… what is this that has the immutability of eternal things and yet is nothing but appearance, that says true things, but behind which is only emptiness … ?
… Like sacred speech, what is written comes from no one knows where, it is authorless, without origin, and, hence, refers to something more original. Behind the written word, no one is present, but it gives voice to absence, just as in the oracle where the divine speaks, the god himself is never present in his speech, and it is the absence of god that speaks then. And the oracle doesn’t justify itself, or explain itself, or defend itself, any more than writing does: no dialogue with the written, and no dialogue with the god. Socrates is still astonished by this silence that speaks.
Faced with the strangeness of the written work, Socrates’ unease is finally the same that he experiences when faced with the work of art, whose unusual essence inspires his mistrust, if not scorn: “The terrible thing about writing, Phaedrus, is its resemblance to painting: Don’t the by-products of painting present themselves as living beings, but aren’t they majestically silent when one questions them?”
[line break added] What strikes him, then, what seems “terrible” to him, in writing as well as in painting, is the silence, a majestic silence, a silence that is inhuman in itself, that makes the shudder of sacred energies pass into art, those forces that, through horror and terror, open man up to alien regions.
There is nothing more impressive than this astonishment before the silence of art, this unease of the lover of words, of the man faithful to the honesty of living speech: what is this that has the immutability of eternal things and yet is nothing but appearance, that says true things, but behind which is only emptiness, the impossibility of speaking, so that here the real has nothing to sustain it, seems baseless, is the scandal of what seems real, but is only image and, through image and semblance, draws truth into the abysses where there is no truth, or meaning, or even error?