Speaking from Silence: On the Intimate Relation Between Silence and Speaking

  • Dr. James Risser Seattle University


In understanding the world through language, silence, regarded simply as the absence of speech, appears to be the enemy of understanding. But in fact, it can be shown that silence is always a function of language. As we learn from Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, and others, the relation between silence and the word of language is a positive one. There are acts of silence that can generate the movement towards meaning in language. The focus of my remarks in this paper will explore three modalities of silence that characterize the positive relation between silence and the word of language. First, there is silence as the withdrawal of the word. This is the silence of the voice that wants to hold back from speaking and to hold back the word from falling into chatter. Second, there is silence as giving voice to words. This is the silence that enacts the spacing within language that possibilizes the intentions of meaning within speech and the efforts of communicative understanding. Third, there is silence as the beginning of the word. This is the silence that stands in relation to a hidden or absent origin, such as an unknown god, generating thereby a word from silence that is a beginning.

Author Biography

Dr. James Risser, Seattle University

Dr. Risser is a professor of philosophy at Seattle University and the Senior Research Fellow at Western Sydney University. He is also the editor of the journal Research in Phenomenology. He has held philosophy Chairs and is a prolific writer of books and articles in the areas of continental philosophy and philosophical hermeneutics.