El Lenguaje Silencioso
When the members of an originally oral culture, that is to say, a culture in which neither rites, nor thoughts, nor traditions have been written down in any book, when these individuals approach the white man’s boat and observe, on the one hand, the movement of goods and, on the other, the accounting activity of contracts, invoices and receipts, they attribute magical value to the inscriptions covering the documents. It is these papers, they think, that possess the power to attract ships full of goods, and so they try out their own scribbles on borrowed sheets of paper and gaze at the horizon, waiting for the cargo that those drawings have invoked.
Some who see them waiting hopefully at the dock are moved by such innocence; others view them as ignorant savages. What is certain, contrary to all predictions, is that sooner or later the cargo arrives, because no reality can resist those who believe firmly.
In fact, someone who can neither read nor write has much more immediate faith in the cause/effect relationship than do scientists or businesspeople, who know that the value of the papers depends on the will of the people and the coercive means used to validate them. An oral culture, however, can only believe in causality in virtue of and to the extent that it occurs in a world such as theirs, without records, and with great flexibility between what the cause was and the effect will be, because in such a realm there is no possibility to compare what was expected with what arrived.
The inscription on the paper doubles time for the first time in the past and present, projecting one’s voice into the future, because before it, in oral culture, everything happens-happened-will happen at the same time. What is written on the paper is what one day was heard and which, if it hadn’t been written, would have to be heard again in the present to be remembered; and what is written is snatched from the present and belongs to the future. At the same time, writing compresses space into the two dimensions of the sheet of paper.
Indeed, this silent voice that researchers have recorded on the sheets of paper has no body, it doesn’t need a body to reproduce itself, or rather, any body will do. It is given a body by those same scientists every time they compare it with another they have found in new records, when they classify these and preserve them. The sounds resound in their bodies just like the lines of a musical score silently reproduced in the head of a pianist who is studying or composing.
The written notes reflect point by point the sound of the composition. However, when, by chance or fate, a new element appears on the surface of the paper – the blot of ink left by an overly filled fountain pen, a drop of coffee, the mold that feeds on paper stored in a poorly ventilated basement – the imprinted marks are incorporated into the reproduction like a clap of thunder. The noise negates the original sound, or else disperses it, flattens it and distances it from what it refers to, like that technique Glenn Gould used to practice, which consisted of turning a vacuum cleaner on in the room where the pianist was composing, which stopped him from hearing himself and which separated the impulses that caused piano keys to be pressed from what was played, as if the experience of the musician were divided between soul and body, or thought and emotion.
The graphics that an artist incorporates into those recordings will be anything but fortuitous. The inscribing voice given body by the artist is of a different nature. The structures that an artist includes on the paper do not negate the original content – neither the voice nor its transcription -, they are not added noise, but rather act as an exceptional counterpoint to it, musical in various senses, but also, as much as they may seem, for their part, vestiges of voices from the past, with another timber and another tone.
In a certain way, these superimposed graphics mute the original ones much more radically than a blot, a strident frequency. They are scientific decoys that promise a posterior meaning, following in the path of those reliable recordings that precede them, but do so only to betray them, because in reality they only signify themselves. In other words, at the very moment that clap of thunder, that impetuous and chance brushstroke appears, it negates itself as such. Its systematic, modular and exhaustive aspect is clearly scientific. These qualities, however, have been taken to such an extreme that they become absurd and the referent loses its connection to what is referred, and nonsense now pervades all layers. Two waves that cancel each other through a phenomenon known as “destructive interference”.
Science cannot be made absurd at someone’s whim. To achieve this, it is necessary to patiently untangle things from their certainties through the careful and repeated execution of a task that allows the artist to alienate him or herself into silence, until reaching a truth that consumes him or her. The new inscriptions are the long meditated mark of the brushstrokes of Zen calligraphy, the arrow freed from the archer, the choreographed blow of a martial art, and its experience is more intense the more absurd its purpose is and the longer its execution is delayed.
A language is silent when it doesn’t communicate anything. The artist, in his or her imagination, attempts to obtain a formal realization that resists any explanation, which is unnamable, for such is the condition required by the representation of that void that the experience of death opens up. A small death.