Last update: April 05, 2016
Silence is the absence of words, it is true. But silences also contain a presence, the presence of an unspoken message, but existing. Silences are not empty of communication, but rather convey something that cannot be said in words.
Just as there are words that say nothing, there are silences that say everything. There are silences that accuse and silences that kill. Silences that arise from impossibility, fear or bewilderment and silences that express supreme power. Prudent silences and distressing silences. Silences that repress and silences that free.
"The deepest rivers are always the quietest ones"
(Quinto Curcio Rufo)
In reality, we could speak of a real language made up of silences. Among the various forms of silence, there is a terrible one, because it contains a cry. It is the silence that comes after a traumatic experience, in front of which one cannot describe one's feelings in words.
Silence and horror
Silences that hide screams are almost always associated with horror. Horror is not synonymous with terror: terror is an intense fear, while horror can be both a feeling of fear and aversion. Terror is caused by a material source, horror, on the other hand, from an unspecified source.
Basically, one experiences terror in front of an identifiable object or situation (a wasp, a dictator, an imaginary monster, etc.); horror is experienced in front of a latent threat, deriving from an object that insinuates itself, but which does not completely define itself. The horror is felt in the face of beings from beyond, disasters, persecutions, etc.
The level of indefinability of such threats is one of the factors leading to the use of silence. How can one speak of extreme fear or aversion if it is not even clear what exactly they come from or what harm they can cause? One can only perceive that it is something terrible, but other than that, there is nothing else evident.
Terror is felt in front of a hungry lion in an isolated meadow; horror is experienced after the death of a loved one. In both cases, a kind of astonishment appears, but in the horror there is also the weight of the impossibility of describing, of explaining.
The horror causes those silences that hide screams. Words fail to express the magnitude of what it feels like, they are not enough. Everything that is said seems futile, because it does not free you from pain and does not allow others to understand that suffering.
In these cases, the words seem completely in vain. For this reason, verbal communication is replaced by silences, but also by tears, by gestures of displeasure, by sighs, etc. However, not even these expressions allow us to overcome pain: they are only the repetition of it.
The cry and the poetry
The word is the only force capable of restoring meaning to our experiences. By means of it, we can give order to the world in our mind and bring out from our soul all the forms of pain that inhabit it. We can unlock and move on.
The cry is our first expression of life at the time of birth. With this initial scream, we announce that we have arrived, that we have overcome the first big break in our life: we have been separated from our mother and we announce to the world that we need it to continue living.
Sometimes, when we are already adults, we feel that only a loud cry can express what we have inside. Only an inarticulate and violent expression can say that we are helpless beings who need others.
However, we cannot go around the street screaming at the top of our lungs; because of this, the cry that fails to make its way is replaced by silence. Both the dull scream and the silence itself speak of the impossibility of articulating a speech, of giving a coherent testimony of what happens to us.
So what's the way out? We need to shout and we cannot, we need to speak, but words are not enough. What is left for us to express this suffering in which continuing to live hurts us every second that passes?
When ordinary language is useless, poetry becomes an urgency. And it is not just a set of structured verses, but includes all forms of expression that make use of the figurative sense to materialize.
Poetry is song, dance, painting, photography, craftsmanship. It is weaving, sewing, decorating, restoring. All creative acts made voluntarily to shape the perceived pain are part of the poem.
Cutting, sculpting, cooking… Cooking? Yes, even cooking. Have you ever read the book "Sweet as Chocolate"? The writer, Laura Esquivel, tells us about a woman who transmits her pain through food and makes others cry in delight.
When the words are insufficient and the cries are stifled, we find the germ of poetry in all its forms. That is the place of ourselves we must go to when we are overwhelmed by horror and pain.
Images courtesy of Audrey Kawasaki