In the absence of sound

Silent Music by Vic Briggs

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” 

— Aldous Huxley, Music at Night and Other Essays

 

About this image: This is one sculpture amongst the many that have their home in the outdoor rooms of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington DC. The memorial is a focus for those who work tirelessly to promote the welfare of disabled citizens. I thought that this sculpture captured beautifully both the idea of sound and its absence,

 

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Exile in Silence

Black and White Photography by Eddie O'Bryan

The room felt stiff and forbidding. It denied me the luxury of distance and I was glad to have been left alone, if only for a few minutes. I searched for something to distract me and my gaze inadvertently fell upon his coat. It lay on the edge of the sofa, an abandoned shell with a fallen arm extended as if in supplication towards the ground. Lonesome and drab without its owner wrapped in its folds. He wore his clothes like his moods, with deceptive carelessness. 

The edge of a book inched out of the depths of the coat pocket. So this must be his escape. Stooping over aged pages, oblivious to the rest of the world, he would detach himself from all concerns and flee to another world. One of his own choosing. I tried to guess whether it would be a biography or a work of history. Perhaps a novel, although knowing him, that seemed unlikely. Before I had the chance to satisfy my curiosity, I heard the door open behind me. He was back.

I had grown accustomed to his silence over the past few months. At first I found it unsettling. I tried to reach out, make him speak. It mattered little what he would say. No accusation, no reproach could equal this continued absence of sound. I was reduced to searching for pathetic substitutions for our former tête-à-têtes. The  only times I heard his voice these days was when I tiptoed to the door of his office to eavesdrop on his conversation with others. 

He was punishing me. I knew that he would never make me leave, but he did his best to make it difficult not to. At first I stayed because I hoped he would relent, certain that he couldn’t go on ignoring me indefinitely. I was wrong. He had made an art of it and I was nearing the breaking point.

On reentering the room he had settled into the armchair by the window, his body turned away from me so that I could see very little of his profile. Light sifted through the blinds in jagged lines: the portrait of a shadow-striped reader.

“What is it that you are reading?” I asked, cutting through the silence.

He looked up, his expression… he had the look of a dreamer that had been suddenly awakened from their sleep, but upon whom reality had not quite settled. He paused. He blinked. A hand moved towards his hair and ruffled it slightly as if enquiring, attempting to guess what the question had been. I moved towards the sofa and extracted the book from the pocket of the coat.

“Ah. It is Huxley,” I answered for him.

A novel after all. Aldous Huxley. It was a good name. One could not help but be persuaded by whatever an Aldous might tell them. I turned the book in my hands. It was an old edition and looked as if it had been read many a time. The pages had acquired a rusty hue and the spine was not altogether firm. It had a mild scent of tobacco.  

“A favourite of yours?” I asked, turning one page and then another, aware that I was being observed as I did so.

He shrugged noncommittally.

Words swam soundlessly between us. He would not speak. Brave New World. I knew of it, but had never taken the trouble to read it. I wished I had. In my desperate attempt to cross over the chasm, this may have been a bridge. I believed that familiarity with something he cared about would have anchored me back into his life. Just like me… to depend on something so useless and fail even at that.

“What is it about?” I persisted, my eyes fixed on the page before me without being able to take in its contents.

“Inadequacy.”

His answer startled me. Its existence as much as its content. I expected to see a challenge in his eyes when I finally dared look at him, but I could not read his expression. I knew what he would read in mine: defeat.

For an instant only a compact formed between us around that one word. It hurt to hear it. It summed up my present state of existence. Somehow, it encompassed all that I had felt, been, for the past few months. He had made me feel that way without even trying. Did he know it? I looked away.

Moments later he was at my side. Not to embrace me. No. I had lost that privilege. I thought he wanted to reclaim his volume and offered to give it back, but that wasn’t it either. He shook his head to indicate that he didn’t want it and reached out for his coat instead.

At times I wondered whether he planned his actions or whether there was a cruel coincidence to the things he did. He fished out of the coat pocket the lighter I had gifted him the day after “the incident”. It was that clichéd gesture that gave me away in the end. Had I been a man, I might have bought him flowers. He knew me well enough to guess what it meant, and once suspicion found a foothold, it did not give way until he had it confirmed.

He lit a cigarette. It suited him. That vice. I watched him draw in the smoke and exhale it. He watched me watch him. Would that be it… a word once in a while and silence forevermore? Inadequacy. Succinct and to the point.

