Noting Silence

Critical Horizons 11 (3):359-377 (2010)
Abstract
In coming to words, language “reserves” itself: it holds back its event, keeping it illegible and silent. It is possible to see much of modern innovative or “experimental” poetry as such an experience of reticence and stillness, an experiment of language listening to itself “speaking” in order to allow the force of the illegible to come to speech. How this silence both limits what can be said and holds what has been written open to the possibilities of saying otherwise comes from the “restraint” characteristic of the specific way in which language “speaks,” that is, arrives each time singularly as words precisely by withholding this very arrival from signification. Myung Mi Kim’s poetry stands out among contemporary American poets precisely for its specific attentiveness to this simultaneously “generative” and “constraining” force of silence. To understand better the workings of this force of silence, I examine Kim’s poetry in the context of Heidegger’s reflection on language, specifically his point about the withdrawal and restraint “essential” to the unfolding of language. I suggest that this withdrawal marks the poietic momentum of language, which can be traced, though, only by way of a listening response. This listening response becomes in turn a kind of constraint under which poetic thinking operates, a holding back of assertions and statements in favor of a listening which responds precisely to how the saying withholds itself from what comes to be said. Exploring the proximity between Kim’s poetry and Heidegger’s thinking, this essay examines how this withdrawal—a restraint at play in language itself--necessitates the attitude of poetic “reservedness.”
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Rae Langton (2007). Disenfranchised Silence. In Michael Smith, Robert Goodin & Geoffrey Geoffrey (eds.), Common Minds. Oxford. 199.
Joseph J. Kockelmans (1972). On Heidegger and Language. Evanston [Ill.]Northwestern University Press.
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