Stuart Sim – Manifesto For Silence
In Cairo, biggest city on the african continent, noise levels from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. average at about 85 decibels, at central squares even noises often reach 95 decibel, the New York Times recently reports. For Stuart Sim, Professor of Critical Theory in the Deptartment of English Studies at the University of Sunderland, this would be grist to his mill. He wrote a book entitled ‚Manifesto for Silence’, in which he delivers the latest score on the front of noise pollution arguing for a radical change in the „politics and culture of noise“. Corporate capitalism and aggressive marketing strategies, in his opinion, promote a „raucous form of hedonism based on alcohol and popular music“, that leaves the quiet and the silent on lost ground. The virtues of silence, as they matter in religion, philosophy, the Arts and literature, are at stake to be lost and Sim gives a comprehensive account about the importance of silence in our cultural history. In many cases one might agree with Sim’s campain for silence as we all have our complaints about noisy neighbours and the constant din of traffic so common in modern cities. But who will decide which noise is good and which noise is bad, as in the end there is a moral question lurking behind the corner. In Sim’s thinking, natural sounds are beyond complaint whereas human noise counts as unwanted sonic pollution: „Some human activities are more valuable than others and (…) we run the risk of losing those if popular culture is allowed to prevail unhindered. If that happens then the lowest common denominator rules and the bad drives out the good, unless someone speaks up unequivocally on behalf of the good.“ Certainly rock music is on the bad side, the popular culture in general with its frenzied consumerism and one might think, how a society would look like if his politics of silence would be set into life. Sim’s manifesto stays diffuse in terms of practicable suggestions how to cope with the noisy side-effects of mass transportation and he has a blind spot where it comes to the nature/technology dichotomy. Since R. Murray Schafers inauguration of the idea of acoustic ecology in the late 1960s there is a somehow romaticized concept of nature to be a more clean and innocent place. As a matter of fact, many species have to adapt to the intrusion of human-made din (as described here). But many forget that nature as well can be violently noisy and there are not only anecdotal evidences of acoustic disturbances caused by natural sources. Stuart Sim’s Manifesto fails to convince a larger audience for his argument, especially because he offends those people who love social interaction or just the celebration of life – like a street vendor of Cairo says: „Life is like that“, the noise is the cause and it is the reaction at the same time.