Silence for the rich, noise for the poor?


Ringing telephones, alarms, airplanes, horns, roaring engines... our sound environment is increasingly deafening and silence has become a rare commodity, even an object of covetousness. But what is silence and what do we deprive ourselves of when we no longer have access to it? A major environmental, social and health issue, noise is a scourge for the vulgus pecum and silence a luxury commodity. 
A challenge in the form of the theme of a nice conference organized by the Collège des Bernardins at the end of January, as part of a cycle Garden Tuesday organized on the occasion of the 17th edition of La Sound Week of UNESCO, with a psychoanalyst, an acoustic engineer and a nun: three complementary approaches to understanding silence in all its forms.

Noise pollution, acoustics, phonophobia, hyperacusis, misophony ... the list of words describing the harmful effects of our sound environment and the symptoms that these cause on our health are increasing. Noise is much more than just an annoyance, it is now a major environmental, social and health issue. A study revealed by the newspaper Le Monde classifies noise as "the second cause of morbidity behind air pollution" among the environmental risk factors in urban areas.
TGV iDzen cars, noise-cancelling headphones, silence squares at the restaurant, monastery retreats: to escape the daily cacophony, the quest for calm and silence can sometimes be (very) expensively negotiated.

Is silence becoming a luxury product? Can the urban sound environment become a new element of social segregation? Does silence have a value? Can it really be bought? What are we looking for when we are looking for silence? What does it elicit? What does it allow?

On 31 October 2017, UNESCO adopted a landmark resolution on the importance of sound in today's world to promote good practices. The association La Semaine du Son, which has been raising awareness among the public, elected officials and all actors in society about the societal stakes of sound for more than fifteen years, is at the origin of a constitutive resolution for the whole world. It is shared in more than 40 cities in France and abroad: Brussels, Namur, Geneva, and, at other times of the year, in Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Canada, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Romania and soon in Cuba.

The sound environment reflects and shapes our individual and collective behaviour, productivity and ability to live harmoniously together. Giving more importance to sound-related issues in today's increasingly noisy world is therefore becoming a vital issue.
Extract from UNESCO Resolution 39C/49, adopted on 31 October 2017

For each edition, La Semaine du Son solicits personalities who are emblematic of sound, sound quality or music, and who are also eager to carry its messages and share them with their audience. This was the case during the evening debate on 21 January 2020, hosted by Didier Pourquery, President of The Conversation France, while the 17th edition of UNSECO's Sound Week has just ended on 2 February.

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"The four functions of silence"by Cynthia Fleury, philosopher and psychoanalyst, professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, holder of the Humanities and Health Chair. (1) :

A real gateway to the world, sound is a fundamental element of personal balance in our relationship with others and the world. For the first time, thanks to the association La Semaine du son, sound is considered in its environmental, societal, medical, economic, industrial and cultural dimensions.
Christian Hugonnet, Founding President of the association La Semaine du Son

 "The dialectic of micro-silence  " by Christian Hugonnet, president of the Semaine du Son:

 "Silence: a path to discover the inner noise that inhabits us" by Sister Cécile, Prioress of Paris of the Sisters of the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem :

Questioning the meaning and value of silences that are admitted, assumed or regretted is an opportunity to meditate on silences, or rather the absence of silence in our own contemporary societies or in our own lives. A conference as an invitation to distance ourselves from all the noises that end up engulfing our way of existing.

See the complete video of the Mardi des Bernardins meeting of January 21, 2020

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(1) Latest work published: "Le soin est un humanisme", éditions Gallimard, 2019.

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