Keepers of Silence

Owl's picture

After reading only the first page of Brothers and Keepers I could already see how silence and voice found common ground--as described in Yves-Charles Grandjeat's article--in Wideman's ability to speak to his brother in the form of letters. The distance and silence between Wideman and his brother allowed him to be hopeful that his brother might reunite with him despite the space, time, and unknowingness that existed between them-the silence. In this case voice was the unwillingness to get caught up in the "sense of urgency, of inpending disaster..." (pg5) that was plaguing those in close physical proximity to his brother's crime. This really makes me wonder about our definitions of voice and how more often than not we refer to voice in our class as the literal ability to speak out and the limitations that prevent people to do so due to race, gender, and/or class. I think that another way to understand voice is to look at it as choice: having the choice to create silence is also voice. Wideman chose to move away from home and in this action dilIberately created space and silence between him, his brother, and his family. However, it is crucial here to understand how silence as voice can also be a used as a silencing tool. For example, lately in our class, we have been discussing how choosing silence allows others to speak. I am not opposed to the sentiment behind this, however, I do realize another effect that choosing silence can have on the class in its entirety. When some classmates feel the need to silence themselves in order to allow others to speak it makes me feel as though I am 'missing out' on intellectual diversity. I guess what I am looking for this coming week as we further discuss Brothers and Keepers, is a conversation on how we can balance silence and voice in a way that does not inhibit our intellectual space. 

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jhunter's picture

Choice, Voice, Silence

I'm also intrigued by this confusion and intermingling of the literal definitions of voice and silence and their metaphorical.  We use them interchangably, and it's difficult to know, in any given context, which one is the "speaker's" intention.  Sometimes silence speaks, and other times it never truly exists.  Voice can be words, actions, or the absence of one or the other.  It's frustrating how difficult it is to know what these words mean, as it can change from sentence to sentence.  To some extent, I don't want to have to qualify my word choice every time I use voice, silence, etc., but I think sometimes it might be helpful so as to not assume our meaning is transparent.  I think a lot of what I struggled with in reading Wideman last week was my confusion about how literal he was being...but that also opens up a productive space for discussion.  Perhaps others have more concrete ideas about these intersections?

jo's picture

Chosing Silence

I am really intrigued by your definition of voice as "having the choice to create silence..." We've often gotten hung up on the physical meanings of voice and silence but haven't talked as much about the intersection of the two. I personally have thought a lot about the privilege of silence, the privilege that comes with choosing silence and with being able to break silence, but it seems that by your words this would translate to voice. So is voice privilege and vice versa?

Taking this back to Wideman, this made me think a lot about his terms of silence in the reading "In Praise of Silence". "Silence is proof that the decision to listen or not is ours." (549) So if we hear silence that means we are choosing not to listen (?). We grappled with this a lot in class the other day, and I feel like this idea that we effectively choose whether or not we experience silence might have something to do with our voice, i.e. choosing whether or not we engage in silence... I guess what I'm getting at here is this idea of choice and how it connects voice and silence. I've also been thinking a lot about choice in general in relation to Brothers and Keepers. I haven't read much of it yet, and so a constant question in my mind is, what events or factors led to the vast difference between these two brothers' lives, and also what role did their own choices and decisions play?

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