Saturday, March 9, 2019


Here's how this week's arts and culture piece begins:

Jane Brox has written, elegiacally, of growing up on her family’s Massachusetts apple farm in “Here and Nowhere Else,” “Five Thousand Days Like This One,” and “Clearing the Land.” Her nonfiction book on the evolution of artificial light is the aptly named “Brilliant.”

Her newest work — fitting for Lent — is called “Silence: A Social History of One of the Least Understood Elements of Our Lives.”

The first takeaway (perhaps unintended) is a new awareness of the hideous tortures imposed by humans upon other humans in the name of “correction.”

Brox opens with Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, established in 1829 as an experiment in prison rehabilitation. Each cell was essentially what we would today term a Special Housing Unit (SHU).

“[D]uring the period of their confinement, no one shall see or hear, or be seen or heard by any other human being,” ran a portion of the prison’s mission statement.

Brox goes on to compare this kind of punitive silence with the silence of the monastic cloister. And to her credit, she doesn't come entirely down on either side!



  1. I loved this article. I have 7 kids and it's since having children silence is so precious to me, I actually never listen to music or radio or TV if I am able... I just find peace and quiet so soothing. Loud noise is very grating when you've become adjusted to silence and my husband just doesn't understand when I am really disturbed by the loudness of the world. People think that there is something wrong with you if you just want solitude and quiet and don't enjoy loudness...I feel closer to God in the quietness and can hear Him much better too.

    1. Thank you, Angela! Oh wow, 7 kids, and a lover of silence as well...I do think there is a little sub-world of people who both crave silence and are super-sensitive to noise. In this culture, it's like having a chronic illness, a little constant cross to lug around...the subject has been much on my mind so I might work up a post in the next week or two--anyway, together in spirit, sister!


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