Jono Schneider

Literary Silence

I want to broach the subject of "literary silence", the question being what literature allows to be said about it.
It may be argued, of course, that "anything can be said" regarding literature, not to mention what literature, itself, contains by way of a subject ­ that the subject of literature, too, can be this same "anything". It appears that there are no limits to literature when we are approaching what lies inside it.
But we know that this is pure falsity. There are always limits; the lack of a limit is less our concern than what constitutes this limit and how we know we have hit upon it, when we are at it and can do nothing besides notice it or retreat from it. When do we arrive at this limit -- and when we do arrive, is this limit silence itself?
But what is this silence? Is it not one of many silences, too numerous for us to count? (Yes)
So it appears that I have reached an impossibility ­ that of defining the silence that literature approaches, that it must miss in order to continue to speak.
Wittgenstein's "Whereof one cannot speak, one must remain silent" hangs over our heads. It would be foolish for me not to acknowledge it, lest I, too, allow silence to disarm me. Perhaps the silence for which I am searching is the thing that literature cannot say and remain literature, the thing that, if literature were to say it, would threaten the genre with obsolescence. But another phrase arrives to reroute our argument ­ George Bataille's, from "The Impossible": "I approach poetry, only to miss it." We are lead into further questions regarding literary creation -- what does it mean to intend literature, but nevertheless fail to achieve it? At what point is literature itself only an intention that, not evident in the writing itself, only ghosts the writing, but which, as a trace, exists outside of the writing? Here is where the true limit of literature appears ­ within the writing itself, within what we might call that which writes itself.
So the limit of literature is that element which, when missing, shows the writing to be something "other" than literature.
The silence of reading is defined by the act. My eyes glean the words of the book, and I cannot speak while I read. Nor can I be spoken to. (As a child, I read to hold back the voice of my mother, who spoke only to interrupt and interrogate me. I read for the "I cannot speak" as well as the "Do not speak to me!")
But this is reading (and, in my case, the psychology of reading); literature has very little to do with the act of reading as a physical project in so far as the physicality of reading defines literature as literary. However, the readability of the work is always in question.
The readability of the work is always in question ­ perhaps this is where our search begins, now that we have located the source of literary silence ­ how legible the work is as writing, both to reader and writer in tandem.
Much has been said of the reader/writer relationship ­ most recently that the reader is now seen as a co-creator in the work's meaning. But beyond that, reader and writer work in tandem, independently of one another, to make the work stand in the world. But the standing in the world ­ the "having read" that exists between reader and writer, the "having read" that places the work in question (the question of the work that, now that the physical reading of the work is in the past, remains, all that remains of the work) ­ is one of silent agreement: I write something (it is complete with me), you read something (it is complete with you), and the completion exists between us without our ever having spoken. We may meet, and we may even speak of what is between us (the work), but what we say is not the experience of the work, it is other than the work ­ it is now what we have of the work, what we are of the work now that we have left it.
Literary Silence, then, is what I would call the thing missed in the translation, but the thing that always remains in the words themselves, what calls us back to the book, but which we cannot leave without. But we cannot say it. Even Bataille's words ­ "I approach poetry, only to miss it" ­ words that appear in the context of The Impossible, a story about the story that cannot be told ­ are, in my usage of them, a misconstruing, because the story has disappeared in lieu of the aphorism, which, now missing its narrator, is language unhinged and made into the "anything" with which this essay began, where what is said is always said without limits. But these are the limits to which the writer of literature succumbs, regardless of his or her knowledge: "What I know of the book is what the book tells me, but what I cannot repeat -- or the book disappears."