The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door. – Frederic Brown
Silence: Complete absence of sound.
This month’s uncanny is quite ironic in that I’ve been quiet on the whole Freud series for a while. Apologies for that! But here we are, picking it up again, in at number 8.
If you need a refresher, here’s where you can recap on 1 (Repetition), 2 (Odd Coincidences), 3 (Animism), 4 (Anthropomorphism), 5 (Automatism), 6 (Radical Uncertainty About Sexual Identity) & 7 (Fear of Being Buried Alive)
Okay, so we all know at least one person who fears the tiniest bit of silence, the one who always talks in social situations. The one who won’t let anyone else get a word in edgeways. But there are those of us who cope well with, and enjoy, long stretches of quiet. The type of peace and quiet we seek in order to recharge our batteries every now and then, though, is a whole lot different to a permanent state of silence. And that’s what ramps this month’s uncanny up to scary.
Sound is one of the integral senses that makes up part of the human experience. Some people are capable of living perfectly well without, of course, but for a person who has the faculty to hear then the prospect of becoming deaf is a terrible one.
Silence suggests disassociation.
But it’s not just the silence itself that scares us, it’s what might fill it. Or what might not.
It can be utilised to great effect in horror fiction. In the right environment it can jangle the sturdiest of nerves effectively. Take Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black for instance. Daniel Radcliffe’s character Arthur Kipps stays at Eel Marsh House; a stately home cut off from civilisation for long stretches of time due to the fact it’s accessed via a causeway. And it’s during long bouts of time spent there alone that Arthur Kipps (and the reader) waits for something dreadful to fill the overbearing silence of the house. Cue empty rocking chair starts creaking. Arthur probably wouldn’t have even noticed the malevolent chair-rocking ghost was there had he been surrounded by a house full of partying people – but his predicament of being all alone was used to full effect by Hill and certainly helped to create the air of expectancy required for scaring the crap out of Arthur (and the reader).
It’s not just the prospect of ghosts and ghouls that makes a weighty silence scary though. Too much of ourselves can have a similar effect.
Last year I spoke to a man who lives in a remote house on Vancouver Island and he told me that, although he loves the peace and quiet of the place, winter becomes a strange time. (Which made me think of The Shining). Because without visitors, when the weather gets too bad, he said there’s not much else to do but think – whether he wants to or not. And I totally got that. Because silence makes way for self-analysis, bringing with it doubt, regret and a whole host of other negative feelings.
These days more than ever, I think, people are afraid of silence. Take a look at social media. It’s not necessarily an exchange of audible words, but the written words on your newsfeed is social ‘noise’ all the same. Social media has become scarily addictive. Everyone has a voice in which they can speak to the whole world. If social media was suddenly taken away, imagine the worldwide hysteria! People are obsessed/controlled/addicted to this link with others. I read Adam Nevill’s Last Days and a section of dialogue seemed very fitting to this effect:
‘You know, in the airport, coming over, I watched the people around us. So many of them thought they had an audience. They were performing. Because everyone thinks they’re on stage these days. The Show Of Me, mate. Facebook. Twitter. Twitter my arse. Mobile phones? Eh? They’re not for communicating, they’re for broadcasting. Broadcasting The Show Of Me. We are an audience to every shithead with an iPhone. I can’t turn on the telly without some silly bitch with big teeth showing off.”
It tickled me because no matter how derogatory it may sound, to some extent it’s true.
Silence can be a great thing, but when it veers off course and broaches the uncanny, then not so much. Because then it speaks of absolute aloneness. It’s the feeling of having no voice because nobody listens to what you say. It’s not having the capacity to communicate your thoughts and feelings. It’s the aftermath of a row. It’s the congenital disorder where you’ll eventually lose the ability to hear. It’s the awful finality of every chapel of rest. It’s being trapped inside your own head. It’s praying. And getting no answers. It’s the nightmare of being left behind. Of not being heard.