Wordlessness (to be Continued)

Gaines, Jane M. (2013) Wordlessness (to be Continued). DOI 10.6092/unibo/amsacta/3814. In: Researching Women in Silent Cinema: New Findings and Perspectives. A cura di: Dall'Asta, Monica ; Duckett, Victoria ; Tralli, Lucia. Bologna: Dipartimento delle Arti - DAR, Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna, pp. 289-301. ISBN 9788898010103. In: Women and Screen Cultures, (1). A cura di: Dall'Asta, Monica ; Duckett, Victoria. ISSN 2283-6462.
Full text available as:
[thumbnail of Jane M. Gaines_Wordlessness (to be Continued)]
PDF (Jane M. Gaines_Wordlessness (to be Continued))
License: Creative Commons: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Download (892kB) | Preview


This is the first part of some thoughts toward how to open up again the question of the theoretical issues around the expressivity of the body, especially given the example of silent cinema. It is an old semiotic problem of what meanings words convey and what the body without words can be said to “express.” After deciding that “silence” is not the operative concept we want I return briefly to the no-word advocates like Béla Balász, and “pure cinema” theorists Germaine Dulac, Jean Epstein, and Louis Delluc, as well as to Christian Metz who was highly dismissive of what he called the “gibberish” of the silent screen. Peter Brooks comes in for some scrutiny for coming so close in his “Text of Muteness” chapter in The Melodramatic Imagination, but I find that he still sits on the fence, wanting to give the day to silent expression, but then signaling a preference for words. So I keep asking what is meant by the phrase “words cannot express,” wanting to know if this means that they fall short or that other signs must take up the slack, or that words will never substitute for gestures. Concluding with Lillian Gish’s essay on “Speech Without Words” and Asta Nielsen’s position that the American cinema had too many words, I call this an exercise in defining a problem although I do not consider this project anything more than “to be continued.”

Document type
Book Section
Gaines, Jane M.
Deposit date
28 Sep 2013 15:07
Last modified
13 Mar 2015 14:51

Other metadata



Staff only: View the document