Encountering Silence
Kevin Quashie: The Aesthetics and Poesis of Silence
July 12, 2021
Interview with contemplative scholar Dr. Kevin Quashie (Brown University).
DR. KEVIN QUASHIE is a professor of English at Brown University. He is the author of The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture and Black Women, Identity, and Cultural Theory: (Un)Becoming the Subject.

Silence often denotes something that is suppressed or repressed, and is an interiority that is about withholding, absence, and stillness. Quiet, on the other hand, is presence (one can, for example, describe prose or a sound as quiet) and can encompass fantastic motion. It is true that silence can be expressive, but its expression is often based on refusal or protest, not the abundance and wildness of the interior described above. Indeed, the expressiveness of silence is often aware of an audience, a watcher or listener whose presence is the reason for the withholding––it is an expressiveness which is intent and even defiant. This is a key difference between the two terms because in its inwardness, the aesthetic of quiet is watcherless. — Kevin Quashie

He is one of the co-editors of New Bones: Contemporary Black Writers in America. His essays have appeared in journals such as Meridians, African-American Review, the Massachusetts Review, Anthurium, and The Black Scholar. His most recent book is Black Aliveness, or a Poetics of Being. At Brown, Dr. Quashie teaches black cultural and literary studies, in addition to writing on teaching on black feminist/women’s studies, black queer studies and aesthetics.

An essential aspect to the idiom of prayer is waiting: the praying subject waits with agency, where waiting is not the result of having been acted upon (as in being made to wait), but is itself action. In waiting, there is no clear language or determined outcome; there is simply the practice of contemplation and discernment. This is a challenge to the way we commonly think of waiting, which is passive; it is also a disruption of the calculus of cause and effect which shapes so much of how we understand the social world.— Kevin Quashie

Our interview with Dr. Quashie proved to be that kind of rare, graced conversation where an insightful, learned discussion opened up beautifully into a resonant contemplative space.

This idea that prayer can articulate beyond its own self-indulgence is important to thinking about the bowed heads of Tommie Smith and John Carlos; that is, to read their protest as quiet expressiveness does not disavow their capacity to inspire. In fact, nothing speaks more to their humanity— and against the violence of racism—than the glimpse of their inner lives. The challenge, though, is to understand how their quiet works as a public gesture, without disregarding its interiority.— Kevin Quashie

Some of the resources and authors we mention in this episode:

Episode 135: The Aesthetics and Poesis of Silence: A Conversation with Dr. Kevin Quashie
Hosted by: Kevin Johnson
With: Cassidy Hall, Carl McColman
Guest: Kevin Quashie
Date Recorded: March 3, 2021