Silence is Golden? Language, Ineffability and Spirituality in Modernist Poetry

Organisers and Chairs: Diego Terzano (University of Pisa) & Bart Van den Bossche (KU Leuven)

Over the past two decades, many scholars across the humanities have approached silence as a philosophical and aesthetic notion (see Loevlie 2003; Mortara Garavelli 2015) and have analysed it as a pragmatic form of violence (Olsson 2013), a meaningful form of negativity (Wolf-Bernhart, eds, 2016), or an indirect or eloquent discourse (Bindeman 2017; Gould 2018). Inspired by these and other contemporary approaches, this panel aims to focus on the manifold roles and manifestations of silence in the poetry of the modernist period. More in particular, the panel intends to address the crisis of denotative language in poetry since the late nineteenth century, modernist poetry’s metalinguistic stance, and the connections between silence, ineffability, and spirituality (with the paradoxical condition of eloquent absence or silent wholeness). Simone Turco (Genoa) questions modernist poetry’s ‘semantics of absence’, focusing on the influence of pragmatics and existentialism. Francesco Ottonello (Bergamo) addresses Saba’s interpretation of the myth of Ganymede, a silent figure between human and divine domains. Enaiê Mairê Azambuja (London) shows how Williams, Stevens, and Cummings dealt with negative language while elaborating (more-than-)human poetic environments. Lucia Battistel (LUMSA) analyses the role of reticence and ellipsis in Luzi’s work, his late employment of these figures, and how this links to the idea of the presence of the Word. Diego Terzano (Pisa) explores the dialectics between the unsaid and signification in modernist poetry, relying on Cassirer’s and Stevens’s theories to define the function of silence. Parul Tiwari (Indian Institute of Technology) describes the theatricality of Mallarme’s pure poetry by showing how silence and ineffability define the (inter)play between the poet and the readers. Matteo Zupancic (IISG, Stuttgart) categorises the religious sources at play in Rilke’s middle period, identifying an apophatic (and especially kenotic) pattern in his conception of language.


Simone Turco (University of Genoa) – Emptying Fullness, Filling Emptiness. The Silence of Signs and the Transcending of Speech in the Modernist Experience

Francesco Ottonello (University of Bergamo) – Ganymede a Figure of Silence: A Modernist Reworking of the Myth in Saba’s Mediterranee

Enaiê Mairê Azambuja (University of London) – The Zen-Inflected Apophatic Ecopoetics of William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, and E. E. Cummings

Lucia Battistel (LUMSA) – The Eloquence of Silence: Spoken and Unspoken Word in Mario Luzi’s Poetry

Diego Terzano (University of Pisa) – «Speech Is not dirty silence / clarified». On The (Inter)discursive Nature of Silence Across Modernist Poetry

Parul Tiwari (Indian Institute of Technology) – The Promise of Truth: A Silent Theatre in Mallarmé’s Poetry

Matteo Zupancic (Istituto di Studi Germanici, University of Stuttgart) – «Wie eine hohle Form». On Rainer Maria Rilke’s Kenotic Modernism