Brian Macaskill – Abstract

BREAKING SILENCE with an INTRODUCTORY NOTE on BEGINNING with, SORTING through, BUILDING on, and DWELLING in J.M. COETZEE’S SUMMERTIME

Studies in Visual Arts and Communication – an international journal / June 2014 1(1)

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ABSTRACT

The generation of sound and sight in any of the arts
—musical, part-aural, graphic, and typo-graphic or literary—
is always preceded by silence and by empty spaces or surfaces.

In this essay I break silence by writing notes on breaking silence in response to death, while thinking about affirmations of life: affirmations whose bringing into being is the function of art, even the ostensibly bleak kind of art. Inaugurated by or at least complicit with death, art celebrates life and the enduring astonishment that accompanies life. Thinking about ethics in “A Lecture on Ethics,” Ludwig Wittgenstein invites us also to think about our “astonishment that anything exits,” pointing out that “This astonishment cannot be expressed in the form of a question and [that] there is no answer to it.” Such thought pointed Wittgenstein later in his life towards ethics as a thrusting against the limits of language, and so again, as always, pointed him back to his life-long love of music; such thought could as easily have pushed him—reading it could push us—towards the example afforded by other arts also—not only philosophy, but architecture, historiography, opera, painting, and so forth—could indeed easily push us towards reading and re-reading the kind of literary narrative exemplified in this essay by the work of J.M. Coetzee—Summertime mostly—which I here only approach, and which, of course, Wittgenstein never had the opportunity to read: their lives overlapped only briefly in time, and never in acquaintance.

Keywords:
J.M. Coetzee, Summertime, architecture, music, number, ethics, narrative composition, genre, gender, Heidegger, Paul de Man, Shoah, Holocaust, Herero genocide