“It’s a dystopia. Or it was intended to be one. The way we’re going it may as well be a blueprint,” he said.

I waited for him to continue. 

“The main character is an outcast who cannot or will not conform to the happy world of endless consumption and promiscuity.”

A turn of the head, a swift glance and he had caught me out. I wanted to laugh, but did not have the strength. He may be mocking me. It was too painfully close, too coincidental for it to be true.

“And what is his solution?” I asked.

“Exile.”

I couldn’t tell whether he was speaking of me or of himself.

 

Daily Prompt: Land of Confusion

BABY ON BOARD | Discrimination

Let’s Talk Opinion in conversation with Quinn

“I fully believe in equal rights, equal pay, equal opportunity and whatnot. However, I am NOT a fan of anyone– male or female – being given “special” consideration “because” they have children. […] This is blatant discrimination – “family” vs. “individual”. And yet, it is. It exists. Life is all about choices. If you chose to have a family, IMHO – then THAT should be YOUR priority (not mine or my employers). If you chose to have a family AND climb the corporate ladder, then you – the individual – must choose your priorities. Corporations have no obligation to make those choices for you or make special concessions for you. […] Using the law firm example you gave, an attorney can put up their own money – hang their shingle – drum up business – grow – hire associates – grow – form partnerships – grow – and on and on. They (the original owner and partners) owe you – a female attorney or paralegal or secretary – nothing. If you don’t want to work the 100 hours a week required to make partnership (for whatever reason) – don’t. Doesn’t really matter if you are a man or a woman. But don’t then sit back and demand some special consideration “because you have children”. […]”***

*** This is an abridged version of the comment. Click HERE for the full version (Quinn on October 21, 2013 at 10:30 pm.),and for the context of this discussion

baby-on-board

I absolutely agree, but let me make my agreement contingent on one important thing: a thorough self-reflective and self-aware engagement with the values and norms we want to stand by and cherish, that is: What kind of society do we want to live in?

Some question to ponder:

1. Do we want a society where the individual and only the individual matters? Where did this “individual” come from? Do “individuals” spring up from a void, outside of society and its norms and values OR do they in fact only come into being from within society itself and precisely because of its norms and values?

2. Do we want to live in a society that divests its citizens of their reproductive nature, a society that does not wish to re-create itself and is in fact satisfied to go extinct? What I mean by this is simply this: is the giving birth, bringing up and education of children important to society itself, or is this an absolutely private individual matter that society has absolutely no benefit from or any interest in whatsoever?

3. Do corporations operate in a social void? Are they simply some “individual” exercise or do they in fact benefit from the existence of society, from the system of organisation it offers, from a certain security in laws, norms and values that make it possible for corporations to operate in the first place?

4. Do we want to live in a society, and work for corporations that victimise individuals who whilst contributing to both also take on the burden of creating the next generation? Or may it be perhaps more constructive to acknowledge the value of their work in both areas and reward it appropriately? After all, those that choose to or are unable to participate in the reproduction of society already have a time-energy advantage on their hands to climb the corporate ladder as well as engage in social activities that are no longer attainable for those others who have children. Win/win one would think?

Until the family unit is eliminated and individuals are developed in vitro – see Brave New World by Aldous Huxley for a blueprint – then the two will be forever intertwined in the makeup of society. There is no family vs. individual conflict insofar as I can see it. We are born, we grow up, we live alone, we live together, we learn, we work, we create, we imagine, we strive, we overcome, we succumb, get old and die.

Mutual respect is the basis of equality. I am a democrat. Equality is of great importance in my books. I do wonder however whether we spend sufficient time discussing what the idea actually stands for, because this comment made me realise once again how fluid the concept is, and how little we agree on what it means.

I would like to leave you with this one final comment of my own:

Individuals do not exist in void. They exist in society. Therefore, individuals act upon one another and shape society, just as they are acted upon and shaped by society. There is a tendency within individuals to direct others and to resist direction, a tendency which amplifies both the radical and the contestatory nature of the democratic project, which is a project of autonomy or freedom, understood as the lucid, self-aware and self-reflecting making of one’s own laws.

These laws ought to benefit all – in this case both childless individuals and those who have children.

And a final question:

Why discriminate against either? Why as someone who does not have children must one ever feel like they are somehow done a disservice if their employer happens to value their workers sufficiently to act humanely and with understanding towards those that have a life outside the office that is of equal important to that within?**

**This is the first part of a two part series on this topic. The follow up post is scheduled to be published on Tuesday, the 10th of December 2013 at 7am GMT.

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