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Silence and the Silenced

Interdisciplinary Perspectives


Edited By Leslie Boldt, Corrado Federici and Ernesto Virgulti

Silence and the Silenced: Interdisciplinary Perspectives comprises a collection of essays from North American and European scholars who examine the various ways in which the theme of silence is developed in literary narratives as well as in such visual media as photography, film, painting, and architecture. The questions of silence and the presence or absence of voice are also explored in the arena of performance, with examples relating to pantomime and live installations. As the book title indicates, two fundamental aspects of silence are investigated: silence freely chosen as a means to deepen meditation and inner reflection and silence that is imposed by external agents through various forms of political repression and censorship or, conversely, by the self in an attempt to express revolt or to camouflage shame. The approaches to these questions range from the philosophical and the psychological to the rhetorical and the linguistic. Together, these insightful reflections reveal the complexity and profundity that surround the function of silence and voice in an aesthetic and social context.


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Part I. Silence that Speaks through Codes


1. Rhetorical Uses of Silence and Spaces Keith Grant-Davie Rhetoricians study the ways people influence each other through communi- cation, and they tend, understandably, to focus more on words than on si- lences—the spaces between and around the words. When silence has been studied from a rhetorical perspective, it is often assumed to be a position of weakness, a sign of disenfranchisement. For example, in Women’s Ways of Knowing, Ruth Belenky and her coauthors present a scheme of five episte- mological categories describing women’s relationships with knowledge. The most powerful category is constructed knowledge, “a position in which women view all knowledge as contextual, experience themselves as creators of knowledge, and value both subjective and objective strategies of know- ing.” At the other extreme is silence, “a position in which women experience themselves as mindless and voiceless and subject to the whims of external authority” (15). The authors identify silence as “an important anchoring point” for their scheme, “representing an extreme in denial of self and in de- pendence on external authority for direction.” The women classified in this category perceived words as weapons that would be used against them and retreated into silence as an asylum (24–25). In this view, silence is consid- ered a problem to be solved by speech. However, not all scholars have taken silence to be a sign of rhetorical weakness. In a counterpoint to Belenky et al’s characterization of silence, Patricia Laurence has argued that the silences of women in the novels...

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