contaminated because of its historical background. Can it evolve to a point where it can move past its traumatic history and foundation, and get to a neutral place? How long would it take for that kind of damage to be reversed? I would hate to think that an unfortunate beginning prevents any kind of positive outcome.

In class I believe someone brought up the idea of ‘purifying’ language, and how bizarre that might be. It makes me question if there could ever be such a thing as an objective language. Language is supposed to be the closest thing individuals have to a common means of transferring ideas, emotions, and information, but due to such vast discrepancies between people’s experiences, history, and social frameworks, it will not satisfy the majority. Other languages may do a better job than the english language, but are more confined to the people for whom that language was constructed. White supremacy caused England to force itself and its language on too many people and cultures, and now those people, people of color, are suffering a loss. A loss of both proper and trustworthy means of self expression and everyday communication.

Having a certain idea, experience, or emotion inside of yourself that you can feel and understand, is one thing, but as soon as you try to express it through words, the limiting vocabulary of the english language waters it down, and converts it to a system imbued with other unintended meanings. Not to say that some people can’t do some incredibly beautiful and powerful things with the language. But maybe that is why humans find such value and necessity in/for visual and performing arts, where the abstract quality of silence is much more of an understood staple concept that anyone can really feel and understand. Through art and music you can get across those thoughts and feelings that words often fail to describe. Art is a place where language and text are (more often than not) less frequently involved, yet it is also a place that is not as taken as seriously as a mode of valid expression, for being so ‘subjective.’

This may not be an either or situation; an artistic piece can benefit greatly from a supplemented text, and vice versa, or even the way M. NourbeSe Philip talked about poet Linton Kwesi Johnson using dub beats over his lyrics. But then again, it is nice to be able to look at a painting, and be able to feel that you understand.

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