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Updated Up To 26/06/2018
Volume 15, issue 1 (January 2017) : 99-115
Being Silent, Doing Nothing
Silence as a Symbol of Peace in Ivan Goncharovís Oblomov and Ha Jinís Waiting
Agatha Frischmuth
Rubric A: Audionarratology
Rubric B: Twentieth-Century Novel


While many pre-modern narratives conventionally feature active protagonists, the transition into modernity has seen an increase in inactivity as a literary motif. The prominent European examples of this trend, such as Thomas Mannís The Magic Mountain, Robert Musilís The Man Without Qualities, or the plays of Samuel Beckett, however, exclude speaking from the list of negated activities, instead depicting voluble characters. This paper proposes that silent inactivity may be an Eastern (and Eastern European) notion, and offers two exemplary readings of this motif in Ivan Goncharovís Oblomov and Ha Jinís Waiting. Drawing from the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Roland Barthes, it argues that silence, despite denoting an absence of signs, is meaningful and hermeneutically versatile. A distinction is made between communicative silence and natural silence, the first of which signifies the absence of speech in an interactive situation whereas the latter signifies verbal silence notwithstanding context and ó importantly ó includes natural soundscapes (as caused by weather, animals or touching objects). Through a number of close readings, natural silence is shown to function as the semantic core of the inactivity motif in that it is a central part of the strategy to attain peace, repose, and contentment. In addition, in both novels the desire for a peaceful way of life dominates the soundscape of romantic relationships. Although the protagonists fall in love with passionate women, they ultimately reject them due to the noise and upheaval they cause. The paper concludes that in connection to the motif of inactivity the notion of silent companionship outweighs that of love (associated with speech). This indicates the existence of culture-specific sound preferences which represent a field of possible future study within audionarratology.

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