Friday, February 12, 2016


By Toby Zinman



 By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer 

The pun in the title,The Quiet Volume, involves both loudness of sound and another word for book. You sit next to someone, each wearing headphones, in the Literature Room of the Free Library.  There are three books piled in front of each person: Blindness by Saramago, The Notebook, the Proof, and Third Lie by Kristof, and When We Were Orphans by Ishiguro.  Between the two small stacks is another book of photographs of devastated cities.

A voice whispers into your ears, noting how good it is to be in a place "dedicated to silence," and then lists all the sounds one hears in a library: feet walking, fingers on keyboards, pages turning, pens dropped. 

The murmuring voice continues, directing me to a passage in one of the books; it reads to me as I silently read the page. This creates an odd dislocation as the voice in my ears merges, incompletely, with the voice in my mind, my " reading voice."  The peculiar intimacy of reading--just you and the page--has been violated, intruded upon, but so softly, so gently. 

The hour becomes odder as the voice makes me aware of the act of reading combined with the content of the passage you're reading. This manipulation that was so interesting at first becomes wearing and irritating: just let me read in peace. Sometimes the voice becomes unintelligible; this is also annoying.  And why, I wonder, are there slight discrepancies between the text I'm reading and the voice reading it to me: "removed" rather than "extracted." 

The intertextuality is very clever, as the passages one is directed to in the three books seem to echo each other; the photographs become illustrations of the fictions.

The Quiet Volume is an experiment in hyperconsciousness of reading as a mental and visual process, of reading as a private act that is always semi-public in a library, of the lingering whisper of the voices (Ant Hampton and Tim Etchells, the co-creators) even after the ‘show’ is over, combined with the snippets of the three books I have never before read. I am unsettled and fascinated by this experience.

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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