Silence is Silver

It is certainly no longer golden.

[Written in script one month ago.] I have managed it. I think. Through the trials and perils of 2009, I have managed to keep my mouth shut.

The real ‘temptation’ of the present is no longer the stray drink or takeaway (for this commentator, coffee), but new forms of social networking. Whilst I appreciate the social functions of these sites, I cannot understand the prerogatives for documenting daily existence, the new staple of daily existence.

Facebook and Twitter are as irrefutable in 2009 as publishing has been in previous centuries: their service is to disseminate one’s voice. Unlike LiveJournal or alternative blogging services, Facebook and Twitter cannot pass as serving any real diurnal function; their output can only be ephemeral and serve the trigger-happy. Publishing tends to imply a confidence in one’s own voice ~ that which many Facebook users exude several times daily. To some extent, that is all well and good, but the technicalities of authorship transfer across to give a more condemning view.

Andrew Marvell’s few public poems express the same dilemmas about public ephemera. He criticizes the press and writers, anxious of the new forms of public that have emerged through print in the revolutionary decades. His 1648/9 poem to Richard Lovelace registers self-consciousness at contributing towards a saturated print culture which it strongly criticizes. Marvell’s private (unpublished) writing appears to be relatively consistent in withholding from the public.

Facebook and Twitter are demonstrating, more than any format has allowed before, what J. L. Austen has described as public ‘speech-acts’. This causes a cognitive problem when thinking about authorship with privacy, or about keeping a private diary. A ‘speech-act’ may be made to oneself, as desolate as it may seem, but by and large, a ‘speech-act’ requires a speech-act audience. This opens up a new set of presumptions, namely that those who indulge in the meaningless trivia of their daily lives in such a fashion do so presuming that their audience is interested.

"Silence is Golden, Speech is Silver"
"Silence is Golden, Speech is Silver"? Maybe not any more.

I might envy the day when I think anyone should give a damn about my peripheral daily activity. Perhaps it is right to feel proud about one’s every act, or perhaps normal people [which I use to my detriment] do have enough friends willing to engage in text-pamphleteering… but I say this in a space that has no direct followers [which has risen to 1 since composition]: that there should be respect for silence for those who participate less.

Silence can be troublesome, dangerous, or even fatal. Shakespeare’s logic comes to force, again, with irony, through King Lear, who turns out to be one of the most insane characters of the entire oeuvre. Cordelia’s “Love, and be silent” pledge is struck blind by Lear’s “Nothing will come of nothing”. Her modesty, or stubbornness, to the public sycophancy displayed by sisters Goneril and Regan is at first shown to be cold and naive, but her silence eventually proves to be true and substantial in the face of her sisters’ empty words and superficiality.

We are closer to the public than ever. For many, it is always within easy reach. But with that comes an easy complacency. Do we care about those who are not stood in front of us or not bombarding us on Facebook? Do we allow ourselves, in a world dominated by public spheres, to remember those dwelling outside those spheres, when every loss is swallowed by yet more publicness? Ouch: it is the kind of friendship that requires commitment. And, as shown in those revolutionary decades of the 1640s and 50s, when the agents of the public last undertook such major changes, and when the love of one’s own voice came alive and ran riot, commitment can become a fickle thing.

Thank you, Enigma. “Silence must be heard”.


5 thoughts on “Silence is Silver

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