Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Silence as weapon.


In his calm denunciation of the elderly Falstaff in Henry IV, Part I, the young Prince Hal refers to the art of lying: "For my part, if a lie may do thee grace,/I'll gild it with the happiest terms I have." Prince Hal, previously imagined as "feathered Mercury", god of trickery and silence, reveals his true nature at this point in the play. Like the hermetical trickster/Hermes, he plays a part. He recognises that part-playing is a form of dissembling, of lying. With light-hearted wit characteristic of Hermes (god of inspired breath) he punctures the wind-bag Falstaff. The prince refuses to argue: is content to add false approval to a lie. Echoing the god who led The Graces in their dance, he quietly steps on Falstaff. A divine liar accepts a common liar. In this quiet confrontation, which edges towards silence and breakdown of a friendship, Hal exposes patriarchy, the rule of the Father, the Father of Misrule.

Lying, Silence and Patriarchy fit well together. They exist through the "happiest terms". In her book of essays, On Lies, Secrets and Silence, Adrienne Rich recreates Shakespeare's view-point for a contemporary readership: "Lying is done with words and also with silence." (p.186). Patriarchy, the rule of the stiff-upper lip, which produces the bridled woman (and man) allows only narrow, ignorant view-points. It worships scripture rather than script, denies that individuals have a right to play with multiple identities. Patriarchy, believing in the power of (false) silence, convinces men and women to use silence as a weapon. Silence wounds. Women, being told that thought and emotion cannot go together, accept the single-minded thrusts of patriarchy. They learn the amnesia of self. False words are spoken as truths. Truths are left unsaid in silence. Hermes the Mystagogue is perverted: the silent, guarded, inner currents of self-initiation are denied such that individuals use a silence (more deadly than words) to wound. War is waged unintelligently. Instead of the finger to the lips, a sign of inner truth and deep breath, the patriarchal warrior cannot get beyond a single, middle finger thrust pointlessly into empty air. Men are as much damaged by patriarchy as women. The man who uses silence to destroy friendship, who twists words to push a friend towards silence, who ignores his own inner needs as much as he ignores his friend, isn't a man. He is a child of patriarchy, an individual who has been conned into believing that divorcing thought from emotion is strength: he lies himself into silence where there is no grace, just self-deception, no hermetical redemption, just self-damnation.

4 comments:

Shropshirelad said...

Speaking as poet and not as a patriarch (though it is hard sometimes to disentangle to the two) I have generally regarded silence as a tool for organizing space within a work.

Rests of different quantities for different reasons achieve different structural effects--a way of teasing things from a listener's (or a reader's) imagination. I have never really considered the sharp political utility of silence in Art.

What a fascinating observation: political systems as poetic structures. Cathedrals of belief constructed of silence and sound. What a profound idea to play with!

Thanks!

Eshuneutics said...

Indeed, many poets have been notable patriarchs. Silence is intrinsic to poetry, as you say, the . silence being a key component in the poetry of Robert Duncan. And Pound, following his Chinese experiments via Fenellosa, knew how to "Time the Silence". Thanks for your intriguing counter-comment.

Harlequin said...

Rich is marvelous, although she can also have a bit of a bite
I am inclining to agree with the earlier comment on the intertwined relation between poetics and silence, and yet, the other collusive and malicious silence you present is poison.

so much dis/(inter)course on so many levels, seems to be a lie agreed upon

Id it is said...

Silence has tremendous power undoubtedly, though not always in a negative sense. It has the capacity to be used as both a weapon and a tool in fields such as theater, art,and teaching. Silence 'stifles' thought but silence could 'promote' thought as well, since it gives the thinker space and time to create. Silence is sometimes perceived as a state of being that is sans thought, but often times silence is when the mind encounters a thought bombardment that could bring incredible results.
A fascinating post eshu; pardon my lay-person comment :)