SILENCE IN THE AGE OF NOISE by Erling Kagge (Viking, 2017)

cover Blaise Pascal was exaggerating for effect when he wrote that “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone” but I understand the point he was making. If you are not at ease with yourself, how can you be truly at peace with the world?

Norwegian explorer, publisher and Rolex model Erling Kagge quotes Pascal but his own lifestyle doesn’t involve much sitting around alone. He has climbed Everest and journeyed to the North and South Poles. He once spent fifty days walking across the Antarctica during which he had no contact with the outside world and no encounters with any human being until he reached his destination. In his Ted Talk (Another Lecture On Nothing) he says “I believe in making life more complicated than it needs to be”.

erlingkaggeYou might expect this short book to be mainly about his unique adventures but, instead, it’s a series of philosophical reflections on the importance of seeking silence in our chaotic and noisy world. By implication, it offers insights into why he was attracted to the extreme endeavours in the first place.

He maintains that silence is the most underrated luxury item anyone can own and that you don’t have to commit to 50 days in an icy void to find it. “Silence is more exclusive and long-lasting than any other luxuries”, he advises.

He quotes from Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard; draws inspiration from Marina Abramović and John Cage and listens to what his three children have to say on the subject. What it all comes down to is a simple, but nevertheless elusive, quest for a kind of existential mindfulness in which the here and now is all that matters. This is summed in this passage recollecting his thoughts while heading for the South Pole : “I became more and more attentive to the world of which I was a part. I was neither bored nor interrupted. I was alone with my own thoughts and ideas. The future was no longer relevant. I paid no attention to the past. I was present in my own life”.

Taking time out from ‘the age of noise’ is a conscious choice anyone can make. Seeking out a quiet space at home or outdoors is not an anti-social act but a fundamental human need. The alternative is to submit to the babble of the planet that only leaves you confused and frustrated.

Kagge’s exploits are stellar but the wisdom he has attained is down to earth and accessible. His book can be read in one sitting but it’s one that you will want to return to if and when the noise becomes invasive.