The Sound of Absence

She asked how I was feeling. Empty. She asked if I could specify that. But when everything is empty, you can’t find the right words. Or words at all. In such cases, all that remains is a sound of absence.

Words. They’re quite useful, especially as a writer. Words are the primary, or perhaps even the only(?), form of communication of writers. (If you know a writer who doesn’t use words, please let me know.) But the only words I got on paper were words for my thesis, which by the way has finally been completed.

Words are a very useful means of communication between people and may even be seen as the best way to communicate. Yet this form of communication has drawbacks. Just look at the theory behind Backstage Revisited; a society in which everyone plays a role, a role that corresponds as closely as possible to who you really are, an authentic role. But of course you can also pretend to be someone else. Someone who doesn’t match the real ‘me’ behind the person, assuming that the real ‘me’ exists of course. Man as a story, but the story is a lie. Authenticity? With the help of words you can easily ignore it without others noticing.

Isn’t verbal communication heavily overrated? It’s the primary means of human interaction, but at the same time perhaps the most difficult. To articulate something correctly, to be able to translate yourself correctly to the world. Maybe the story behind a person is a lie, but it’s simply because the truth is beyond words, or that someone doesn’t know how to express the truth. Lying accidentally without realizing it. To what extent are we suitable for verbal communication?

Fortunately, in the case of the lie, there is an alternative called non-verbal communication. That’s because the face is an open book. I recently started reading the book Emotions Revealed from Paul Ekman, in which he talks about the triggers that cause emotions and influencing and understanding different types of emotions. Facial expressions of the seven most common emotions are universal, and although you can influence this facial expression, your feelings are always visible. Emotions can be read form so-called micro-expressions. These are facial expressions that occur in half a second or less. As a result, these micro-expressions are often not seen, which is also because we pay more attention to verbal communication than to non-verbal communication. Micro=expressions, unlike facial expressions, can’t be manipulated and therefore show the person’s true emotion. The interesting thing about this is that you can train yourself to become better at reading micro-expressions, which is something I want to do.

The American series Lie To Me is based on Ekman’s science and he contributed to the episodes himself. My cousin recommended this series to me in response to my article on Sherlock, because the series are similar in a way. In Lie To Me, scientists try to find out the truth based on facial expressions, body language and use of voice. This varies from kidnappings and terrorist attacks to tax fraud and relationships. The stories are wonderfully put together, are very educational and also contain a lot of humour. I’ve never been a big fan of series, but now I finally understand what people mean when they absolutely love a series.

(The opening scene of Liet To Me, Season 1 Episode 1, Pilot, 2009. Text continues below video.)

However, it’s difficult to tell a full story based on facial expressions. I think it makes little sense if I publish a series of photos of myself from which you have to make up a story yourself. If you can’t find the right words to share, nor use facial expressions, how can you express yourself?

The second book I recently started reading is ‘Welke taal spreekt de muziek?’ (What language does the music speak?) by Erik Heijerman. This book discusses the philosophical side of music, a niche in Dutch philosophy. Can music be seen as a language? When does sound change into music? And does music contain emotion? We often say that music is happy or sad, but is the emotion in the music itself, or does music make us feel this emotion? Although I haven’t read much in the book yet, and currently can’t provide a philosophical foundation to what extent music is actually a language or not, I certainly think that music can function as a substitute for language. Music can sometimes describe how we feel better than the words we share, which is why in my view music can be used as a means of communication. Even music without lyrics, where it is more difficult to convey a feeling or story than music with lyrics. I’m very curious what the philosophers have to say about it.

If music can replace language, I could’ve just shared music in recent months, without any explanation. I could’ve done this using my All Time List, a kind of musical diary. But between my previous article and this article, I added just three songs to that playlist. Sharing it wouldn’t have been very useful, just as uploading photos with facial expressions would’ve made little sense. All that would’ve been visible was emptiness. As I told her.

What remained was a sound of absence. A temporary variant. Although a permanent sound of absence is ultimately inevitable.


Which book seems more interesting to you; Emotions Revealed by Paul Ekman or What language does the music speak? from Erik Hijerman? Let me know in the comments!


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Next post: United In Silence (2020 End of Year Speech)

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