The point of departure for this meditation on the ethical role of sounds and silences within Christian rites and other religious practices is the documentary Into Great Silence, directed by Philip Gröning and released in 2005. It is an intimate portrayal of the everyday lives of Carthusian monks of the Grande Chartreuse, a monastery high in the French Alps.
The title of the documentary is derived from the rule that the monks are not allowed to speak, except murmuring, to God. However, opening one's ears immediately reveals that there is no such thing as silence. Listening to silence means exploring and foregrounding the background noises of being in order to understand what is hidden behind this discourse of religious and contemplative silence. Listening to this silence means lending an ear to everyday sounds, to biotic as well as abiotic sounds. Hence, we have entered a sonic world, an aural assemblage, marked and framed by religion as well as everyday life, environmental as well as human sounds and music, nature as well as culture, God as well as the posthuman. This is an aural ethics based on the ability to affect and to be affected, an immanent ethics of interrelatedness.