History of Art - Seminars

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    Towards new understandings of silence
    (2009-04) Cronin, James G. R.
    ‘Fruit of Silence’, a reflective case study by American writer and teacher Marilyn Nelson (2006), considers the role of silence/meditation, what she terms as ‘contemplative pedagogy’, as a learning tool in teaching a literature class to cadets being trained at West Point followed by cadet responses to silence during their military service in Iraq during the Second Gulf War (2003--). Through letters, two former West Point cadets, who subsequently became Black Hawk helicopter pilots, communicate how they used silence as a tool to centre themselves in times of anxiety while on campaign in a theatre of war. One used free writing (writing non-stop for a set period of time) as a way of clearing his mind and seeing where and who he was. Another camouflaged meditating by sitting on his cot wearing unplugged headphones. As officers, both related how they had positively integrated silence as a coping mechanism as, for instance, when one of their soldiers was killed or wounded and they were expected, as officers, to show composure before their soldiers (Nelson, 2006). Nelson aims to transform attitudes: silence is practiced as a tool to promote reflection (‘musings’) in order to encourage the development of more sensitive awareness. The result has an incidental, yet not insubstantial, role to play in peacekeeping within a Kurdish village. In Northern Ireland, with its memories of conflict, Anthony McCann, University of Ulster, is interested in exploring a ‘politics of gentleness’ (http://www.craftinggentleness.org/) where reflective silence, plays a part in peacemaking in ways resembling Nelson’s attitudes. Such approaches owe a debt to uses of silence in a political sense, as for example, Satyagraha (non-violence), devised by Mohandas K. Gandhi, and influential on the civil rights activism of Martin Luther King, Jr. Satyagraha owes much to Jainism, India’s traditional religion, where silence (mauna) is perceived of as a way to gain inner peace. To Jesuit theologian, William Johnston, Eastern and Western meditative experiences hold a common regard for silence as an agent in the transformation of the self -- Nelson’s metaphorical ‘fruit of silence’.