Audre Lorde The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action

Audre Lorde’s essay, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” is a personal narrative that begins by dropping a bomb into the audience. Just as the information from her doctors created a chaos in her life, so too does her revelation create emotional reactions in the audience. “Between that telling and the actual surgery, there was a three-week period of the agony of an involuntary reorganization of my entire life. The surgery was completed, and the growth was benign” (302). Lorde starts by speaking from personal experience, which is against the “rules” of rhetoric that decree only logic can enter into the piece, never emotion and never something so profoundly personal as medical information.

But Lorde does not use this personal example lightly. She brings out her reactions to the possibility of death and challenges the audience to recognize their own fears and the decisions that they are making in their own lives. It is easy to be silent and try to go through life without making enough noise to be heard, and, possibly, attacked. “[T]he transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger” (303). What will happen if I speak, we think. And the ideas that bloom from the fear in our hearts are always terrifying, if rarely likely.

“In the cause of silence, each of us draws the face of her own fear─fear of contempt, of censure, or some judgment, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation. But most of all, I think, we fear the visibility without which we also cannot truly live” (303). I want to paint these words in calligraphy and frame them. I want to hang them where I can see them every day, perhaps every morning when I wake up. Lorde’s words challenge my fears about writing my own words, publishing them for public consumption and allowing them to create waves or fall without a ripple.
We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired. For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us. (304)

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