Murke's Collected Silences Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Dr. Murke is introduced as a man who performs an existential exercise every morning on entering the radio station and riding the elevator to his office on the second floor. The elevator is the kind known as a paternoster—a continuous belt with open cages that remain upright like cars on a Ferris wheel as they pass the points where their direction of travel changes from up to down or vice versa. Normally, Murke feels the need to remain on the elevator and submit himself to his daily “anxiety breakfast” as it passes through the top housing with its greasy chains and groaning machinery.

For the past two days, however, Murke has been obliged to forgo this exercise. The Director has ordered him to edit two talks on The Nature of Art, which the great Bur-Malottke has taped for broadcast later in the week, and Murke has had to come in at eight in the morning on these two days and begin work right away. Bur-Malottke, who converted to Catholicism only in the religious fervor of 1945, has suddenly felt religious qualms and wants to omit the word God, which occurs frequently in each of the two half-hour tapes, and replace it with a more neutral formulation.

Murke has spent Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning performing the excruciatingly painful task of listening to the two talks three times each day and cutting out the word God. Now it is Wednesday morning, and Bur-Malottke arrives at the broadcast house to tape the substitutions under Murke’s supervision. A complication that Bur-Malottke has not counted on, however, is that the case reference has to be made clear. Wherever God appears in the genitive, as in “God’s will,” for example, Bur-Malottke must say the noun in question followed by “of that higher Being Whom we revere.” Of the twenty-seven occurrences of the word “God” on the two tapes, there are seven genitives and one vocative. Instead of “O God,” he has to substitute “O Thou higher Being Whom we revere.” Moreover, because the new formulation is much longer, the two programs will now require a total of one minute more airtime, so each of them will have to be cut by thirty seconds.

Bur-Malottke is greatly annoyed by these complications and begins to sweat profusely. Murke thoroughly enjoys the discomfort of the pompous windbag and revenges himself on him by...

(The entire section is 954 words.)