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Silencing: Experiences, Materiality, Powers International conference

Posted: November 7th, 2018 | Filed under: Calls for Papers | No Comments »

Marseille, 4-7 June 2019, EHESS – Vieille Charité
Submission deadline: 20 December 2018


The Silencing. Experiences, materiality and powers international conference aims at considering silence in its practical dimension, as an object, a conduct, an aesthetic or political hold. In welcoming and confronting viewpoints from several academic fields – acoustics, anthropology, history, linguistics, literature, museology, musicology, sociology – and artistic practices – notably music, poetry, cinema– this conference will study how the existence of a creation of silence manifests, through the material, symbolic and political modalities of silence.

The papers should fall within the following themes:

1. The making of silence. In essence, silence stands for what is lacking. As John Cage stated, there is no such thing as silence; there only are strategies to make it being. Architecture has since long contributed to promote silence, as “needed by humankind”, as Le Corbusier, who put silence at the core of his work, recalled about the La Tourette priory (Formes du silence, 2016). For their part, historians of science started exploring the techniques that have historically provided concert halls with conditions to hear silence (Thompson, 2002). Between orders from clients and building techniques, silence is thus the result of social constructions, whose different stages will be studied in this conference. Firstly, the conference will be to explore the room made for silence and its perception in cognitive sciences since the James Austin’s metaphorical use of “silence of senses” (Austin, 2007) and will graspthe recent changes in this field. Other perspectives exist: analysing how urban studies, which have developed the concept of soundscape, have proposed an interpretation of silence as a “built fact” (see Amphoux & alii, 1996). As a significant dimension of the perception of silence, transcribing must be analysed. The conference will focus on all the forms that materialise silence in writing, be it linguistic, theatrical or musical.

2. The aesthetics of silence. Silence finds its graphical counterpart in the empty space, the typographic blank space and, often, “the logic is that of the sign: the present emptiness signals the absence of a full space” (Dessons, 2005). Silencing is very often about artistic creation. John Cage’s “piece with no sound”, usually called 4’33’’, defined silence as a musical object in itself. In contemporary poetry, creating silence belongs to the composition of the piece, and is embodied in the verse. Marie-Claire Bancquart introduced blank spaces, which represent as many silences, “often in between the verses, sometimes the verse itself” (2010, p. 48). Lorand Gaspar, for whom “silence is perhaps the fullness of language” (1978, p. 116), puts a dash at the end of some verses, in a discursive contemplation, invaded by silence. James Sacré called his forthcoming opus Figures of Silence, as he evokes several forms of its coming to being, questions once again the idea of silencing. In screenwriting, silence strongly contributes to the staging of the intention. Cinematic silence can take part in “film musicality”, it “is (comes from) encounters, combinations, layouts, not just of sounds, of course. We build it, we produce it like and with the rest of the elements that make a film, at the same time that we are producing time, life, reality.” (Prenant, 2006, p. 84). The artistic purpose behind silencing in screenwriting can also be considered as the absence of intradiegetic or extradiegetic words. In this conference, researchers, artists and engineers will have the opportunity to present their reflections or sound creations with an emphasis on silence in the making (Capeille, 2007), as well as their choice to give up on voiceover, even soundtrack, in their fictions or documentaries.

3. The substance of silence. Creating silence means not telling, or not being able to tell. The hollowness in the argument from colonial sciences is now acknowledged (Stoler, 2009). The conference will be the opportunity to question the concept of place, the status to give the deliberate silences in the practice of anthropologists, historians and lawyers, the way these silences can be instruments of power, since “refusing to hear and see the other, preventing him to leave a mark, means condemning him to a form of non-existence” (Corbin, 2016 [1994], p. 16), and thus to a social and historical invisibility, as they are silenced (Le Blanc, 2009). In a more testimonial perspective, silencing also means not being able to or not wanting to “tell” (Ricoeur), or tell the other narrative. One model is that of some “Poilus”’ letters, who were barely literate (Corpus 14, Steuckardt dir.), and in which the tales of battle are not really accounted for. However the (self) imposed silence can break and lead to lapsus linguae or lapsus calami (Rossi & Peter-Defare, 1998). Those breaks from language and silence thus represent “events of utterance” of meaning, where they “break into a chain of discourse” (Fenoglio, 1997). The subtracted word may leave traces, thus challenging scholars with its spotting and interpreting. Therefore, it would be interesting to study how the analysis of corpora, with the use of textometry tools, can help define, delineate, measure the revealing traces of silencing. As testimonies or literary texts, the narratives (or lack thereof) of trauma, both collective and personal, have practical implications. The conditions for their implementation, as well as the modalities to recover speech, remain to be studied in order to understand how to “break the silence”.

