Thursday, 27 March 2008

Myths of light (and shadow)

Regardless of there being so fundamental to the visual realms, those few that remain conscious of their sight (it is dark days when the truly blind perhaps see more than the millions ignorant of the ocular powers they are granted or even blessed with!), pass over light and shadow as too obvious to examine, and live amidst, instead being fascinated with colour. A Newtownian legacy, perhaps?

But it may be that the move straight onto light, overlooking shadow and of course darkness, is rooted in some conceptual rut, even though the Judeo Christian creation myth, for example, describes darkness as existing before light.

It is therefore of some importance to reflect on the existence of darkness, not seeing it as the absence of light, as well as addressing the fact that God created darkness? Darkness is divine too.

So an additional strand of this slow entwining of ideas, and tracing of their sky bound aspirations, is to explore myths and tropes of the relationship of light and shadow.

So as a first and obvious step here is Genesis 1

1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

2And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

3And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

4And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

5And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Now being at present ignorant of the many learned scholars who have no doubt meditated on this passage and dedicated many a tome too it, I tentatively offer these initial reflections or are they shadows, a distinction which may seem vain and flippant, but that goes to show that light permeates discourse, (St John of the Cross and his medieval forbears are one such focus) as verse three suggests Light is logocentric, as well as being linked to matter. At this initial stage such issues can only be highlighted and saved for some crepuscular revelation

As verse 2 suggests Darkness is linked to formlessness, and the aqueous. However, the words "And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters" offers a shaded, glimmer of a possibility that Light was drawn from within the waters, from within darkness, or perhaps the creator even cast light into the water? Hypotheses to be explored.

Or are we to be astronomically literal and assume God created the sun and hence light. But can there be heaven without stars or even light. So perhaps light fell from heaven like dew thereby creating the stars in the earthly skies, and from there falling down to the very depths of the waters.

However, what strikes me is that there has been an emphasis on the dichotomy of light and dark, on which the Manicheans may well offer some digressions, however God seems to have worked along more dialectical lines, as one cannot create light without immediately creating shadow, the binding, blurring or fusion of light and dark. And it seems to me that this secondary and overlooked creation is significant. For the divine division of Light and Dark into day and night is not clear cut. Darkness met the newly created extravagance of light at every moment with a shadow. Just as no night is ever dark, light too lingers showing the traveller what he hoped to be a sign is just the faint outline of a distant tree. We live in a world of shadows as much as we do of light and dark.


Perhaps light and dark created the shadow, and light could scarcely exist without a shadow, save for when it glistened in reflected slivers on the waves.

It might be argued that light was and always has been subservient to darkness that bound its shadows to it. However to think in that way, one has to consider in some counter-gnostic move that while we accept that "God saw the light, that it was good" we know nothing about the divine understanding of darkness, nor do we know if God was as delighted by the play of shadows on the waves as he was by the dazzling reflections.

It would seem that Darkness too is good, as without darkness there is shadow. Shadows are the depths light lacks, we live in a world of shadows, and it is in shadow that the mystery of colour lies, rather than in its glistening and brightness.

Finally an epistemological metaphor, if light is knowledge, shadow is the frontier of what is unknown, darkness, and remains to be known, shadow signals mystery and what is beyond the superficial notions of truth, and the dazzle of light.

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