And my words, like silent raindrops fell and echoed in the wells of silence.
Today, in my rhetoric class, we discussed silence. I’m not really feeling too verbose anymore after that discussion, which is pretty ironic, I admit. Even though we are in a classroom setting, a lot of my class is conducted in an online form, so in lieu of writing something original today, I’ll post my forum topic from today’s online discussion of Unspoken: A Rhetoric of Silence by Cheryl Glenn :
“The question is not whether speech or silence is better, more effective ore appropriate. Instead, the question is whether our use of silence is our choice (whether conscious or unconscious) or that of someone else.”
In the text, Glenn remarks that a “person with the most real-world power entering a conversation dominates it”, either by monopolizing the conversation or saying nothing. An example might be if a CEO sat in on a departmental meeting, and took over with his agenda. He would have an equal amount of power, however, if, during the meeting he said nothing, only scribbled notes furiously. Even when CEOs act as “equal” participants in meetings or discussions, they hold the majority of the power within the conversation by virtue of their position. On the other hand, someone much lower down on the pecking order who is silent in a meeting appears to either have nothing to contribute, or appears to feel he or she has no right to speak. From this, one might say that it isn’t silence or speech that communicates power, but rather the person who utilizes either device. This also seems to be what Glenn communicates above.
However, Glenn’s exemplification of Anne Askew’s use of silence during her trial for heresy in the 16th centure then brings this into question. Unlike women of her time, Askew was outspoken when it was not “appropriate” and then, when brought to trial and into an arena where she was expected to speak, remained silent. She was powerful, in this case, because she exercised silence when what was sought of her was confession and implication of other Protestants. In her case, she lacked power in every sense of the word: first, because she was a woman, second, a Protestant in a country ruled by the Church of England, and, third a criminal defendant. Yet, she employed both speech (in her gospelling) and silence (in her imprisonment), in ways that evoked power.
So, which is it? Does the power reside in the silence (or lack of it), or is it in the person who employs either device? Is the power of silence situational or is the power dependent on who the silent person is?
Of course, Anne Askew was exercising silence on her own terms only up to a certain point. She was burned at the stake, at which time I guess it was no longer up to her, but I don’t think that made her silence under torture any less powerful to the Protestant movement in England.
Anyway, I’ll leave off here, realzing this will probably be of interest to about 3 people, maybe.