On Urban Noise

Joseph Conrad once wrote, controversially, that “we live as we dream – alone” (Heart of Darkness, 1899). The public malcontent that arose from this proclamation was not one of disagreement but denial, for as much as humanity values interpersonal constructs such as love, compassion, and unity, such things are not in his nature. Society I believe, is too interconnected to a point where the greatest good is sacrificed for the common good. The protesters and lobbyists forget that as we enter this world bloody, unwilling, at the enormous physical pain of another human being, and ultimately alone, so we will also leave it alone.

The city is never quiet, never solemn, never still. The insignificant suits and ties that line its capillaries and infest its streets never quite stop screaming. They go at it day and night, never quite pausing long enough to contemplate, even for a minute, the fact they are scurrying about furiously to please a 9 to 5 boss whom will never return the favor. It’s pathetic, but more than that, it fascinates me at an intellectual, academic level. The study of darkness is a pursuit I hold close to heart.

With that in mind, two weeks ago I engaged in a 5 day period of silence. It was not a particularly extended period of time, as my current record stands at 11 days two years ago during Christmas break.

It was a period in which I did not speak, and endeavored to be as silent as possible in routines and habits. The monastic life, one which values humility, introspection, and silence, is a close approximation to the experience. From the perspective of practicality, I am unable to indulge this practice beyond school vacations as often as I’d like, as many a time academic and professional obligations require reentry into the world of urban noise.

The 5 and 11 day periods of silence were not difficult, as I am an individual well accustomed to being a ghost. It is a reaction I know well, like a dear friend who was never quite everything you ever wanted, but are satisfied with because the rest of the world confuses you.

For the average western individual, I imagine such a practice would be insurmountably difficult in ways in which I am unrestrained. I lack any intimate relations, platonic or romantic, and have a superficial social circle who are all, in some manner, invariably linked to my professional and academic life. In my daily discourse the rule of silence is not a rule, but rather, an observation.

Silence is a practice which entered my life with minimal effort – the result of a state which, to me, occurs naturally and without thought. I discovered as a child that if I let the urban noise surround me, I become invisible. To be a ghost is to walk the streets in the city rain, anonymous and adrift – the blessing of quiet observation and silent grace.

In all honesty, the city night is the only thing in this comprehensible universe which is able to afford me some small measure of comfort. I am unseen but felt, for accompanying a natural state of invisibility is the natural state of observation.

The gray man in this gray city passes by me without a glance.


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