Withdrawn, intent, deaf and blind to the world, readers commune in silence. They scan and internalise, mouths made defunct in the passage of knowledge, and yet it was not always thus. Saint Augustine marvelled at the way Saint Ambrose read: ‘His eyes travelled across the pages and his heart searched out the meaning, but his voice and tongue stayed still.’ There is a certain amount of argument surrounding the exact moment in antiquity that the text became ingested in silence. Alberto Manguel, among others, suggests that this ‘silent perusal of the page’ was not commonplace until the tenth century. Did we lose something else, along with the innocence of our reading habits? In putting our ears away, as Nietzsche would have it, did we too lose our voice – ‘all the crescendos, inflections, variations of tone and changes of tempo in which the ancient public world took pleasure’?
Silence is the law of the library, even in a place of such theatrical potential as the Goldsmiths’ Reading Room. In the wings though, in the private monastic spaces of its study carrels, where a reader’s lips can flutter away in a whisper, unheard, loud voices might muster. On the 26th of April, that potential will be realised, as six invited readers will make themselves heard in the silence of the public space. Emerging one by one from the privacy of their cells they will proclaim the meaning that their hearts have searched out.
Saturday 26th April | 6.00-7.30pm | Goldsmiths’ Reading Room, Senate House Library, Russell Square.
£10 (£8 concessions) | Ticket price includes a limited edition publication produced for the event.
Their eyes travel across the pages and their hearts search out meaning is part of the EC1 and WC1 Gallery Day