“Shhh…” Apparently this has a calming effect on babies because it resembles the elementary monotonous noises in which the fetus is immersed. One could say: babies are calmed by it because it instills in them the momentary illusion of being in the womb again, where the ‘oceanic feeling’ of the ‘original tensionless state’ prevails (Freud).
But from the point of view of Gestalt psychology and phenomenology, it is perhaps more to the point to say that babies are calmed by saying “Shhh…” because it thwarts the differentiation of figure and background. After all, by saying “Shhh ...” you evoke in the baby the memory of the vanishing mediator of the mother’s voice, i.e. the noise of the flowing blood, the thumping heart and the gurgling digestive system that must recede to the background so that the mother’s voice – or any other particular sound – may appear to the fetus. In “Shhh ...” that background noise returns to the foreground, so that no other noise can grab the attention of the fetus. Perhaps it is this relief of attention which is calming?
But is “Shhh…” then not one of the most mysterious expressions in our language? An expression referring to something that systematically withdraws from consciousness, namely the vanishing mediator, the receding background that makes everything appear? Is “Shhh…” the onomatopoeic name of the unnameable? Should we say that Christ is actually called “Shhh …”? Is every time we say “Shhh ...” a prayer?