Article begins

I always think about silence when it lacks the most. Living in London, silence is a bodily experience few can afford. Silence is a point zero. Slight sounds and noises develop and culminate in a clangorous explosion: that’s the music of the late capitalist city. London reflects a long history of people, machines, and migrations resulting in a sort of dystopian paradise. I lived in London for months and had to take the Tube daily without realizing what made me so uncomfortable about it: the lack of silence.

London is a city for burnout, and its Tube is a materialized metaphor for this affective, silent bodily state. The journey starts when entering the station, taking the electric staircase down while leaving behind the outside light and the sound of a hyper-stimulated urban society. The stations are spacy labyrinths, home to long and narrow trains—snakes that inhabit the aptly named Tube. Depending on crowd density, the underground station can sound like a populous choir only ruled by chaos or present to us the most immaculate absence of sound. If you are lucky, you can sit on one of the two parallel seat lines that frame the wagon. You face people, closely.

Among all the Tube lines, the Northern Line is well known for becoming, day after day, noisier and noisier. It is a remarkable place to experience lack of silence and, at the same time, desire it the most. Between the stations of King’s Cross and Camden, the journey becomes acoustically hectic. The friction between iron and steel is reminiscent of a machine-like way of living. Some are used to it, almost merging with the noise, while others use earplugs or noise-cancelling devices. For those who are still not familiar with the violence of the commotion, their contorting faces show how the precipice of progress sounds, in front of us, screaming to us silently while commuting in the city.


Juan Sebastián Gómez-García

Juan Sebastián Gómez-García is a Colombian cultural anthropologist and dance performer focused on research about body-in-movement practices cross-culturally, specifically about ritual, ecstatic, and healing dances in traditional, urban, and diasporic contexts. His research is traversed by reflections on the relationship between body and space from migration, heritage, queer, and postcolonial studies.

Cite as

juan-sebastian-gomez. 2024. “Desires for Silence in London’s Northern Line.” Anthropology News website, January 11, 2024.