For years I've heard my colleague pronounce the word "kiln" as "kill," as in, "I'm loading a cone-6 in the kill today...you got anything you want fired?" I chalked the silent "n" to one of his many endearing idiosyncrasies–qualities of being that make him a vibrant artist and educator, albeit one with an occasional jester's mischievous legerdemain. Lo and behold, as I was researching kiln designs on-line, fantasizing of one day constructing and operating my own anagama, a wikipedia entry popped up with this:
Kiln, pronounced kill, in the manner of hymn. The n operates as a digraph, indicating vestigial, geographical, and orthographical origins and uses of the sound and word. The silence of n, its simultaneous presence and absence, resonated deeply with me; pottery, after all, is an art of emptiness and intervals. What begins as a solid lump of clay inflates and hollows upon the gestural intervention of the potter's hands, forming vessels and the like, where the presence of the form is essentially bound to its negative space[s]...what is not there.
The concept of 間 (Ma) in Asian art, culture, and architecture is an interval-phenomenon, where space-time, movement, and sound are charged with an invisible, inaudible glue of non-space, stillness, and silence. The pause between words or thoughts; space demarcating columns of a porch; stillness punctuating frenzied movements in martial arts: a few examples of how what's not there defines and fires-up what is there. Dualistic language becomes problematic in the attempt to define a non-dualistic concept, however ought to serve as an entry-point for a flexible mindset rather than a solidification of values. The concept of 間, its very existence and dark-matter austerity is intrinsically bound to the pottery process: for what exists on the shelf as a bowl or ewer, countless absences ebulliently precede and inflate that which is seen and held. 間, if nothing or everything, is also a volatile anticipant, charging the viewer (or listener) with a sense of what may have come, may yet appear, and may disappear. The cavity of a vessel, especially one surrounded by a tight-lipped jar, may leave a person with the impression of potentiality: something may or may not decant from this space. On the extreme end of the spectrum, this brand of anticipation is a matter of Life and Death: especially if you're expecting one more drop of water to emerge from your canteen in the middle of a desert–thus, a heightened sense of quietus, transience, impermanence. On the gentler end of the spectrum, the anticipation of what may or may not be, we are left with a pinging sensation in the curiosity organ of our being. It is a haptic sensation of what exists only as a construct, but sensed no less in the tissues of the body. It is the essence of everything that drives us an animal and cultured species: hunger, desire, fear, passion, lust, dread, hatred, and of course love. Who or what may or may not emerge, and the duration of time that they or it has not arrived, is the seed of almost every song, theatrical production, and page of literature ever written. The pause, the silence, the anticipant unease, our shared human experience.
And for the love of the silent n at the end of kiln, the anticipation of its enunciation but perpetual denial, its absence perpetually sensed and heard through the casual utterance of my colleague, may that longing but negation forever charge and change the air in our moments of stillness.