What is space/silence/‘nothing’?

Back in February of 2012, I wrote the following “response paper” for a class on form and theory of poetry.  I thought it might be worth sharing.

Don’t worry if you are unfamiliar with whom I reference or the texts I reference; the point is sharing the thoughts.

On some notes last week, I scribbled: “‘Nothing’ is relative….”  What I meant by that was that “nothing” is only theoretical: pure nothing does not exist, literally; or, at least, we never encounter or describe a true “nothing.”

When we say, “There is nothing on this page,” we mean, “In terms of written forms, this page has nothing”—what is being called a “nothing” is the whiteness of the page; it is something, something that is there that is referenced as “nothing.”

Someone cannot literally say nothing; he can just be quiet.  As Jankelevitch says, “silence is…a relative or partial nothingness and not absolute nothingness.”

What we tend to call “nothing” is a space relative to a certain form/dimension of being: it is an area that is neutral with regard to that form/dimension.  This “space” may be approached as an area of potential to an observer/actor; as Jankelevitch says, “[silence] is not a nonbeing that totally annihilates or contradicts total being”—the “space” allows for potential.

Metaphysically, space is not empty because it exists and we know it exists because something can occupy it, something can happen there—on some dimension, it has presence, but not in the dimension that has potential, the dimension we regard to have “nothing.”

In Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing,” he wrote [spaces apologetically removed], “Last year when I talked here I made a short talk.  That was because I was talking about something; but this year I am talking about nothing and of course will go on talking for a long time.”

The (theoretical) nothing is limitless—it lacks form, has no boundaries, and thus there are limitless things that can be said of “nothing,” of what isn’t.

In a metaphysics paper as an undergrad (one of my majors was philosophy), I argued that it is easier to prove that something does exist rather than that something does not exist: what exists can be found and thus proven, but to prove that something does not exist all dimensions and coordinates must be explored, and this may be infinite territory to cover; the search for nothing is quixotic.  Yes, it would take a long time to talk ‘in full’ about ‘nothing’ {paradox intended for entertainment}.

Cage says [again, spaces displaced from this reproduced quote], “Our poetry now is the realization that we possess nothing.”  Creating is about taking possession of the spaces we find (as I have argued, not a literal nothing).  Cage continues, “Anything therefore is a delight (since we do not possess it) and thus need not fear its loss.”  Our business is not with taking responsibility for what is, what already exists.

To write, we need to find a space, and to do that, we must recognize regions of potential; we take responsibility for realizing the potential in a space and putting something there, but not expecting what we write to truly ‘fill up’ the space (as that cannot happen—there is always space, always potential, even if the potential lies in the erosion of what has been placed there).

If we thought we ‘filled up’ the space, we would not recognize the value of revision or of writing another poem.

How do you comprehend “nothing”/“space”/“silence”?

What have I underlooked or overlooked?