Friday, February 26, 2010

The Silence of Glass.


In Chapter 3 of The Glass Bead Game, the maturing Joseph Knecht seeks the Elder Brother who has retreated to a world of meditative silence in the Bamboo Grove.The scene, set by Hesse, it almost a type for the garden of silence:

A few goldfish swam around in the still, crystalline water. Fragile and peaceful, the feathery crowns of the bamboos swayed on their strong, slender shafts. The sward was punctuated by stone slabs carved with inscriptions in the classical style....They greeted each other briefly, drank tea, and sat listening in the matutinal stillness to the sound of the small jet of water from the fountain, a melody of eternity (pp.117-119).

Silence is linked with morning, with firstness, and from that connection to beginnings it finds itself conjoined to endings. Silence is that something beyond words. Eventually, it is revealed by the Yi King, as an action of intense enquiry:

The sage sat cross-legged on the floor of reed matting, for a long time silently examining the result of the augury on the sheet of paper.

The hexagram revealed is Meng, the fourth image, an image that glosses what Hesse has previously described: still waters. Hesse describes the whole scene imaginatively, as a dance of fingers and foretelling. But he is silent on one detail: the moving line within the hexagram. As Elder Brother permits Knecht to stay, only one interpretation is possible. The fifth line in Ken, the top trigram, must be a moving line: youthful energy is accepted by elder control to allow mental progress. For Knecht (and for Hesse), silence is a form of active stillness, a deafness to words, in which understanding develops. And the shadow of the hexagram, Huan (made by the moving line, such that Yin/_ _ in the fifth place becomes Yang/__ ), implies something else about this garden of silence. It is a place in which the solid heart (Elder Brother) meets fluent devotion/"devout emotion" (Joseph Knecht).

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.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Silence...after silence.


"And so faced with these periods of solitude, the topoanalyst starts to ask questions: Was the room a large one? How, too, in these fragments of space, did the human being achieve silence? How did he relish the very special silence of the various retreats of solitary day-dreaming?" Bachelard, writing in The Poetics of Space, creates an assistant for psychonalysis: the topoanalyst who specialises in the relationship between intimacy and space, the rooms of memory in which private acts are inhibited and re-lived. Silence characterises these spaces. Bachelard looks beyond biography (the obsession of our current times...and novels based on time-bound narrative) to a deeper level of experience and writing, insisting that Hermeticism and Hermeneutics must embody more than "conjuctive temporal tissue". As a discipline, it should speculate upon "the spaces of our intimacy". Six weeks of silence has created many intimate thoughts and feelings.