al rasel on Fri, 15 Dec 2006 22:52:39 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> the silent discourse

The silent discourse.

Alkiviadis Rasel
alrasel {AT}

What cannot be said must be passed over in silence.
For if when I speak I cannot make myself understood, I
do not speak even if I keep talking without stop day
and night.   

Silence is therefore the only means of communication.

What is communicated in silence is obedience,
subordination, docility, for these names refer to a
single concept ? alienation ? denoting at best
different modes of the same principle. What is
communicated in silence is negation which confirms
what it apprehends as alienated activity, and hence as
alienated being, without superseding it either in
thought (logically) or in the sensuous activity of
real men, in practice. 

What cannot be said does not exist in thought.  

Or what cannot be said is what is self-conscious (and
therefore realised in thought) and for this or that
reason must be passed over in silence. In this case
the proposition is an ethical statement: its formal
grammatical expression ? and therefore logical
expression too - is the confession; which is also to
say that the confession is the general form of this
proposition.  -  ?The rules of logical syntax must go
without saying, once we know how each individual sign
signifies?: is this a requirement for one to make a
confession? Isn't the creation of concepts part of a

"I softly drew to the side to try and see what was
happening: Simone really was that
moment, I distinctly heard her say:
"Father, I still have not confessed the worst sin of
A few seconds of silence.
"The worst sin of all is very simply that I'm tossing
off while talking to you."
More seconds of whispering inside, and finally almost
aloud: "If you don't believe me, I can show you".
And indeed, Simon stood up and spread one thigh before
the eye of the window while masturbating with a quick,
sure hand. 
"All right, priest" cried Simone, banging away at the
confessional, "what are you doing in your shack there?
Tossing off, too?" 
But the confessional kept its peace. 
"Well, then I'll open".
And Simone pulled out the door".

If one understands each individual word in the above
fragment of text, he may recognise it as meaningless,
or simply pornographical. If one understands what I am
meaning, he already knows that Simone fucked the
priest, and then killed him. For it has nothing to do
with this or that priest and this or that Simone. But
it follows from the fact that Simone's confession is
also her emancipation: not a God-granted catharsis but
the rupture that manifests in those rare moments when
one dies and is re-born again. 

?The only comprehensible language we have is the
language our possessions use together. We would not
understand a human language and it would remain
ineffectual. From the one side, such a language would
be felt to be begging, imploring, and hence
humiliating. It could be used only with feelings of
debasement. From the other side, it would be received
as impertinence or insanity and so rejected. We are so
estranged from our human essence that the direct
language of man strikes us as a violation of human
dignity, whereas the estranged language of objective
values appears as the justified assertion of human
dignity that is self-confident and conscious of
itself.? The poverty of language is brilliantly
encapsulated in the contradictory proposition money
talks, in the language of poverty itself. For it
implies that an inhuman medium emulates man's vital
functions, possesses properties inherent in living
beings, and therefore one should be economical with
what they say, with the words uttered out of their
mouth, as if the use of logos would deprecate its

