Silence

Two surprisingly similar takes on keeping silent, from very different authors in very different contexts.

First Alan Watts on Wittgenstein, from his book with the beautiful title THE BOOK, specifically a footnote on page 135:

Academic philosophy missed its golden opportunity in 1921, when Ludwig Wittgenstein first published his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which ended with the following passage: “… Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” This was the critical moment for all academic philosophers to maintain total silence and to advance the discipline to the level of pure contemplation along the lines of the meditation practices of Zen Buddhists. But even Wittgenstein had to go on talking and writing, for how else can a philosopher show that he is working and not just goofing off?

Now here is Jorge Luis Borges on Shakespeare, from a lecture on “The Enigma of Shakespeare”:

Groussac says that there are many writers who have made a display of their disdain for literary art, who have extended the line “vanity of vanities, all is vanity” to literature; many literary people have disbelieved in literature. But, he says, all of them have given expression to their disdain, and all of those expressions are inexpressive if we compare them to Shakespeare’s silence [after he retired from the theatre and went back to Stratford]. Shakespeare, lord of all words, who arrives at the conviction that literature is insignificant, and does not even seek the words to express that conviction; this is almost superhuman.

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About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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2 Responses to Silence

  1. Walter Sinclair says:

    You might easily suppose that all silences are alike – and quickly achieved. That in order to create the silence, that same silence, you need only fall silent. The royal road, the one approach: Stop talking. And then your philosophy becomes Zen. And your poetry becomes disdain. But if only silence were that easy!

  2. Robin Chapman says:

    Although Wittgenstein kept taking and writing, he did maintain a publication silence.

    Oh, for those happy days before the RAE/REF!

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