George Prochnik’s Quiet Places


A few years ago, George Prochnik noticed an intriguing trend among his fellow Brooklyn-dwelling friends: Those who ranked noise as one of their chief complaints of city living were the same people who turned on the stereo or television the moment they got home. Prochnik, a life-long lover of silence who felt like quiet was becoming increasingly harder to find, decided to see if twenty-first-century life was louder than before, and how this change related to what he calls the “secret passion for noise” he’d seen among his friends.

As he chronicles in his new book, In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise, Prochnik discovered our surroundings have indeed gotten louder–but that we’ve created much of this new noise to block out other, more intrusive sounds inherent to our modern-day lives. (Just think of how, during your commute, you might turn up your iPod to drown out a screeching subway car and you’ll get a sense of what Prochnik means.)

To research his book, Prochnik visited spaces of complete quiet, such as a Quaker Meeting House, where congregants sit in communal silence, and a monastery, where the resident monks go hours without speaking. But he also met with many noisemakers, such as the designers of soundtracks personalized for stores, or boom-car drivers, who compete over who can play their car stereos the loudest. By spending time on both ends of the noise spectrum he concluded that any quest for quiet must be more than just a solitary, introspective experience. “If we really want to inspire greater interest in silence,” Prochnik says, “we have to think of sociable forms of silence–silence in public spaces.”

To that end, we asked Prochnik to share his five top quiet spots in Brooklyn, to aid those just starting on their own pursuits of silence.

1. I’m fortunate enough to live very close to Fort Greene Park, (where he’s pictured, above) and I go down there almost every day, just to walk into the middle and get a little respite from the sounds that even on my relatively quiet street can be pretty assaultive.

2. Brighton Beach. I love walking on the promenade there. It can be a really beautiful tapestry of sounds from the gulls and the waves and a few conversations in Russian drifting in and out.

3. Valentino Pier in Red Hook. It feels very, very far away, like you’re by some little country pastoral bay somewhere. It’s off the beaten track enough that often there’s a little bit of grass and water lapping around the pier.

4. Lefferts House in Prospect Park. It’s a very unusual outside space where children are given a lot of freedom to play in ways that in many parks they’re not. The inside of the house is kind of dreamy and has these very evocative smells and creaks. And it’s often very undervisited, so you can really step back into a different, very quiet soundscape when you go in.

5. I do recommend that people go to one of the Quaker Meeting Houses–there’s one in downtown Brooklyn–and experience it, whatever your belief or lack of belief. It can be very powerful.

Text by Nina Pearlman, sent by Annaliese. Photo by Perry Santanachote courtesy of The Local.

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2 Comment

  • To find out about some quiet non-Brooklyn places, go to the Right to Quiet Society site, click “Readings”, then “Essays”. Mine are near the top.
    Ed Spargo, Denver

  • To find out about some quiet non-Brooklyn places, go to the Right to Quiet Society site, click “Readings”, then “Essays”. Mine are near the top.
    Ed Spargo, Denver