Hannah Black, ‘Fractal Freedoms’, Afterall, Spring/Summer 2016, pp. 5-12.
An extraordinary recent news story reported that X-raay analysis of Kasimir Malevich’s 1915 painting Cherniy kvadrat (Black Square) had revealed a handwritten annotation on the white frame that surrounds the black square. The inscription appears to refer to a racist joke by writer and humorist Alphonse Allais, who in 1897 captioned a black monochrome ‘Combat de negrès dans use cave pendant la unit’ (‘Negroes fighting in a cave at night’). The art historical rupture of the Black Square, this radical gesture, turns out to rest, like so much of the history of modernism, on the illegibility of blackness. The painting masquerades as the negation of representation, but in light of the joke about darkness, negation itself becomes representation; what is represented is the nothingness of certain subjects, which indicates a certain nothingness in subjectivity itself. Malevich wrote: ‘In the year 1913, trying desperately to free art from the dead weight of the real world, I took refuge in the form of the square.’ This break for freedom (for art), this place of refuge (for the artist), is founded on or overlaid on top of black invisibility, itself unfree. p. 5-6
Tanya Shilian-Conte, ‘Black screen, white page: ontology and genealogy of blank space’, Word & Image, VOL. 31 No. 4, October-December 2015.
Drawing on the medium-specific properties of the cinematic apparatus, the white page exchanges its materiality for that of the light-suffused screen; or, conversely, the inky blackness of print for that of the black leader at the beginning and end of a film, or the cut/interstice between filmic frames. Similarly, the black or white screen in cinema exchanges its medium-specific properties for that of the literary apparatus. [p. 504]
The black screen in History and Memory [dir. Tajiri, 1991] acknowledges both eh nonexistent images and documents that cannot be found at the National Archives and the unconscious desire that speaks on their behalf [ . . . ] Tajiri treats the black screen as a page of her diary, trusting it with the pain and disappointment she experiences in the search for her family history.
Hyden Williams, ‘COLORS / BLACK’ Cabinent, Issue 57 Catastrophe Spring 2015 [“Colors” is a column in which a writer responds to a specific color assigned by the editors of Cabinet.]
So, I ask again: why black? Did you detect a wee darkness in me that you felt the assignment would, as you might say, elicit and amplify?
H. G. Wells, The Outline of History (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1956), vol. 1, p. 41, quoted in Maria Golia, ‘It Came from Outer Space’, Cabinet, Issue 57 Catastrophe Spring 2015, pp. 94-102
We do not know what jars and jolts the solar system may have suffered in the past. . . . Some huge dark projectile from outer space may have come hurtling through the planets and deflected or even struck our world and turned the whole course of evolution into a new direction . . . [p. 98]
Virginia Woolf quoted in Lisa Clughen, ‘Embodied writing support: The importand of the body in engaging students with writing’, Journal of Writing in Creative Practice, Volume 7, Number 2, pp. 283-300.
It is, [Woolf] argues, by allowing the body to move away from focussed consciousness that writing can form: ‘Undoubtedly [words] like us to think, and they like us to feel, before we use them; but they also like us to pause; to become unconscious. Our unconsciousness is their privacy; our darkness is their light’. [p. 291]
Clarice Lispector, The Passion According to G.H. Idra Novey (trans.) London: Penguin Modern Classics, 2014
I wonder: if I peer at the darkness with a magnifying glass, will I see more than darkness? the glass doesn’t expose the darkness, it only reveals more of it. [p. 13]
I cracked the wardrobe’s narrow door, and the darkness inside escaped like a puff. I tried to open it a bit more, but the door was blocked by the foot of the bed, which it was knocking up against. Inside the breach, I put as much of my face as I could fit. And, as if the darkness inside were spying on me, we briefly spied each other without seeing each other. [p. 37]
Lydia Davis, The End of the Story, London: Penguin, 2015
Knowing his name, after I had waited so many days to learn it, seemed to increase his reality. It gave him a place in the world that he had not had before, and it allowed him to belong more to the day than he had before. Until then, he had belonged to a time when I was tired and did not think as well as I did in the daytime, and did not see as well, when there was darkness on all sides of whatever light there was, and he came and went through darkness and shadow more than light. [p. 38]
Waiting from him again that night, when he would not come, created a dark space like a large room, a room that opened into the night from my room and filled it with dark draughts of air. Because I did not know where he was, the city seemed larger, and seemed to come right into my room: he was in some place, and that place, though unknown to me, was present in my mind and was a large dark thing inside me. And that place, that strange room where he was, where I imagined him to be, with another person, became part of him, too, as I imagined him, so that he was changed, he contained that strange room and I contained it, too, because I contained him in that room and that room in him. [p.117]
I could usually work till the morning was over. But the afternoon would be long and slow, so slow it just stopped and died where it stood. I liked to have daylight outside, and darkness hours away ahead of me and behind me. But I did not often want to go out into that light, and I kept the curtains closed. I liked to see the light at the cracks of the curtains, I liked to know it was out there. Then, when evening came and there was darkness outside, I kept the lights burning inside. [p. 162]
