Beyond Edges: Darkness and the Fluxing Field
Imaginaire Nord / University of Quebec and Montreal (UQUAM) / University of Iceland
Isberg Series 2021
The tendency of the contemporary western human on encountering darkness, is to banish it with electric light. For the city dweller, the experience of night is one of orange street lighting, darkness is a rarely, if ever, encountered realm of experience. Here, the dark hours can bring fear, either of the darkness itself or of other humans. This paper seeks to explore other potential understandings of darkness. I will draw upon my own personal experiences of darkness before subjecting one of these accounts to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s concept of flesh since, as a theory of embodied experience, it seems to hold some promise in terms of getting past the notion of darkness being in some way a separate phenomenon both from that of light and also from ourselves. Having established that darkness is more than just a quality of light, or its absence that humans are subject to, I intend to then consider the Buddhist phenomenon of emptiness and whether, through its capacity to reflect the overlapping nature of the relationship between humans and world, it may have some import in our encounters with darkness.
We are standing in the broad, wide open lawn of an old garden in the village of Toft, in the middle of the East Anglian countryside on a crystal clear February evening. Despite its close proximity to the city of Cambridge, the flatness of the land makes for a quite different experience of night from that which I am used to. To the north-west, we watch the arrival of night steal across what seems like a huge sky, while to the south-east, there are pink tinged clouds, reddening on a horizon behind black tree shapes. It is a slightly disorienting experience; I almost want to sit down and cling on so aware am I at this moment, of the movement of the surface on which I stand. I have the profound sense of standing on a tilt, in the midst of a transition and on anything but fixed ground. As the night approaches, the sky commands my attention from the horizon up. Strictly speaking, the term ‘gathering’ may be incorrect in describing the way that the darkness of night arrives around ones body while standing on the land, but here in Toft I can think of no other expression that fits so well. I feel exactly as if the night is gathering around me, the classic description is “like a cloak”, blending my body with what is at ground level where my visual perception is so dramatically reduced.