Murke's Collected Silences
"Murke's Collected Silences" (Dr. Murkes gesammeltes Schweigen) is a short story by German writer Heinrich Böll, first published in the Frankfurter Hefte in 1955, and in English in 1963. The Murke of the title is a young editor working for a radio station; he has recently graduated in psychology and this is his first job. He has unusual habits, such as not alighting at his floor when the paternoster lift reaches it, but continuing instead over the top and down the other side, for the sake of a few seconds of fear while he is in limbo. He starts collecting bits of tape discarded on the studio floor—tape containing silence—splices them together, and takes them home to listen to in the evening. "When I have to cut tapes, in the places where the speakers sometimes pause for a moment—or sigh, or take a breath, or there is absolute silence—I don't throw that away. I collect it." Soon he advances to asking his girlfriend to sit in front of a microphone without speaking so he can record her silence too.
The story centres on Murke's editing of two tapes on The Nature of Art by the cultural critic Professor Bur-Malottke. When he first sees Bur-Malottke, Murke "suddenly knew the meaning of hatred: he hated this great fat, handsome creature whose books—two million three hundred and fifty thousand copies of them—lay around in libraries, bookstores, bookshelves, and bookcases, and not for one second did he dream of suppressing this hatred." Bur-Malottke had converted to Catholicism in 1945, the high point of post-war German guilt, but had had second thoughts. In his Nature of Art tapes, he had said "God" 27 times, and now wants it to be changed to "the higher Being Whom we revere," a phrase more in keeping with his pre-1945 beliefs. He asks that the technicians record the new words, then splice them in instead of "God." Murke does the editing, which is complicated by the need to record different cases—nominatives, genitives, and vocatives ("O Thou Higher Being Whom we revere!")—much to Bur-Malottke's irritation and Murke's satisfaction.
Afterwards Murke gives 12 of Bur-Malottke's Gods to a producer who is editing a radio play about an atheist who asks God questions but is answered only by silence. The producer takes the Gods, and gives Murke some of his silences in return.
The story depicts the relationship between Germany's post-war generation and the generation that fought in the war, and questions the authenticity of religious belief, particularly the nature of Germany's post-war religious revival.
- Böll, Heinrich. "Murke's Collected Silences", 1955, in The Stories of Heinrich Böll, Northwestern University Press, 1995, p. 495ff.
- Böll 1955, pp. 499–500.
- Mooney, Harry John and Staley, Thomas F. "The Shapeless God: Essays on Modern Fiction", University of Pittsburgh Press, 1968, pp. 187–188.
- Black, Martin David. "Heinrich Böll. Stories, Political Writings, and Autobiographical Works", Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006, p. xvi.
- Wilson, A. Leslie. "Heinrich Boll, The Art of Fiction No. 74", The Paris Review, Spring 1983, no. 87.