Reading, Silence, and Being There

Reading is a chore lately. I noticed that I can’t go past chapters. It’s been a while since I last finished a book. Voice is important to me. For the most part, I can say that it determines whether or not I like the book. At least initially. But you know, that could be all. This experience does not only arise from fiction. I also have the same issue when I’m reading academic work. Right now, I’m even writing this at the back of a philosophical journal. Yes, I reached that point wherein writing my incoherent thoughts seems more appealing than actually reading something that’s supposed to improve my life, you know.

But for the record, I haven’t given up reading just yet. I actually keep a Lydia Davis short story collection on my bedside table where my bible used to be. I thoroughly enjoy her stories, short and long. I like Joan Didion as well. Apart from these, I also enjoy reading interviews between The Paris Review and luminaries. Just recently, I paid the undergraduate library a visit and left with two Foucault books. I enjoyed reading his interviews. I learnt he loves silence.

Stephen Riggins: One of the many things that a reader can unexpectedly learn from your work is to appreciate silence. You write about the freedom it makes possible, its multiple causes and meanings. For instance, you say in your last book that there is not one but many silences. Would it be correct to infer that there is a strongly autobiographical element in this?

Michel Foucault: I think that any child has been educated in a Catholic milieu just before or during the Second World War had experience that there were many different ways of speaking as well as many forms of silence. There were some kinds of silence which implied very sharp hostility and others which meant deep friendship, emotional admiration, even love. I remember very well that when I met the filmmaker Daniel Schmidt who visited me, I don’t know for what purpose, we discovered after a few minutes that we really had nothing to say to each other. So we stayed together from about three o’clock in the afternoon to midnight. We drank, we smoked hash, we had dinner. And I don’t think we spoke more than twenty minutes during those ten hours. From that moment a rather long friendship started. It was for me the first time that a friendship originated in strictly silent behavior.

Maybe another feature of this appreciation of silence is related to the obligation of speaking. I lived as a child in a petit bourgeois, provincial milieu in France and the obligation of speaking, of making conversation with visitors, was for me something both strange and very boring. I often wondered why people had to speak. Silence may be a much more interesting way of having a relationship with people.

I hate small talk. It’s either I keep an actual conversation or I remain quiet but not necessarily indifferent. I feel burdened when I’m pushed to initiate a conversation that I do not even want to happen in the first place. So I’m with Foucault on this fondness. I also appreciate how silence can mean deep friendship. Alvin and I used to always work together on the kitchen table in my old apartment. It was very similar to that scenario of Didion and Dunne in the book The Year of Magical Thinking. Just silent but there.

So, what was it about reading again… The other day, I went to the bookstore and I saw two Renata Adler books and I remembered that I was the one responsible for that because I actually ordered those but abandoned them. I guess I should give Adler a chance and see how much she’d encourage me to read some more.

I have a lot of books but I am a very selective reader. Before when I hate a book, I endure the hate until the last page. But now I just don’t have the patience for that anymore. I hate being stuck and uninspired so I’d rather just be restless and seek inspiration. This is very telling of my life right now.

I keep on running away, chasing what I think seems right at the moment. But you know what? It can get pretty boring sometimes. Chasing inspiration, contrary to popular belief, could be boring in itself. It becomes really dull specially if you’re surrounded with people who constantly try to remind you of what you should be doing. Because apparently, they should know better right? Right. This affects me because I listen to them and then I’ll think to myself that maybe  the chase is pointless. Everything then becomes bleak.

In a race, people should be cheering you on, right? I mean even if you’re running just for the heck of it with no aim whatsoever, the mere fact that you volunteered to be a subject of the pursuit, that should be noble in itself. Don’t you think? The same way we love people despite how clueless they are of their meaning and purpose. We love them anyways because they’re there. Not far away. Not unavailable. Not gone. Simply being there just for the heck of it. Existing just for the heck of it. Living just for the heck of it.

Choosing to live is profound in itself. At the very least, we can all say thanks. At the very least, we can all be hopeful.

The Foucault interview was taken from Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings 1977-1984. It was an excerpt from an interview with Stephen Riggins for the Canadian journal Ethos in the Autumn of 1983.

1 comment
  1. Bonsai said:

    It sounds like you need an anchor– that one thing that keeps you grounded.


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