Being, Nothingness, and the “Signification of Silence” in African American Religious Consciousness

  • James A. Noel
Part of the Black Religion/Womanist Thought/Social Justice book series (BRWT)


In this chapter, I explore the meaning of the category of nothingness in the African American experience as something that occurs through their ontological encounter with Non-Being. I am using Long’s description of silence not as an equivalent of nothingness but as its phenomenological companion. In this chapter, I am also pressing Long’s notion of contact and exchange to its farthest limits not as a metaphysical exercise but to properly grasp the ineffable nature of the historical experience that blacks underwent. This notion of nothingness that I discuss has its analogue in Long’s thought in his discussion of silence where he explains: “It is difficult to get at the meaning of silence, for, though a kind of power is signified through its quality, the power of silence is so unlike the power of words that we have no words to express it.” Nothingness, while not necessarily synonymous with silence, is that about which nothing can be said or thought—hence, its ineffability. The irony, however, is that this ineffability does not contradict the fact that “the power of silence can only be expressed through words—words that are able to move beyond and back through their own creative intent to the intentionality of the silence.” Longs reflections are enriched by his reading of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus whose most profound statement Longs regards as the aphorism “what can be shown cannot be said.”


Black People Dark Night Black Experience African American Experience Atlantic World 
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© James A. Noel 2009

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  • James A. Noel

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