A former simultaneous interpreter devotes herself to a year of silence.
Argentine author Cristoff (False Calm: A Journey Through the Ghost Towns of Patagonia, 2018, etc.) writes of Mara, who takes a job as a guard in a small Argentinian town’s museum following a professional debacle, envisioning a year of silence as atonement, reflection, and resistance: “She sits in her museum guard chair and watches—silent, ecstatic, with no interruptions of any kind.” Mara, whose story is interspersed with excerpted passages from literary and historical sources she’s copied into her notebook, develops a strict code for the year. “One of the key protocols of the experiment she came to this town to carry out is to not ask questions. To speak the absolute minimum, and, above all, to never ask questions. One year, that’s all. One year of practicing the art of keeping quiet.” Mara manages by nodding, grumbling, and letting others fill the space. Her silence is anything but passive. “Muteness is also the art of a still body…remaining silent is important as a paradoxical speech act.” There is “eloquence implicit in this business of remaining silent, and she enjoys it doubly, out of revenge, rage, and vengeance.” Cristoff plays with ideas of speech, pause, and power. Mara was a skilled interpreter, and she becomes skilled in more laconic arts. Eventually, she is recruited from her post to help in the embalming of two valuable horses at the museum. Her own silence, “a discipline of the body,” and the stillness of the beasts stand in contrast to the chatty, idiosyncratic taxidermist. It was an act of sabotage that ended Mara’s career as an interpreter, and it is another act of sabotage that occupies her mind during the project. Silence as reflexive communication is, in many ways, similar to the way Mara sees taxidermy: “Here there is art, here there is science, and here there is great respect for the original.”
A poignant little story that will give you pause.