Abandoning Art

Susan Sontag, “The Aesthetics of Silence,” Styles of Radical Will (1969)

But the choice of permanent silence doesn’t negate their [Rimbaud, Wittgenstein, Duchamp] work. On the contrary, it imparts retroactively an added power and authority to what was broken off; disavowal of the work becoming a new source of its validity, a certificate of unchallengeable seriousness. That seriousness consists in not regarding art (or philosophy practiced as an art form: Wittgenstein) as something whose seriousness lasts forever, an “end,” a permanent vehicle for spiritual ambition. The truly serious attitude is one that regards art as a “means” to something that can perhaps be achieved only by abandoning art; judged more impatiently, art is a false way or (the word of the Dada artist Jacques Vaché) a stupidity.

[See Blanchot.]

But With What Kinds of Words?

Maurice Blanchot, The Unavowable Community

Wittgenstein’s all too famous and all too often repeated precept, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” — given that by enunciating it he has not been able to impose silence on himself — does indicate that in the final analysis one has to talk in order to remain silent. But with what kinds of words? [See Kojève.]

Very, Very Quiet

Deborah Levy, Interview by Mariella Frostrup, Open Book, BBC Radio 4 30 January 2014

Deborah Levy: After my father was arrested — along with Nelson Mandela and other family friends, who were fighting for human rights in the Apartheid era — I kept being asked to speak up at school. Speak louder, speaker louder — I was asked to repeat things all the time.

Mariella Frostrup: And that hadn’t happened before…

Deborah Levy: No. And so it wasn’t really that I’d become mute; I’d become very, very quiet. And I don’t think I wanted to speak — I was probably frightened about what my voice might sound like, because I was very sad. So, one day, in the playground, the school bully — who was a very tough Afrikaans girl, with white pointy teeth — asked me with uncharacteristic pity in her voice, “Are you dumb?” And I kind of shrugged because it wasn’t a yes or no answer. I was beginning to discover the power of silence, and I began to realise that what we don’t say is what really interests people. And that was an insight I was going to put to work later as a writer.