?Silence is therefore the only means of communication
[for] the King would be unwise to encourage his
subjects in their idle talk, they would not be able to
control a race of people who talked?. Some people do
not want us to speak. And as we speak, measures are
being taken to silence us, for our oath to the
imaginary god we have erected presupposes our silent
obedience. Let the masks fall. Why is it so impossible
to say that there is something terribly wrong with the
world today, as if nobody would understand? Exactly
because everybody would understand. Exactly because
the proposition could not be refuted. That is why they
do not want us to talk about what is possible, but
only direct the discussion to the despicable means
available to this enterprise, as they regard man as a
liability, or rather they point to the various
contingent events that demand our immediate attention,
remarking that utopian talks should not mesmerise our
wise judgement away from institutional solutions. What
they fail to realise is that the discussion, on both
sides, inevitably leads to a confrontation on the
plane of institutional immanence: the discourse
speaking of institutional solutions admits that minor
changes in input can have a dramatic change in output.
And this is so very much true. An example of such an
institutional solution would be the strict enforcement
of fines for anyone not having a valid ticket on the
entrance to the subway as a means to curb crime in the
premises (M. Gladwell, The Tipping Point), or the
elimination of tax deductions for advertising as a
means to alleviate the pains of consumer culture
(Heath & Potter, Rebel Sell). Both these fixes may
well bring about the desired results. However, beyond
this point of agreement and the common space
constituted by the statements that are possible to
enunciate, this discourse on institutions branches out
into two discourses, or rather is split into two
discourses, and those two different discourses flow
back into the first, as if everything were in flux,
and the only constant point of reference remains the
proposition the institution works, it is not the
institution itself that is questioned here, only a few
individuals within the bounds of the institution are
dysfunctional (ie. Corrupt), and therefore should be
penalised (ie. ostracised, or forced into
rehabilitation programmes). But the institution cannot
be held responsible for the actions of individuals.
Upon first glance it may seem as a perfectly logical
proposition, that is, one that follows from logical
investigation and can thus be verified logically
(proven in actuality). However, experience exposes the
above proposition for what it essentially is: a
contradiction. For what appears exists, but what
exists and is thus real need not be rational: for the
above statement exists, is therefore real, that is,
was enunciated in the past, and may be (or not)
enunciated again in the future (the conditions that
determine this possibility are a discussion too long
and serious to be dealt with here). Yet, the fact that
this statement was enunciated in a particular time and
space does not render it rational; and in this case
neither true: for truth is the correspondence of
language to reality. And in this case, reality says

Consider, for example, the famous 1963 Milgram
experiment which demonstrated that any individual is
most likely to harm another individual, even enjoy it,
so long as someone in authority asks them to so do.
?The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of
enormous importance, but they say very little about
how most people behave in concrete situations. I set
up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how
much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another
person simply because he was ordered to by an
experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted
against the subjects' [participants'] strongest moral
imperatives against hurting others, and, with the
subjects' [participants'] ears ringing with the
screams of the victims, authority won more often than
not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost
any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes
the chief finding of the study and the fact most
urgently demanding explanation.?(S. Milgram, The
Perils of Obedience). How should this be interpreted?
Perhaps one further example will prove useful.
Consider the equally famous 1971 Stanford prison
experiment where a group of students - volunteers was
taken blindfolded to an underground prison, and split
into two groups, one consisting of prisoners, the
other of their guards, in order to study the actual
behaviour of normal, ordinary people in the
institutional setting of a prison. The experiment
quickly got out of control, as the former guards were
so overzealous in the administration of their newly
assigned tasks that even themselves were shocked by
their own brutality; they could not explain their
behaviour on any grounds other than sadism and
intrinsic badness, which, of course, nobody wants to
admit. On precisely these grounds, it is right to say
that a person can be lovely as an individual, to love
the kids, to treat everybody kindly and respectfully,
to care for the common good, and be absolutely
monstrous in his institutional role, suppress and
torture other human beings, and even withdraw pleasure
from such acts of unspeakable brutality, because the
institutional role thus commands. But we should not
interpret this as meaning that, despite her long and
strenuous historical development, human nature is
inherently faulty, if not downright mean and barbaric,
and therefore there is no point in trying to make the
beauty of human essence shine forth to the fore,
emancipate humanity from artificial structures erected
by man to serve him but ultimately keeping him in
bondage. Human nature, human life, manifests her glory
even under the poorest and most inhumane conditions,
or especially under those conditions that force man to
return to what is basic and essential. These
experiments do not show that the human being is a
repressed sadistic bomb waiting for the right chance
to explode; what it shows is the tremendous effect
that institutional design and structure has on the
human being. For it is not consciousness that creates
and effaces institutions at the whim of its will - as
they would like us to believe - but rather
institutions (social existence) that determine
consciousness. It's high time we started speaking. And
it's high time we started speaking about institutions.
For it is from there that we should start. But where
we meet there exist no institutions. And for this
reason, it is only there that communication can be
free, or for this is the same, free communication is


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