Until about a century ago, silence was perceived as impossible to notice and to record and as pointless to research and to study. More often than not, it was dismissed as an incidental biproduct of dialog, a momentary gap in sight, an insignificant pause in speech, and since the industrial revolution, as a sought-after luxury resort from noise. By the start of the twentieth century, however, silence began to be understood as political, intentional, and meaningful. Consequently, scholars now study silence in literature and art, silent communication in music and social interaction, and silencing through policy-making and colonization as anything but blank, meaningless, and neutral.
Today – and this is the focus of our reading-intensive seminar Shhhhhh! Silence in US History and Culture – silence is received as a complex mode of communication. At the same time, the varied instances and the politics of silencing, such as suppressing minorities’ voices and discarding historical records, systematic state violence, etc. are studied more systematically across disciplines, such as in literary and cultural studies.
In order to study silence, silent communication, and silencing, we will examine the construction of silence, generation of meaning and communication through silence, the politics of silencing, and the presence and power of silenced voices/subjectivities in US-American media as well as history and through political documents as well as literature.