Gaps, Spaces, and Silences

In 1951, John Cage entered the anechoic chamber at Harvard University, expecting to hear silence. Instead, as he later wrote, “I heard two sounds, one high and one low. When I described them to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation.” This experience led to 4’33”, Cage’s famous three-movement composition in which the musicians are explicitly instructed not to play their instruments. The result is perhaps not music (arguable!); the result is also, marvelously, not silence. The gaps in a text—the pauses, rests, caesurae, silences—are empty of words, but they’re full of resonance, the vacuum filled instantly by the reader’s swift comprehension. During this workshop, we’ll be questioning various examples of white space, elisions, pauses, negations and things left unsaid. Texts provided in-class will include those by Marguerite Duras, William Faulkner, Georges Perec, and Jenny Offill, among others. We will also consider ways to open up our own work to white spaces and silences.

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