How to disappear

If this book had been titled something like “How to listen” or “How to be all ears,” the title would have been appropriate to the content and directly explained the book’s focus. Why, then, does the title prefer to obscure its subject rather than reveal it, running counter to a title’s traditional function? The reason is that this book is grounded in the experience of the unseen listener. Speakers are seen when they speak, whereas listeners recede into the background of the scene dominated by speakers. Listeners spend a long time listening to that around them, and hope to maintain their wallflower position when they speak—their speech having no need to take front row or appear in the spotlight. The title of this book conceals its subject in a desire to protect the listener from returning to the spotlight once he or she has left it.

Haytham El-Wardany is an Egyptian writer currently residing in Berlin. He recently published Kitab Al-Nawm (The Book of Sleep).