4. The tactics of silence. Understood through its effects, silence turns into a tactic or strategy. The rhetoricians and moralists consider silence as an art of speech, “the art of doing something to someone else through silence” (Dinouart, 1987, introduction by Courtine and Haroche). In Art de se taire (1771), Abbott Dinouart identified a “cautious silence and an artful silence. / A complacent and a mocking silence. / A spiritual silence and a stupid silence. / A silence of approval and a silence of contempt. / A political silence. / A silence of temper and a silence of whim (Dinouart, 1987 [1771], p. 69). As part of verbal interactions, silence may be considered as a defining element of verbal exchange. It allows to alternate speaking turns (switching pauses, gap; Larouche-Bouvy, 1984; Kebrat-Orecchioni, 1995). Its uses vary greatly depending on culture. In France, for example, an extended silent pause between two turns may be resented as unbearable, “one feel[ing] the need to fill the gap, or to justify it” (Kebrat-Orecchioni,1995, p. 163). When it leads to perlocutory failure or to malfunctions (purposely not answering a question; pauses that are too long between speaking turns), keeping silent can reveal the presence of ritualised conducts that are infringed by the speaker (politeness). It is also possible to create silence to invite the interlocutor to speak (Cheyronnaud, 1997). This conference will also focus on how silence can reveal the relations with other people through verbal exchanges, sometimes turning into power plays, as they are expressed in groups or ritual practices (Lakoff, West & Zimmerman, 1975, gender inequality; Lazar, 2001, generation gap; Taylor, 2017, silent cultural practices of Jivaro’s magic songs; Starhawk, 2015, Vercauteren, 2011, micropolitics of groups). Lastly, it will be possible to define political uses of silence, for example through the analysis of political discourses (S. Montiglio, 1994; D. Barbet, J.-P. Honoré éd., 2013) or environmental policies (Carson, 1962; Murphy, 2005; Abram, 2014).

5. Ecologies of silence. Although silence may result from the experience of creating, listening or reading, silence may sometimes be endured, and its experience is then negotiated within spaces endowed with specific constraints (or sociofugal places (Sommer, 1967)). Classrooms, libraries, concert halls, among others, are often spaces where the possibility of silence is expected. If the historicity of creating silence in concert halls and theatres was largely documented (Bisaro & Louvat-Molozay, 2017), it is now a question of understanding how its (more or less constraining) injunctions are negotiated, in a practical and ethical dimension, and how they inform about the everyday practices of agents moving into the spaces dedicated to silence. The practices and places that are explicitly and purposely “silenced can also be studied empirically: silent parties, monastic cloisters, silent spaces in trains, may well represent “laboratories” for the practice of silence. In addition, the conference invites papers that discuss the merchandising around silenced realms. Those spaces may be considered prime observatories of “obstructions to silence” and of the reactions they induce, as many (sound) fractures of the frame (Goffman, 1991). Another line of investigation on the ecology of silence may highlight its ambiguities, its paradoxical reception, notably in urban contexts, in which a critical movement is specifically looking for it, but whose manifestations may be experienced as a problem. We have thus been led to talk about a “potentially dangerous silence” for urban coordination, in the case of electric cars for instance (Pecqueux, 2012).


The paper proposals, of maximum 500 words, with a provisional title and a bibliography, should be sent to Stéphanie Fonvielle ([email protected]) and Christelle Rabier ([email protected]), with “CFP Silencing” in the subject line.
They should be written in French or in English, and should include the following information:

– Last name
– First name
– Affiliation(s)
– Bio-bibliography

Submission deadline: 20 December 2018
Notification of decision: 20 January 2019

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