Do you support or reject John Cage's contention that absolute silence is an absurd concept?  Explain your reasons.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Cage's 4'33'' premiered, he spoke of how he reads absolute silence. Cage's contention is that in the premiere, the audience "missed the point" if they believed in the notion of absolute silence:

They missed the point. There's no such thing as silence. What they thought was silence, because they didn’t know how to listen, was full of accidental sounds. You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third the people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.

The idea of "how to listen" is of vital importance.  Cage believes that absolute silence is absurd because there is sound all around us.  Absolute silence is impossible because Cage believes life is around us.  When Cage visited an anechoic chamber at Harvard, this reality was reinforced:  "When I described them to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation."  Cage believed that even when we believed we were in a world where silence was absent, the teeming of life demonstrates that there is always sound.  Cage rejected absolute silence, clearly suggesting that there will always be sound and thus, always be music: "Until I die there will be sounds. And they will continue following my death. One need not fear about the future of music." 

Cage asserts the impossibility of silence.  I think that he is accurate. In the modern setting, there is little chance of finding a world where there is absolute silence.  There is always life.  Life finds a way and so does sound.  In any realm, it is difficult to conceive of absolute silence.  Some sound always exists. For example, in 4'33'' the conditions of sound around the audience constitutes music.  Absolute silence, a realm devoid of sound, is thus impossible to achieve.