The uses of silence : a twentieth-century preoccupation in the light of fictional examples, 1900-1950
A striking feature of twentieth-century Western cultural history was a preoccupation with silence. This thesis is a survey of the phenomenon across a broad range of literary and theoretical discourses actively engaged in the period in exploring and exploiting silence's expressive and philosophical potential. Its focus, and unifying principle, is the dynamic resourcefulness of the motif-the diversity of its uses and significations. The meaning of silence shifts according to its context and the discourse deploying it. By analysing an array of novels and theoretical formulations-by writers as diverse as James, Chopin, Conrad, H. D., Forster, Lawrence, Faulkner, and Wittgenstein, Benjamin, Blanchot, Hassan, Macherey, Irigaray, Spivak, Derrida-the mobility of silence as a construct is exposed. Silence is identified in the fiction of the period 1900-1950, and its implications are assessed in the light of the various ways in which its uses were understood and interpreted by twentieth-century theorists. Theory provides a heuristic device for the comprehension of the fiction selected for scrutiny whilst further highlighting the extent of the past century's dedication to the motif. Fiction and theory are regarded as two different manifestations of a fascination with silence: fiction dramatizes a commitment to the motif which comes to be formally registered in theoretical discourse as the century progresses. After an introductory chapter outlining the expanse of the phenomenon to be studied, the thesis is divided into two parts illustrating the discrete implications attaching to the motif: 'Social Silences' and 'Ontological Silences'. The project questions whether the multiplicity of silence's usage may work to depotentiate its signifying power; in particular, whether its role in abstract 'ontological' formulations diminishes its force for emancipatory 'social' discourses. In conclusion, by means of the synchronic organization of the thesis, silence's import is shown to lie in its resourcefulness rather than in any intrinsic characteristic it might be thought to possess.