IN PURSUIT OF SILENCE:
Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise.
By George Prochnik.
Doubleday. 342 pp. $26
THE UNWANTED SOUND OF EVERYTHING WE WANT:
A Book About Noise.
By Garret Keizer.
PublicAffairs. 375 pp. $27.95
The first widely observed national moment of silence occurred in Britain in 1919, in commemoration of the nation’s inaugural Armistice Day. For two minutes, switchboard operators declined to connect telephone calls, subway cars and factory wheels ground to a halt, and ordinary citizens held their tongues. Within 10 years, the somber annual tradition had grown so popular that the BBC began to air the sound of the silence. One broadcaster mused that the communal silence served as a “solvent which destroys personalities and gives us leave to be great and universal.”
While state-sanctioned silence was novel, the sentiment of the broadcaster was not. Silence has long acted as a leveler of ego. From the communal meditation that opens Quaker meetings to the lulling quiet that defines the lives of Buddhist monks, silence is central to various religious traditions. “For many people, silence is the way God speaks to us, and when we ourselves are in silence, we are speaking the language of the soul,” observes George Prochnik, author of a previous book about Sigmund Freud and the American psychologist James Jackson Putnam. In his fascinating new book, In Pursuit of Silence, Prochnik sets out to understand the complicated reasons for silence’s power.
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Megan Buskey is assistant editor of The Wilson Quarterly.more from this author >>