IV: Silence as structure: Prose, script and the unsaid

Silence and the short story form

Moy McCrory

In this consideration of silence as a function of writing which examines omissions, ellipsis and the role of suggestion, in the practical context of writing as an activity it is hard to separate the urge to write from the effects of silence, and of silencing and how the symbols of ‘silence’ constantly operate in writing. Silence in speech studies is associated with negativity: ‘the hated antithesis of consciousness, freedom, presence’ (Luckyj 2002, 3) which takes silences as an absence, while the struggle for a ‘voice’ belongs to minorities and finding a voice is one of the first things claimed in triumph.

However, in her study on silence Simborowski frames her investigation in an active sense. Its title, Secrets and Puzzles: Silence and the Unsaid, suggests a game, a conundrum, something to be solved, much as postmodern text practice plays with the notion of the page as gaming board on which both writer and reader engage.

So let us assume the ‘voice’ has been raised and we are here as players. Silence is now part of our strategy. Those strategies will include silence as suggestion, silence as reticence and silence as a form of eloquence. It becomes a highly effective tool:

As early as Plato silence was associated with truth, wisdom and eloquence ... later ... (it) became a recommended form of strength ... an expression of open defiance.

(Luckyj 2002, 7)

As long as it does not result in absence, and with this a general forgetfulness leading to eradication or erasure: ‘The blank page is poisoned. The book which tells no story kills. The absence of narrative signifies death’, writes Todorov, someone who does not pull his punches (1987, 74).

Silence as suggestion

The first of the strategies, silence as suggestion, will be familiar to all those who read and write and work with short stories as silence fits this form naturally. The short form inhabits a space where the world beyond the text is always the bigger place. This is different than subtext which operates inside fiction. The brevity of the story suggests a further life for the characters, in the manner in which they are not finished off, or explained like an Oliver Twist or David Copperfield. They might even be ‘finished off’ in the manner of a Barthelme, who experimented with the end of character, along with mimetic fiction. However, intrinsic to the way the reader engages with the form is how the story has to suggest beyond itself.

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