Hush has a strong storyline and readerliness that make it conducive to straight-forward textual analysis, but the inclusion of the ‘References’ section at the back of the book acts like a demand for contextual reading. The list offers many options – a comparative reading against work by Beverley Farmer or Seamus Heaney, for example; or psychoanalytic considerations. For the moment though, I will stick with Barthes, who critiqued written language’s propensity to stray from its origin/meaning. He believed that origins were better preserved in speech with its aural components: such as sound, rhythm, tone.
Hecq painstakingly probes Barthes’ ideas, staging an experiment within the hermeneutics of trauma. If I was a person who kept a file of handy quotes, I could delve into it here and pull out any number of assertions about the power of writing to assuage trauma. This pile I could easily match with an equal number of eloquently worded claims about how poorly language expresses the riven, surreal and dislocated emotions and sensations of trauma. But I do not make this statement to be facile; rather, I think it is well-known that writing can assist with healing grief and shock; and that it is not uncommon for those who experience trauma to feel socially isolated. This often motivates acts of writing, and particularly writing that probes the limits of the ordinary – experimental writing, poetry and other attempts to seek out and stretch the capacity of language to express and explain uncommon experiences. Those who write in this way hope, ultimately, to find the language they need to communicate and connect with others. For many, this turns out to be not a language of words but of music, movement or visual expression. For some reason those who seek to do it with words are often regarded as being less successful. They should not be.
Ubiquitous as words may seem, not all words are ordinary, just as not all experience is commonplace. And speaking the unusual rarely has a place in regular social life. Any plea for written language to follow sound and speech breaks down, for, as Hecq gracefully shows, the written word can enter places speech may rarely go. And when it does, it is capable of carrying with it all the music, sound and sense of being necessary to effectively convey actual experience. There is no slam poetry venue for the words of grief. There are rarely places for their quiet speech from ear to ear, among friends, within one’s community. There is only the psychologist’s chair, and the book, and perhaps some quiet, lonely place in cyberspace.
While Hush may initially look forbidding, it is very well designed. The cover subtly and effectively conveys the text’s urbane nostalgia, quiet music and intellectual challenge.