As such, it is a profound and substantial silence we mean: the sound of an empathy, a democratic consensus, a solidarity. Absence of the living we experience as loss and personal diminution, yet the absence of jet engines is hardly a deathly hush. In fact we might hope – desiring survival of life on this planet – that some absences audible to us now (that of heavy traffic) anticipate future human life.
Thinking of how our minds and languages represent relations between past, presence and absence, and of how our understanding of these may alter our view of future outcomes, I am reminded of an episode (entitled ‘The End of the Future’) in the second ‘book’ of Edgar Reitz’s film series Heimat, a fifty-nine-and-a-half-hour epic of German life between 1848 and 2000 (and my Corona-lockdown, box-set project). Previous episodes, set in Munich in the early 1960s, had seen a group of students and musicians gather night after night in a villa owned by a woman whose father, a wealthy publisher, had cheated a Jewish friend and colleague out of his property during the Nazi era. The childlike daughter, professing ignorance of her father’s ill-gotten gains, runs an ‘open house’ for these young bohemians: an attempt to shore up her selective memories of an untainted, pre-war family life. For the students, many from provincial homes, the big-city villa becomes a site of friendship, love, music and all-night discussions.
One alumnus of this institution, Reinhard, an aspiring film-maker, returns from a year-long trip to South America to find the villa gone: razed in a welter of speculation and fraud. All that remains of his ‘second home’ is a large hole and pile of rubble. Overwhelmed by loss Reinhard attempts, and fails, to film this absence: the hole in the air where the villa once stood – haunted, he imagines, by the spirit of the place. Later, after an affair with Esther, the granddaughter of the cheated Jewish previous owner of the villa, Reinhard himself disappears, apparently forever. We hear the lapping of small waves on the shore: in one moment we see him bobbing gently in a boat on the Bavarian Ammersee, in the next he is gone.