Inalienable Silence

Tom McCarthy, Calling All Agents (London: Vargas Organisation, 2003). 4-5.

“…And yet the Hearings left us with the impression that if (as Gil Scott Heron says) the Revolution will not be televised, then perhaps its nucleus will not be caught on audio tape or broadcast on the airwaves either — or if it will, then it will take the form of silence. For Heidegger, everything stems from the Unspoken: Being calls us, but it does so ‘in the uncanny mode of keeping silent.’ Burroughs’s revolutionary drive extends to a transformation of language that will help cast off the ‘IS’ of identity: this language, he tells us, will be a hieroglyphic one that ‘will give one the option of silence.’ Hollings, discussing Burroughs in an article, writes: ‘Recorded silence only becomes a political act once it is played back.’ There are echoes of Cégeste’s first message here. Hollings was a contributor to Violent Silence (a book about Bataille), a collaborator with John Cage and at the time of the Hearings was conducting research into the erased passages in Nixon’s Watergate tapes. What did he mean ‘recorded silence only becomes a political act once it is played back,’ we asked him. ‘Playing a blank tape,’ he told us, ‘breaking the seal on something and sticking it in a machine and listening to it, is an act of refusal.’ ‘So there is a kind of inalienable silence that is encrypted somehow?’ Anthony Auerbach asked; ‘And this potentially contains the revolutionary moment?’ ‘Exactly so,’ said Hollings. This is the violent silence of Shakespeare’s Cordelia, who tells her father ‘Nothing’ — a single word which leads to general annihilation, wars and madness; or of Stephen Daedalus, self-styled ‘Cordoglio’ who, as he brings about ‘the ruin of all space, shattered glass and toppling masonry, and time one livid final flame,’ says ‘Nothing!’ ‘Maybe,’ I suggested, ‘our radio project should be a quest for that silence’ — a suggestion to which Hollings answered, in what turned out to be the Hearings’ final exchange: ‘I would strongly recommend it.’…”

On p. 12, McCarthy mentions Burroughs’s “putative hushed-up language”.

On p. 16: “This silent word is so charged and so seductive, Abraham and Torok conclude [in Cryptonomy: the Wolf Man’s Magic Word], that it and it alone becomes the object of the Wolf Man’s love. To keep it safe he buries it inside the crypt ‘like a chrysalis in its cocoon’ and carries it around for all his life, showing and hiding it, saying it without saying it, ‘repeating tirelessly to one and all, especially to his analyst: ‘Here is nothing, hold it tight’.”

“‘Poetry,’ in the words of Auden, ‘makes nothing happen’ — an active construct in which ‘nothing’ designates an event, perhaps even a momentous one. In looking into the abyssal ground, reading its source code and transmitting this nothing outwards, maybe we will find that our culture also [like Freud’s Wolf Man] has a secret, silent word.”

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