Silence, for me, has always started with P.
Since I was eleven months old, lying on the shag carpeting of my great-aunt’s living room and listening to The Grownups talk about me with no inkling that I understood them, silence has been a Problem. Even after I learned to talk, silence was a Pathology. The Pressure to speak, and to keep speaking, is Profound.
Classical rhetoric has little use for silence, or for listening. They’re figured predominantly as reception, Passivity, the void. Listening, when it is mentioned, is addressed not as a Positive Presence in and of itself unless it is a form of speech (see “active listening”).
What I intend to do for the next two months is to explore listening, and silence, as Positive sites, sites not only of Potential or Promise but of actual Presence. My Purposes, loosely, are:
- to assert listening as a central, centralized, and active rhetorical stance;
- to stake out space in listening and silence as primary, active modes with their own rhetorics, not merely as the flipside of “speech” (a term under which I include non-verbal forms of communication, like gesture, writing, images, and sign);
- to carry out this project without explaining what it is I am doing;
- to respond to Melanie Yergeau’s call to “fuck that shit up,” the “shit” in question, here, being the expectation of “listening” as a form of reciprocal speech. As I’ve noted in previous posts, I am The Worst at so-called “active listening.” Since “active listening” operates as a form of speech, I intend to use my The Worstness at it to my advantage by not trying to get any better at it in the next two months, and thus to subvert expectations of what a “project of listening” is supposed to look like.
My method (or Process, if you Prefer):
- do not talk for two months. If talking accidentally occurs, make note of it and examine what it is that seemed so earnestly to demand it;
- to “speak,” rely on alternative communication options (writing, AAC apps, sign, etc);
- “speak” only when necessary to get things done – and to interrogate what exactly “necessary” means;
- listen in ways that are natural to my own bodymind listening processes and prioritize actually listening over appearing to listen – i.e., do not fake “active listening” even if the situation appears to demand it.
- offer no explanation beyond “I can’t talk but I am listening.”
The project should run through July and August 2015. I have not decided whether singing counts as talking (my brain understands them as two different processes), but since I never sing in public anyway, I’m not sure it’s relevant. I’ll contemplate this further.