A Fruitful Discussion of Silence

I find it fascinating how a single word has the power to transcend beyond any single definition while also withholding to be defined by any one particular meaning. For example, when we hear the word silence, we each interpret the meaning and expression of the word differently. Thus, the work silence has the unique ability to transform any single definition and impact our impression and response to its application. In Jorge Luis Borge’s writing “On the Cult of Books,” Borges directs readers toward exploring how silent reading enables readers to connect with themselves on a deeper and more personal internal level while pursuing intellectual thought. 

[ Image Description: A inspiring resemblance between the significance and value of a book and of a human being. Credit: www.FilosofiaEsoterica.com (Galileo Galilei, quoted by JLB) ]

After reading some of the passages in “On the Cult of Books,” both silently and aloud, I found that reading them silently-although more impersonal, provided a unique ability for contemplation and superior intellectual thought. Reading a text silently allows the reader to consider and reflect upon their perceptions and points of discussion. While silent reading appeals to a more personal learning pursuit, reading a text aloud introduces an entirely different set of relationships and experiences for the reader to explore. The most profound difference I found when reading the text silently verses aloud was how reading the text aloud made me feel. Specifically, it made me feel as if the reading was more ‘real’ in a sense because it seemed to take on a personality of its own that expanded beyond the confined pages. Collectively, reading the text aloud appears to give the reader more confidence which aided in their ability to understand and interpret the text beyond an internal interpretation.

Borges points to the ancients’ view and their belief that the written word was nothing more than a substitute for spoken word, which consequently is what made the strange art of silent reading so strange to them. Furthermore, more evidently, Borges points out that it was customary to read aloud during this time because there were no punctuation marks, or a division of words, and there was a scarcity of manuscripts. While during the ancient and early ages, silent reading was, in the strictest sense-looked down upon, a significant emphasis was also placed on the understanding that ‘what is written remains.’

It is improbable to suggest that we could accurately and precisely assign certain books or content-specific labels that determine whether a text should be read aloud or silently because every reader interprets and reads texts differently. Therefore, how a text is to be read should be left up to the readers’ own transgressions. We can uncover support for the idea that it is improbable to assume an assigned reading status for reading a text by examining Augustine’s responses in Borge’s work “On the Cult of Books.” Specifically, Augustine points to the idea that Ambrose does not restrict access to anyone coming in while he is engaged with his silent reading. Augustine then says, “For who would dare to burden him in such intent concentration?” In fact, in his Confessions, Augustine writes about how he was still troubled by that extraordinary sight of a man in a room, with a book, reading without saying the words. Finally, Augustine summarizes the discussion of silent reading by bringing attention to the beauty it brings to life, which points to the intellectual growth a reader attains from stimulated challenges posed by internal reflection and reading.  

Works Cited

Borges, Jorge Luis. “On the Cult of Books.” Selected Non-Fictions. Translated by Eliot Weinberger, Penguin, 2000, 358-363.

3 thoughts on “A Fruitful Discussion of Silence”

  1. I found it really interesting how you describe the way that reading aloud brought the reading to life for you. I felt the opposite of this, as reading aloud makes me feel rather awkward and uncomfortable. Your thoughts made me think about reading aloud from a different perspective that I hadn’t really considered before.

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  2. I love how you took a more technical side to reading silently! I can totally see how reading silently allows you to better reflect on the work; usually for me, if I read it aloud, I’m so focused on other parts of the words that i don’t have the mental capacity to reflect in that way. It’s just so much easier to get a deeper understanding of the text if you aren’t being bombarded with outside sources.

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  3. I’m glad to see you mainly focus on what happens internally when someone is reading silently, and also why it was so common to read aloud back then. It’s understanding, yet interesting how one is able to comprehend something just with adding a dot between sentences. I think you really hit on how reading silently can be more meaningful because one can focus and essentially have an internal conversation with themselves about the text.

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