Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Without music or media

I've been living in complete silence for months, I might say for years, with just the usual dull sounds you hear at the outskirts of town, the occasional echo of steps in the corridor and, further off, in the stairwell, someone dragging a sack, a carpet, a package, or a corpse, God knows what, along the ground; or the sound of the elevator as it slows, stops, opens, then closes and starts to rise or descend. Every so often a dog barks briefly, someone laughs or shouts. But everything dies away, soon lost in the constant low-level murmur of the street outside. That is what complete silence is like round here.

-- László Krasznahorkai in the New York Times blog

Of course, everyone in the world lived that way before the advent of the photograph and radio, the television, the home stereo system, piped-in Muzak, the "personal" media player, and so on.

Several years ago I spent six weeks in a remote mountain retreat. My mornings were spent in the kitchen, where music played all the time and made the time pass pleasantly. After that I enjoyed silence, solitude and time to work -- for a week. Then a young man moved in upstairs and blared his stereo. It took me several negotiations to get him to let me have, at least, the afternoons to work in silence. But the irony was that I had to negotiate silence at all in a remote mountain retreat.

Like time and space, the commodity of silence becomes more and more valuable -- especially as you get older.

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