Saturday 14 September 2002

The efficacy of silence

On September 11, Jeff Ward wrote:

I never bought into the idea that surrendering your voice was a way to commemorate an inauspicious anniversary. I think that’s a cop-out. I’ve never understood the “moment of silence” thing at all. It seems to me that the way to celebrate people is to shout, dance, and be involved— not withdraw into a corner. The best way to keep going is not stopping.

Loren Webster commented:

I think some of us were simply opting out of all the “hype,” Jeff.

As I look around I see what Yossarian saw in Catch-22, “When I look up, I see people cashing in. I don’t see heaven or saints or angels. I see people cashing in on every decent moral impulse and every human tragedy.”

I wonder why the television stations didn’t take out the ads today. I wonder why some politicians were tying this to the invasion of Iraq.

Jeff replied:

….the majority of the noise on the airwaves is as you say, geared towards hyping and justifying war. I understand the gesture of silence in protest of that, but silence never promotes much of anything except silence. I don’t see many good things coming out of silence.

I was with Loren in the “some of us [are] simply opting out of the hype” group. I’d taken my cue from AKMA, when he wrote about respectful silence being worth something, assuming it is enacted with energy, integrity, and commitment.

Though, in retrospect, I wonder if Jeff wasn’t right. He wrote briefly about attending a lecture by “renowned Blake scholar Joe Viscomi” as a way of refusing “to support the rebirth of American imperialism under the guise of celebrating such a heinous crime.”

Yet I chose silence. Partly because I did not want (in Mark Pilgrim’s words) to “add to the cacophony.” Partly because what was on my mind would have been, as the Japanese say, basho-gara wakimaezu, not in keeping with the occasion. God knows there’s a desperate need to counteract the mawkish drivel that was written on September 11, but September 11 was not the day to do it.

On Wednesday night, after I’d written my brief post, I watched Tokyo Story (for the fifteenth or twentieth time). Half a minute of Ozu’s unsentimental study of the disintegration of the postwar Japanese family offers a deeper understanding of humanity and the difficulties of living than all the hours of commemorative “9/11” programming laid end to end.

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Things come to you in silence that do not come to you any other time or any other way. A greater understanding, a different perspective, a sense of balance in the face of unspeakable tragedy. Having one more balanced person in the world is more important to our collective survival than having one more virtual op-ed column. I am proud to look back on my own writing on September 11, 2001. Are you?

Posted by Mark Pilgrim on 15 September 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Blogging silence is one thing, "big media" silence another, personal silence yet another. I hadn't planned on not writing on 9/11. The longer the day progressed, the more I appreciated the permanent silence created there.

I spent the morning drive to kindergarten, on the other hand, talking with my daughter about the importance of the day. Even though we never got too detailed, she still remembers "that bad day" when we picked her up early from pre-school. We looked for and counted American flags (after three days, we're at 207 and still counting). Later that night, we didn't watch any television. Extra hugs all around at bedtime.

Silence, conversation, silence again, human contact, all of which felt like the right thing to do on Wednesday.

Posted by Robert K. Brown on 15 September 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Mark, my phrase "mawkish drivel" referred to what was written this year -- on the day and during the preceding buildup.

What you wrote on September 11, 2002 was admirable. What you wrote on September 11, 2001 was admirable, practical, tolerant, and remarkably prescient. I didn't write anything -- to be proud of or not -- a year ago. This year I was more concerned with action than words (which is why I decided to follow your lead).

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 15 September 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Well, I'm with Jeff on this one. I found the various empty September 11th posts pretentious, and not very effective either as a memoriam or a criticism of overhype. Especially when viewed out of context (like an article link on an RSS feed), I'm forced to draw my own conclusions on the "meaning" of a blank post, and so therefore the writer was communicating nothing to me except whatever I wanted to think (not that there isn't value in that, of course). If in fact one was attempting to counteract the "overhype," a better tact in my mind would have been to post nothing at all.

Posted by Kurt on 17 September 2002 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour