The sound of silence

When was the last time you were quiet? I don’t mean not talking, I mean not making any sound of any kind? It’s more difficult than you think. Even if you sit (or lay) perfectly still, there’s still your breathing, your heartbeat, your digestive system. And if you try to move…This came home to me when the girls were young and I had to try and get one of them to sleep in their moses basket. Giulia is the lighter sleeper of the two, and the fact that she had appeared to have dropped off didn’t mean that she wouldn’t snap awake at the drop of a hat (I was very careful never to drop any hats around her, obviously). When the time came to stand up from the sofa, it always amazed me how much noise that simple movement made – the springs and wood (even the cushion fabric) in the furniture, and the various alarmingly creaky joints in my own body made what seemed at the time to be a veritable baby-wakening cacophony.

But when do we ever really hear nothing at all? We think we do, but only because we’ve learnt to tune out all the background noise. What can you hear right now? The whine/hum of your computer or its monitor, the muted roar of traffic through your window, maybe some birdsong, neighbours or co-workers above/below/around you…

I’m easily distracted by noise, and if I want to concentrate on something, like a book, I find it difficult if there’s a tv or radio on, or people nearby talking, or even a clock ticking.

Related: I remember a surreal joke from an otherwise risible 1980s comedy show.

Two nuns approach each other. One is listening to a Walkman. The other says “I thought you’d taken a vow of silence?”. The other, holding up the Walkman, replies “It’s alright, sister – it’s a blank tape”…UPDATE: Also of interest – this article about noise pollution.

2 thoughts on “The sound of silence

  1. simonlitton October 16, 2007 / 2:32 pm

    Comments from:

    Posted on Apr. 27th, 2007 10:01 pm (local)
    this bit from a book i’m reading at the moment reminded me of the stuff you were writing about liking horizons – so i thought it might interest you – the book is called Romanticism its by David Blayney Brown published by phaidon press 2001…
    “Although many, Delacroix included, became very successful in worldly terms, and the popular image of the tragic genius, with wild hair and staring eyes, starving in a garret, is only a caricature, it is nevertheless true that Romantic art often sprang from disillusion with the contemporary world – from that weary despair that the French called mal du siecle and the Germans Weltschmerz, whose symptoms ranged from disabling inertia to compulsive dreaming and longing. In an essay explaining ‘why distant prospects[views] please’, the English critic, former painter and frustrated radical William Hazlitt claimed that this was because their indistinctness gave the imagination free rein – space, in effect, to fill in the gaps. He took it for granted that such flights of the imagination were preferable to current reality, and that escapism lay at the heart of the Romantic instinct – escape into not only the past but also faraway or primitive societies, religion, dreams and fantasies, or meditations on infinity and death, nothingness and the afterlife.”
    “…Like the Infinite it so often sought, the Romantic movement may seem to slip through our fingers. But to pursue it is richly rewarding, for while the contemporary contexts for its protest and passion have long since disappeared, its concepts of authenticity, integrity and inner truth remain relevant. They are fundemental to our concept, not only of art, but also of ourselves.”

    Posted on Apr. 28th, 2007 02:05 pm (local)
    Thanks, for that, Mystery Anonymous Commenter. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Romantics, whether it’s Wordsworth’s Prelude or the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. And I agree that, far from being an a escape from reality, they are in fact paths to an “inner truth”.

    Posted on Apr. 28th, 2007 07:14 pm (local)
    When I was in university, I had to study in the library because I found all noise to be a horrible distraction. Early in my news writing career, I found it very difficult to write amid the cacophony of the newsroom. Noise still bothers me but I can write almost anywhere now. I can’t, however, write with a TV or music playing in the background.

    Posted on Apr. 30th, 2007 10:03 am (local)
    Libraries only recently became silent. Up until a few hundred years ago, most people read aloud (and found the idea of reading in silence very strange), making libraries almost as noisy as the streets outside. I highly recommend Alberto Manguel’s “A History of Reading”; especially, in this case, the chapter called “The Silent Readers”.

    Posted on Apr. 29th, 2007 01:20 am (local)
    Peace people
    We love you

    Posted on Apr. 30th, 2007 09:56 am (local)
    Thank you. I love you too.


  2. Nolan Munks July 15, 2010 / 11:56 am

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