Silence: In the Age of Noise
Hardcover: Pantheon, 2017.
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Reviewed by Bailey Shannon
Erling Kagge is a man of many talents. As an explorer, lawyer, art collector, publisher, and author, Kagge possesses rich knowledge that touches all parts of the human experience. In his most recent book Silence: In the Age of Noise , Kagge reflects on some his life experiences in an attempt to answer the following questions: What is silence? Where is it? Why is it more important now than ever?
The book is uniquely formatted with thirty-three sections that can be read as one continuous thread of thought, or individually as separate bits of wisdom. Obviously there are themes that connect and weave together the sections, like silence, gratitude, inner peace, and the aforementioned questions. It is a quick read — I read it in one sitting — and the kind of book you’ll want to devour and then slowly work your way back through. I found myself making connections to other books I have read recently, which points to the fact that inside Kagge’s book lies universal truths and experiences to be discovered time and time again.
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone” (37). This is a foundational statement made by philosopher Blaise Pascal, which Kagge uses to build on throughout the book. He mentions the fact that all the constant distractions around us “cause us all too easily to avoid being present in our own lives” (11) and this constant impulse to turn to something else, whether that be TV shows, smartphones, or anything really, keeps us from silence, true inner peace.
What is the silence or inner peace Kagge speaks of? While the entire books is an attempt to define silence and its importance in this day and age, Kagge never really gives a clear definition. Instead he talks about the idea, notion and experience of silence in such a way that guides the reader to define it themselves. Instead of prescribing mantras, prayers, and rituals, he suggest that we take away, subtract something that might be hindering us from stepping into true inner silence.
Kagge’s ability to present the accessibility of the kind of silence he is referring to is one of the book’s greatest strengths. For example, he says that we can’t wait for it to get quiet (57) and we can’t try to create absolute silence around us (25), but instead we must shape and fashion our own silence (26). “The silence I have in mind may be found wherever you are, if you pay attention, inside your mind, and is without cost” (72). The fact that anyone at any point can obtain the inner peace and silence that Kagge talks about, is key.
So how do we tap into that inner peace? Personally, I found that the greatest advice to finding inner peace is to allow each moment to be big enough (51). On Kagge’s expedition to the South Pole, he realized that his landscape was the same for miles and miles, days and days. He said, “Down here I am learning to value miniscule joys. The nuanced hues of the snow. The wind abating. Formations of clouds. Silence” (13). Being grateful for the tiniest gifts, recognizing that all is grace, and remembering that God is in the silence (81), these are the ways that we can turn our minds and hearts and souls to the inner peace Kagge desires for us. What a beautifully simple yet foundational reminder that we have all that we need to find peace.
Bailey Shannon is the Associate Editor of The Englewood Review of Books, living, working, and worshiping in the Englewood neighborhood on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis.