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But it was exactly three decades earlier that another of humanity’s most incisive intellects made the finest — and timeliest today — case for the generative function of silence in a creative culture drowning in noise.In Shortly after she wrote in her diary that “art is a form of consciousness” and shortly before Pablo Neruda penned his beautiful ode to silence and Paul Goodman — who shared a mutual admiration with Sontag — enumerated the nine kinds of silence, she writes: Every era has to reinvent the project of “spirituality” for itself.
For the serious artist, silence becomes “a zone of meditation, preparation for spiritual ripening, an ordeal that ends in gaining the right to speak.” In a counterpart to her later admonition that publicity is “a very destructive thing” for any artist, Sontag considers the zeal the artist must have in protecting that zone of silence — a notion of particular urgency in our age of tyrannical expectations regarding artists’ engagement with social media: So far as he is serious, the artist is continually tempted to sever the dialogue he has with an audience.
Silence is the furthest extension of that reluctance to communicate, that ambivalence about making contact with the audience…
Silence is the artist’s ultimate other-worldly gesture: by silence, he frees himself from servile bondage to the world, which appears as patron, client, consumer, antagonist, arbiter, and distorter of his work.
Ideally, one should be able to pay attention to everything.
Many years later, Sontag would advise aspiring writers to learn to “pay attention to the world” as the most important skill of storytelling.