Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Code of Silence

I noticed that a friend had taken another look at my postings last spring about my grandfather's suicide so I took a look at them myself.  In one, I do my best to write sympathetically but honestly about how--if not exactly why--my grandfather killed himself.  Writing about it was both my way of coming to terms with his action and framing it from a right-distance, one that was neither too metaphysical nor too quotidian.  Interestingly, my post touched a nerve with more than a few readers who didn't know my grandfather and were not family members, but family members themselves seemed not to have been moved by it, because not one of them (as I can recall) said a word about it.  It was a fascinating silence by which I couldn't quite help but feel silenced.  I felt the unspoken pressure not to speak too precisely about what he did.  Speaking imprecisely seemed welcome enough, certainly, and such family talk was not dishonest, nor unsympathetic, nor grudging, or either unduly harsh or not harsh enough, but it was... banal.  Flat.   Untrustworthily vague about whatever effect my grandfather's noteless suicide had on each of us:  for although he left no note, he did communicate to each person who heard the story of it, and effected each hearer quite intimately.  He communicated in a very specific and demotic idiom, one of action and imagination, if not words.  Joseph Campbell would have had a field day.  The language my grandfather was communicating in--the language of deed and imagery--was easier for non-family members to assimilate--or translate--into words.

In the family grief I felt a code of silence.  I imagine all families feel this about everything that relates to them, my grandfather's note-by-suicide being a synecdoche for the idea of family as practiced by us all, here and now, at this time in American life.   And writers must be the people who do not feel the force of the code or are strong-willed enough to betray it.  But, I, apparently, do feel the code, and my betrayals remain both timid and short.  I write a blog rather than novels.

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