What Are the Consequences of Silence?

by Jeff Oaks

(an answer to one of Bhanu Kapil’s questions in The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers)

You might be surprised to find out your best friend is married, by Elvis, without you. You might never know about geology or nanotechnology or your own insignificance. There is that. This is writing, which is as close to silence as the human voice can usually stand. If it were painting, the stillness might be worse. You can wait a long time for an answer, and sometimes it’s a slap, a shove, a kick to the ground. When it’s over, it’s over. Listen better, that’s a consequence. Listen all the time while you watch to see what the body does: its chattering leg under the table while it’s making a claim about its own happiness. You don’t have to believe anything you hear. So many people seem unable to hear themselves. Remember when we marched in the streets, thinking silence was death? If all silences were the same, we were right. We were tired of being in parentheses all the time.