This essay addresses the theoretical, philosophical,
and aesthetic uses of silence in the work of William Wordsworth and John Cage.
Through close readings of poems by both writers, an examination of their texts on
poetics, and an excursus on the concepts of slow violence and the Anthropocene, I
ask whether silence might be a useful strategy to resist the traumatic effects of
neoliberalism and socio-ecological breakdown. In order to demonstrate the
pedagogical usefulness of silence, I also share a sound collage created with my
students, in which we employed Wordsworth’s and Cage’s compositional and
philosophical methods to try to capture something like the texture of silence mixed
directly onto an audio file. Finally, the essay closes by asking whether attunement
to silence might help us recognize and respond to the slow violence (military,
economic, ideological, and so on) that seems simply to be the world we inhabit.