On Language and Silence…

On my weekend break from work, I also read alongside doing domestic chores and bonding with the gang. Last week, for a record I bought a new book from Booksale. The price of 180 pesos was a grinder for my budget. But scanning through its pages, the insight and scholarly depth of the book actually goes beyond its price ceiling.

Immemorial Silence is a rather difficult book, authored by a woman philosophy professor. Have been reading about Silence especially from the contemplative writings of Maggie Ross, Thomas Keating and Martin Laird and been practicing it. This book supplement my understanding of the dynamic relationship between Silence and Language. Professor Karmen MacKendrick not only expounded this dynamic relationship but insightfully placed Silence and Language within the quadruple matrix of silence and language, eternity and time:

“The relations of silence to language mirror the equally complex set of relations between time and eternity.

Philosophical as the book is, MacKendrick draws out sources on silence and language from many voices including Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Nietszche, French thinkers Maurice Blanchot and George Bataille, St. Augustine, the mystic Meister Eckhart, and poets Friedrich Holderlin, Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul Celan, and Edmond Jabes. The linguistic complexities of silence and language, time and eternity could no less be presented with depth with such a tapestry of daring thinkers a reader could easily move from thinking into praying or reflective mode. I enjoy MacKendrick’s seemingly contemplative accent through her sincere poetic flair. At this point in my life though, I can almost conveniently discern who writes cognitively and who writes while praying while living ones prayer. I am after one who is a witness of the balance of speech and silence. I’m glad to have known Maggie Ross or Thomas Keating first because from these contemporary witnesses, one could sense the commitment and their growing density not only to think or preach Silence but also to die with it as a lifetime liturgy. An eclectic book such as Immemorial Silence offers its own value except that in my own judgment, a reader can only appreciate (in the sense of bringing into ones prayer moments the flickering insights in between pages), if one has began valuing the balance of Silence and Speech. All human endeavor, including thinking and speaking, to my conviction must end in the transformative promise and paradox of liturgy. Only from my adherence to liturgy did the book reveal its sense to me. Here are a few quotes from the book:

“Silence and eternity slip beyond the containment of words in time. We still must use words; we still must draw out the questions that lie within philosophy. It is only that we have learned that we must use philosophy against itself, wrap our words around spaces without words, and leave them wordless, as if they could thus be kept, though we lose them together with ourselves.”

“Eternity is something intensive about time rather than extensive, and it intensifies something about time: time as the bearer of ordering power, time as the figure of a living presence.”

Silence makes conversation possible. Simply, there must be silence to call forth speaking, or even writing. Silence is in this sense an invitation into a future, a space that draws us forth. Often we fail to find or make such silence: we speak over and across one another, interrupt, drown out, ignore one another. But aside from the fact that few of us ocnsider such discursive situations ideal, we realize that such speaking-over fails to be a response, it is ir-responsible; it is, we might say, uncalled-for. To speak over, to write without regard for the space into which one writes while keeping one’s mind closed to the outside, is to evade the infinite conversation invited by the pause, the opening, the silence that waits before us.”

“We speak, then, not only in order to be heard but to open up the space in which we might hear something new. From outside ourselves, new words enter and open new questions in turn.”


More on silence and St. Augustine next time. I am intrigued though on how silence could possibly transform Filipinos’ insensitivity as usiseros (voyeurs) as showcased in the recent shameful, bloody hostage crisis.


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