Discourse of Silence
The book deals initially with the interpretation of the silent answer to a question. From a semiotic approach to the contrast between silence and speech mainly within a Greimasian framework, the discussion turns to the application of pragmatic tools such as conversational analysis and adjacency pairs to the interpretation of silence. A model is presented which attempts to explain the observer’s cognitive competence, and its limits, in being able to interpret the silent answer. A basic distinction is also made between intentional silence (the refusal to answer) and non-intentional silence (the psychological inability to answer).
The interpretation of silence is extended from a theoretical viewpoint to an analysis of various discourse types. Firstly, silence in the legal world: the accused’s and the witness’s right of silence, the right of legal authorities to silence the broadcasting of direct speech. The author then analyzes the silencing of characters in a literary text (Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice), in a biblical text (Moses and his speech impediment in Exodus), in opera (Moses’ silence in Schoenberg’s opera Moses und Aron) and in the cinema. Here, after the initial discussion of Ingmar Bergman’s The Silence, focus is shifted to the generation gap and the representation of silence by song in Mike Nichols’ The Graduate.