Junot Diaz, author of “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”—a finalist for the 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award—in a Wall Street Journal interview discusses his view that “every voice silences another”:
“It can’t help it. Even if we’re coming out of an enormous silence, the very presence of our narrative displaces another. It’s like if I’m talking right now, it’s very hard for you to get a word in edgewise. I think that’s part of the form, it’s something we have to wrestle with. It’s part of the costs… It’s what I would call a higher-level concern. In other words, what is the violence of representation? Academics have been talking about this forever. What happens when we represent something? What happens when, in an attempt to speak, we create equally silence. Is there a way for us to work with this silence? Is there a way for us to acknowledge that sort of loss as we’re building and as we’re creating?”
Diaz’s has an interesting perspective about the violence of representation. And although I do not deny a violence (there can be present a healing as well) I do believe Diaz’s view is too limited. It’s as if we live in a world that can only hold so many voices and stories. I believe we live in an eternal world that is unlimited and that can hold more stories than we can create. Our world can hold an infinite amount of stories. The rhythm of creation contains both the duality of silence and creativity but they aren’t in opposition to one another.
To create a conversation there must be silence, one voice must speak at a time, but if we live forever then the conversation never ends. And although there are periods of silence from each party, each story will be told, each voice will be heard, and everything that is meant to be created will be created. When we believe that our voice will silence other voices and we refuse to create then we do violence to the rhythm of the grand narrative that is playing in and through our lives. And that is a greater violence. It is the violence of destruction. It’s an anti-story belief that limits human ability and creativity to a carefully measured box.
Equal to the importance of creation, as shown in the creation account of Genesis, is the importance of rest. Which can ultimately mean silence. Silence is a part of the narrative. In order to tell our story we must first be silent and listen to the other stories. Why? Because they are a part of our story as well. The threads of are stories are woven together so tight that it become difficult to tell them apart. Creation cannot begin without silence. And so the violence begins, not when we choose to speak and silence other voices, but when we choose to speak without first having listened.