“The feeling of it may at times come sweeping like a gentle tide, pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship. It may pass over into a more set and lasting attitude of the soul, continuing, as it were, thrillingly vibrant and resonant, until at last it dies away and the soul resumes its ‘profane’, non-religious mood of everyday experience.”
Rudolf Otto The Idea of the Holy
He influenced a great deal of thinkers, some of whom we’ve either read together or will read together in the future, including Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Mircea Eliade, Karl Barth, Carl Jung, C.S. Lewis, and Paul Tillich.
“Instead of studying the ideas of God and religion, Otto undertook to analyze the modalities of the religious experience. Gifted with great psychological subtlety, and thoroughly prepared by his twofold training as theologian and historian of religions, he succeeded in determining the content and specific characteristics of religious experience.” Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane
"The held breath and hushed sound of the passage, its weird cadences, sinking away in lessened thirds, its pauses and syncopations, and its rise and fall in astonishing semi tones, which render so well the sense of awe-struck wonder all this serves to express the mysterium by way of intimation, rather than in forthright utterance." Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy
In Interfaces of the Word, Walter J. Ong, a priest and professor, traces the way consciousness changes in the transition from orality to literacy and acknowledges the participatory nature of each utterance. From his perspective, when we interrupt the silence, we are living:
"Oral utterance thus encourages a sense of continuity with life, a sense of participation, because it is itself participatory."
Walter J. Ong, Interfaces of the Word
What follows Ong’s declaration, here, is a question of whether silence, then, is inherently passive or whether it is a kind of action in itself.
“Our view of man will remain superficial so long as we fail to go back to that origin [of silence], so long as we fail to find, beneath the chatter of words, the primordial silence, and as long as we do not describe the action which breaks this silence. The spoken word is a gesture, and its meaning, a world.” Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception
For Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the depth of humanity resides in the invisible. It is through language that we know it. Not only does language structure our thought as Lacan famously points out, language is the most valuable witness to our being.
“It is the error of the semantic philosophies to close up language as if it spoke only of itself: language lives only from silence; everything we cast to the others has germinated in this great mute land which we may never leave. But because he has experience within himself the need to speak, the birth of speech bubbling up at the bottom of his mute experience, the philosopher knows better than anyone that what is lived is lived-spoken, that born at this depth, language is not a mask over Being, but -- if one knows how to grasp it with all its roots and all its foliation -- the most valuable witness to Being, that it does not interrupt an immediation that would perfect without it, that the vision itself, the thought itself, are, as has been said, “structured as a language,” are articulation before the letter, apparition of something where there was nothing or something else."
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception
Martin Heidegger taught us language is the house of being.
Ferdinand de Saussure reminds us without language, thought is a vague, uncharted nebula.
Marshall McLuhan describes a kind of primordial existence that is outside of time and space:
“Until writing was invented, man lived in acoustic space: boundless, directionless, horizonless, in the dark of the mind, in the world of emotion, by primordial intuition, by terror.”
"The semi-darkness that glimmers in vaulted halls, or beneath the branches of a lofty forest glade, strangely quickened and stirred by the mysterious play of half-lights, has always spoken eloquently to the soul, and the builders of temples, mosques, and churches have made full use of it. Silence is what corresponds to this in the language of musical sounds."
Rudolf Otto The Idea of the Holy
"Out there with the bird and the lily there is silence. But what does this silence express? It expresses respect for God, for the fact that it is he who rules and he alone to whom wisdom and understanding belong." Soren Kierkegaard, The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air
"Something flickers and dances. Illusion returns as they approach down the avenue. Rippling and questioning begin. What do I think of you - what do you think of me? Who are you? Who am I? --that quivers again its uneasy air over us, and the pulse quickens and the eye brightens and all the insanity of personal existence without which life would fall flat and die, begins again. They are on us."
Virginia Woolf, The Waves