Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Silence doesn’t work

I want to go back to a place I visited three posts ago. I want to go back to the problem of frames. But from a slightly different perspective.


Source: Chiharu Shiota
Beckett: “To restore silence is the role of objects.” Objects, I would venture to say (keeping the necessary distance from terminology, which would, I think, require me to be more precise), objects, that is to say, objectivity. Or in other words, everything that’s beyond us, beyond the borders that make us whole.

The “ghastly business”

It’s the outside of us that can bring us back to that silence of when we didn’t have to make up things, when we dealt with language naked (both us and it). Silence, then, is what dwells beyond the frame, what flourishes in the open (see Giorgio Agamben).
To be able to enjoy that silence we would have to damn art. We would have to simply eradicate the frame, behave as if it has never existed. Otherwise, what a cacophony of attempts, what a hurricane of trials and errors, what a useless, impractical, wretched condition: in Beckett’s words, “a ghastly business,” or more appropriately, “senseless, speechless, issueless misery.” To Beckett, the eradication of the frame takes the form of an obliteration of words. Since writing is what he cares about, it is writing that he wants to eradicate. He cares about it so much that he wants to protect it from the noise that comes with utterances. In order to construct the same emptiness of expression, a painter might want to write off dabs of colour, a musician might attempt literal silence (à la John Cage). Beckett, who writes, writes so as to stop the further progression of writing. Because progression is, let’s face it, the expansion of noise.

The sounds of the Other

But you see how even these instances of rebellion need to take place somewhere. They need to literally take place. They need, in other words, to happen within an identifiable territory, within a given frame. That’s why the frame cannot be ignored. It jumps at you just as you think you’re escaping it. John Cage’s episode is soundless and we’re fine with that for now; but it cannot be spaceless as well. His silence must happen on a stage, within the coordinates of a music show, with the necessary props that make everything look like a joke, like the jest of music.

Source: Ausopinion
And what’s more, that eradication he proposes isn’t really eradication. Yes, he eliminates his own sounds, but that doesn’t impede the sounds of the Other. When the stage is mute, it’s the off-stage that becomes noisy. And that is due to the very fact that the show needs that stage. That frame. This is, perhaps, why Cage could not do without instruments. In order to make a joke about music he needed the frame of music itself. Otherwise, who would have known what it was that he was jesting about? Without the frame the best one can get from such a situation is a pathetic candid camera act, where the participants are fooled because they didn’t know they had been targeted. The audience needs to recognize the target of the joke, and that target can only become apparent if the frame is re-instated for the sake of recognition. Cage instructs his performers to have the instruments on stage in order to avoid confusion, and that’s important. Precisely for the reasons mentioned above.

The soundless tree that hears itself

Confusion is apparent in a stageless state, when there’s no way of understanding, when no event has taken place, so as to draw our attention towards its presence. Confusion is when there are no instruments on the stage, when there is no stage, when there is no 4’33’’, when there is no John Cage. “To restore silence is the role of objects.” But where there are objects there cannot be silence, unless there’s something else missing: the questioning subject, the subject that is by virtue of questioning the frame. You know the old kindergarten riddle, attempted by philosophers but never quite given a satisfactory answer other than the presumption of unperceived existence: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Source: Style of Design
Confusion reigns supreme right here, since the given question proliferates more, equally confusing, questions. If we aren’t there, in the forest, while the tree is falling, how can we even know that it has fallen?
In their objectivity, objects are, indeed, frameless. They are, in that case, non-objects, since they cannot be delimited, separated from silence, outlined. A tree can fall all it wants: the fall will be significant only to itself. It will, therefore, escape our frame of understanding and representation. It will leave, in other words, complete silence in our heads. None other than the confusing silence just mentioned.

Vladimir and Estragon need a stage

So to speak of a pure off-stage, of a frameless world, would mean not to speak of it at all. Because as soon as the first word is uttered, as soon as I bring up the question of the frame, the frame emerges from silence and presents itself as a loud statement. A word is all it takes for the frame to become apparent. Putting on a show where the stage dissolves into the audience doesn’t erase the stage from the picture; it only enlarges it. A stage is what we have, no matter how hard we might try to eliminate everything else. Include the spectator if that’s what you will. There’s only going to be more of us playing the roles. There will be more roles, I presume, more possible accidents, but the frame is still the same: just one, just there.
What I think I’ve been trying to say here is simple. Imagining an art of non-art is as absurd as thinking that it would be possible to carry water in a sieve. Yes, it is wonderful to imagine it possible. Yes, it warrants all the efforts in the world. But at the end of it all, at the end of all efforts, there’s the frame, waiting, waiting to see what we make of it. Waiting, that is, being there forever, like the two idiots waiting for a nonexistent Godot.

Source: Alisa Mandel
So then my conclusion: I can’t see a way of approaching silence that is not always already situated within a frame. Recognizable, discernible, delimitable. So then this: in order to make silence possible we must not take it seriously. We must not take it at all. We must leave it there, because there is the definition of silence.
There, you guessed it, is not here. With all the implications that may follow from this statement.