Titled after an essay by the late philosopher and literary theoretician Jean-Francois Lyotard, Several Silences is a group exhibition exploring various kinds of silence. As a discourse, the aesthetic of silence has been thoroughly domesticated within the visual arts. Although silence as a discourse in art arose out of conditions calling for the negation of art, it has subsequently become familiar subject matter no longer operating as the avant-garde ideal it once was. This is not to say silence has lost significance. If anything, it has become a more potent antidote to a culture of distraction. Silence, however, is not the absence of communication. It is dialectically opposed to communication, so that one sustains and supports the other. Inextricably bound to communication, which it tacitly evokes, silence itself is a form of communication with many meanings. There are voluntary and involuntary silences–some comfortable, others not. There is Cage’s silence, which calls for the distinction between clinical and ambient silences. There is silence as conscious omission or redaction. And then there is memorial silence.
The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago has an ongoing art exhibition called “Several Silences,” and they invited me to lecture in connection with it Sunday, May 31, at 2:00. Here’s their description of the exhibition:
I’ll be speaking, surprise surprise, about Cage’s 4’33”: mostly excerpts from my upcoming book, though with a little more latitude for opinion, theorizing, and anecdote.
After 12 years of living in Chicago, and six of writing there, I left in 1989, and I’ve only been back once, for a friend’s wedding. I can’t wait to have some authentic deep-dish pizza, which left me with a permanently jaundiced view of all other pizza in the world. Of course, the University of Chicago, down in Hyde Park, was “the other Chicago,” not the one I lived and worked and misspent my student years in, though as a young critic I did orbit around Ralph Shapey down there periodically. Musically, we used to refer to the U. of C. world as “Uptown,” even though it was down south, back when people used such words. It’ll be a trip to go back.