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This report is taken from PN Review 232, Volume 43 Number 2, November - December 2016.

Not to Speak a Form of Speaking Vahni Capildeo
SILENCES HAVE many qualities. When I think of beautifully deployed silences, I think of the Book of Judith. Under or against the secular-ish patriarchy (if I may), artists tend to be provoked by the sex and violence of Judith’s story, as she goes on a wartime mission to seduce and behead the enemy leader Holofernes. If their delicious Judiths were desserts, they would be red velvet cake. She may be simplified into a ‘strong’ woman. A few note the cynical exploitation of the young widow: she is used goods, so it all right for her to be further exposed, sent into danger to do the dirty work. One extraordinary silence is Judith’s pre-history with her husband Manasses. It is a thing of extremes, sun and suddenness:

And her husband was Manasses, who died in the time of the barley harvest: For he was standing over them that bound sheaves in the field; and the heat came upon his head, and he died in Bethulia his own city, and was buried there with his fathers. [  Judith 8:2–3]

Judith’s married life comes to this point. Judith is solar-powered with trauma. Then three years and six months are jumped over, as in a late Shakespeare play. Another silence relates to class. After performing the decapitation (it is specified: alone; two strokes), Judith hands Holofernes’s head to ‘her maid’ and tells her to bag it up. This anonymous and practical person seems to have helped her mistress dress, accompanied her through enemy lines, and transferred domestic skills to the ...

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