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‘The inability to speak, the inability to be silent, and solitude’

Don’t miss these two interesting posts by Dan Green on Susan Sontag’s essay ‘On Style’ (in Against Interpretation): the struggle between content and style, moral and aesthetic readings, and the relative importance of will versus words. Here’s how it ends:

"Sontag seems correct to me when she concludes the essay by reminding us that "In the strictest sense, all the contents of consciousness are ineffable," that "Every work of art, therefore, needs to be understood not only as something rendered, but also as a certain handling of the ineffable."

In the greatest art, one is always aware of things that cannot be said. . ., of the contradiction between expression and the presence of the inexpressible. Stylistic devices are also techniques of avoidance. The most potent elements in a work of art are, often, its silences.

I would only add that the "silences" cultivated by great art are "present" because the work makes room for them in a concrete way. They are incorporated into the work as "ineffable" but real. (The New Critics might have called this ineffable quality "ambiguity," something half-said but not fully said.) The specific way in which, through its style, the work of art invokes a fruitful silence is always still worth attention."

Which recalls Beckett in Endgame: " Yes, in my life, since we must call it so, there were three things, the inability to speak, the inability to be silent, and solitude, that’s what I’ve had to make the best of."



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One Response to “‘The inability to speak, the inability to be silent, and solitude’”

  1. Frances Madeson Says:

    When Daniel talks with Susan, she’s alive again and they’re both close by in the next room. I don’t dare interrupt them. They’re having such a wonderful time together, especially Susan, whose hair’s standing straight up with electricity as her brain fires all pistons, every single one, to respond to the challenge she waited her whole life for. It’s enough pleasure to overhear their animated exchange and to know the conversation’s been salvaged from the rubble of time and the ignominious treatment she’s received so far at the hands of her official legatees. As you rightly say, Nigel, it’s no game. This is our sacred tradition. If we let them take Susan Sontag away who do you think they’ll replace her with? Some deep thinker like Nora Ephron perhaps? Oh! I just heard Susan guffaw. Probably at “mistily metaphysical,” which she never, never was.

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