the art of the awkward pause

In Mr and Mrs Smith, during that scene at the end when they’re shooting up the department store, there’s an awkward moment when they’re in an elevator with muzak playing. The first time I watched the movie the pause seemed to go on forever. A couple of years, and a few episodes of Arrested Development later, and when we watched it again it didn’t feel like the pause was nearly as long or awkward as I remembered…

I’ve been reflecting on the prevalence of the awkward pause as a comedic device in contemporary drama. I realised the other day, that this is unique to performance — you can’t force an awkward pause in writing. You can describe one, but you can’t actually effect one. When it comes to the written word the author has no control over timing — the reader reads as fast or slow, with as few or as many pauses as they like.

The written word really struggles to produce absence*. It has feeble control over timing. I’m not sure what to do with these thoughts just yet, but I find them intriguing. 

*With the notable exception of Dave Eggers’ short story  “There are some things he should keep to himself”, which consists of five blank pages (from How We Are Hungry). Get it?

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