By Sophie Fahey ‘17
Is silence the absence of sound? That is the main question the Humanities Institute is exploring in this Fall’s program, “The Sound of Silence”.
The Humanities Institute was founded in 1986 to host a series of events each semester. Each semester, the Humanities Institute presents a program based around a specific theme or idea that is related to the humanities. These programs use a wide range of events — from lectures and seminars to exhibitions and readings — to explore the semester’s topic.
Another aspect of the Humanities Institute is the Junior Fellows Program. Students who are nominated by professors, apply, and are accepted into the program enroll in a research seminar that follows the program’s theme and provides these students with the opportunity to meet with speakers when they come to campus. The students also work on a research project or paper during the course of the semester.
According to the Humanities Institute’s program description, the Fall 2014 program explores the questions:
“Is silence the absence of sound? Is it the space between words, a pause between heart beats? Is silence a refusal to speak — or to respond? Is silence collaborative, complicit? Is it pleasant, peaceful? Contemplative? Is meditation a form of silence? Does silence signify absence? Does it entail presence? Does silence make you nervous? Is silence menacing? [This year’s program delves into both] the theory and practice of silence: voluntary and coerced, solitary and communal, literal and metaphoric. What are the politics of silence? How has silence been mandated and inflicted across historical periods and in a range of cultures and geographic locations? How are silence and gender related? Can silence be palpable, visual, deafening, architectural, dynamic? Hush. Let’s think about it.”
These are the questions the Humanities Institute encourages students to think about. Thus far in the semester there has been a film screening, a book reading and publications party, faculty seminars, public talks, a piano concert, and exhibitions to explore the concept of silence.
There are still many opportunities to be a part of the “Sound of Silence” program. On October 30t, an exhibition—“Silences”—opened in the Denison Library. This exhibition was curated and installed by the Humanities Institute Junior Fellows and can be viewed until December 16th. On November 6th Jeffrey Prager, professor of Sociologyw at UCLA, will be giving a talk entitled “Like Parent, Like Child: Transmissions of Trauma across Generations.” On Nov. 13 at a faculty seminar, Scripps French Professor Nathalie Rachlin will discuss “Rithy Panh’s ‘The missing Picture.’ ” Then, on Nov. 20, writer and translator Lydia Davis will be on campus to discuss her career as a translator and to read from her collection of short fiction.