In this age of text messaging, Gchat, and Facebook Messenger, do we really still need to speak out loud? Has our myriad technological means to communicate instantaneously made speech redundant, or is it a crucial part of what makes us human – I speak, therefore I am?
Partially as a test of will, partially as an experiment, in October of 2010, artist, writer, and musician Adel Souto took a month-long vow of silence. George Petros, in the introduction to Souto’s newly released book about the experience, “The Least Silent of Men,” admits that at first he thought it was a gimmick, “another tedious stunt in the name of art.” But, in retrospect, he goes on to say “I’m impressed by Adel’s efforts.” The text that follows is anything but a retelling by Souto of his impressive feat. Instead, it is an account of his difficulties, not to communicate, but to maintain a state of mental equilibrium without access to verbal release. In “The Least Silent of Men,” Souto uses his hindsight on his period of silence to fashion an engrossing and enjoyable meditation on speech’s relationship to our consciousness.
While he found his experiment did not interfere with his work or relationship with his live-in girlfriend, Souto describes “become stuck in some sort of mental freeze” and “going into almost trance like states,” as a result of his silence. By the second week he was depressed, feeling “[un]connected from humanity in any way.” Afterwards, he tells people curious about what his experience was like, “it wasn’t a good idea.”
While he did not speak for 30 days, importantly, Souto continued to communicate with others by writing in a black notebook, which he carried with him at all times. The second half of the book is comprised of a transcription of those quick scribblings. Surprisingly, they are quite engaging and read like a kind of prose poem diary, alternately filled with bits of philosophical musing and utter mundanity. (Souto worked as a carpenter and mover during his vow, and the related notes can be especially tedious.) The transcription is fascinating as much for what it contains as for what it does not.
The cover features in bold red, black, and white, an image of a man holding up his index figure to shush the viewer, that is a play on the feminist artist Barbara Kruger’s work, “Your Comfort.” Originally reading, “Your Comfort is My Silence,” the piece was a fierce rebuttal against societally persuaded silence and oppression. Redesigned by Souto, and executed by the tattoo artist Liorcifer, its meaning is more confounding. Between the book’s title, a flame rises from the man’s finger like a candle. Is he going to extinguish it with his breath? Does it mean that speech illuminates our thoughts? For Souto, at least, they are powerfully intertwined.
A paperback version of “The Least Silent of Men” is available at on Adel Souto’s website.