Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2001


The stage is no place for silence. The silence is no place for a stage. Like a white page upon which it is inscribed, presented as dramatic instruction—"(silence)"—the word is made into a mark, made into a bracketed moment, only to be instantly, noisily transformed into utterance. Mouths closed; the word erased but still seen, fully present and intended to form and function, to speak breathlessly. The speakers stop, pause, silent. On the page or on the stage, this instructed silence nevertheless stealthily expands and fills as a signified absence, inflating into a deliberately, paradoxically evacuated dimension; ink absorbed onto paper, always echoing. Jacques Derrida, commenting on Bataille, accurately diagnosed the dilemma of trying to represent silence,

If the word silence 'among all words', is 'the most perverse or the most poetic,' it is because in pretending to silence meaning, it says nonmeaning, it slides and it erases itself, does not maintain itself, silences itself, not as silence, but as speech.

Silencing itself as speech, saying the spacings, preparing the pause, the actor and the director mark, measure the extended moments before, between, following the words (as well as within them; Hamm in Beckett's Endgame, "No, all is a— / (he yawns) / —bsolute"). How long before the mouth is to move, (the yawn to endure), the words to resume, the sounds of the stage to reengage? And how to effectively create and form what Antonin Artaud spoke of as the "wellcalculated silence . . ., silence solidified by thought."


Originally published in the Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 15: 2 (Spring 2001): 69-84.

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