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A History of Silence in Literature

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Term
Subject Code
COMPLIT
Course Number
263
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A History of Silence in Literature

An analysis of theological and mystical texts as well as secular works of poetry and prose, from the Middle Ages to the present, exploring both the specific nature and the philosophical implications of silence in literature. Following a historical trajectory, we will first look at silence in medieval thought: as the necessary silence of apophasy in the works of negative theology and as a memory space in accounts of mystical ascension from the Islamic tradition (Bayazid Bastami). After this will come an examination of various moments in more recent literary history: the silence in face of the sublime that pervades the Romantics; the metaphysical uprooting of Büchner's Lenz (1839) that is captured in the paradox of a silence whose screams reach across the horizon; the fragmentation of Hölderlin's late poetry; the crisis of language described in Hofmannsthal's Chandos Letter (1902), prefiguring Wittgenstein; the dissolution of words as a "language of space devoid of dialogue" in Antonin Artaud; the straining away from existence and speech in Beckett's The Unnamable (1953); and, finally, the silence of the breath turn, as an ethical injunction after the Holocaust in Paul Celan. Open to undergraduates and graduates. Taught in English.