The English poets performed in a room with a glass wall behind them. Through it I could see a small, dimly lit courtyard bounded by a brick wall on which was painted a portrait of a bearded political leader. Behind the wall, sowing over the top of it, was the darkness of the eucalyptus wood that covered the campus. In the first piece, the poets read together, and what they read were sounds that had no meaning: they were making a kind of music with broken words, single syllables. And because these sounds had no meaning, they did not stop my mind from going out through the wall of glass, searching the darkness for him, flying beyond the fain light of the courtyard out to wherever he was. Because I did not know where he was, I located him in all of the large darkness, filling it, as though I had to make him large enough to fill the darkness and the night. [p. 198]
Later, at home, in bed, when I turned off the light, I went on calling up for myself images from the book I had been reading. I wanted to see if I could keep putting things between me and what I might think about. From the book I was reading I took a scrubbed oak table, a pantry, a dimly lit buttery, grey buckwheat pancakes, black sour gravy, a porch, raindrops in lines on the eaves of the porch, and spears of purple desert flowers. The very innocence of these things, of the food, the parts of the house, the light in the house, helped me to fight against him. I lay there with my arm hanging down out of the bed into the current of cold air that ran across the tiles of the floor and I thought of other things, things near me, roads running down to the sea, slopes and levels, a plain between the desert and the sea, flats at low tides, small figures walking to and fro seen from the cliff above. I listened to the tick of the clock, and thrashing sound of the cars going by fast on the rad below, and the dim roar of the ocean. But the sound of the ocean was as uncomfortable sound. So was the sound of a train coming through, which was like the sound of the ocean but heavier, steadier, and longer, with a beginning and an end to it. All the sounds of the night, in fact, were uncomfortable, carrying the same associations. Now I had come to a bad place, and when I tried to go back to something safer, when I tried to imagine things in England again, the large sound of the ocean was by then so heavy, so dark, that the hedge and the wall became thinner and flatter, until I couldn’t hold on to them any longer and they fade away. [p199-200]
Jacqueline Rose, ‘Introduction: Shame’, On Not Being Able to Sleep, London: Vintage, 2004.
. . . Suddenly caught in the middle of a flag-waving crowd of Nazi supporters shouting ‘Heil Hitler’, [Virgina Woolf] raised her arm in salute.
If there is something shocking and idolatrous about the gesture, there is something no less puzzling and scary about her wartime embrace of the night sky. What might lead someone, in a state of real potential danger, to identify with, stretch out – yearn – towards the aggressor? [p. 13]
José Saramago, The History of the Siege of Lisbon, London: The Harvill Press, 2000.
Only when a vision a thousand times sharper than nature can provide might be capable of perceiving the eastern sky the initial difference that separates night from day, did the muessin awake. He always woke at this your, according to the sun, no matter whether summer or winter, and he needed no instrument to measure time, nothing other than the infinitesimal change in the darkness of the room, the first hint of light barely glimpsed on his forehead, like a gentle breath passing over his eyebrows, or that first and almost imponderable caress which, as far as is known or believed, is the exclusive and secret art never revealed to this day of those beautiful houris who attend the believers in Mohammed’s paradise. [p. 9]
Rachel Moore, Hollis Frampton (nostalgia), London: Afterall, 2006.
With each appearance of the silent floating carbon [burnt photograph] the film carries us towards the randomness and the amorphousness of the inform. This is not a mere negation of form but a movement towards pure materiality. From image to image, formlessness and pre-history lurk under and behind, and the world that carries on as if its frock coat were only natural begins to look presumptuous, if not strange. For after this reverent moment of speculative silence, there is a brief pause of blackness, sobering us once again to the rules of the cognitive game. [p. 26]
Marguerite Duras, Writing, Mark Polizzotti (trans.) Cambridge: Lumens Editions, 1998
When people were there I was simultaneously less alone and more abandoned. You can approach that solitude only through night. At night, imagine Duras in her bed, sleeping alone in a house forty-four hundred feet square. When I went to the other end of the house, over towards the “little cottage,” I feared the space like a trap. I can say that every night I was afraid. And yet, I never lifted a finger to have anyone come live here. Sometimes I went out late at night. I loved those meandering walks with people from the village, friends, residents of Neauphle. We drank, We talked, a lot. We went into a kind of cafeteria huge as a village of several acres. It was packed at three in the morning. The name comes back to me now: Parly II. In those places, too, we were lost. There, the waiters watched like cops over the vast territory of our solitude. [p. 12]
Because a book is the unknown, it’s the night, it’s close off, and that’s that.
An open book is also night.
I don’t know why, but those words I just said make me cry. [p. 14]
There are still dead generations that produce prim books. Even young people: charming books, without extension, without darkness. Without silence. In other words, without a true author. Books for daytime, for whiling away the hours, for traveling. But not books that become embedded in one’s thoughts and toll the black mourning for all life. the commonplace of every thought [p. 18]
Mark Ford, Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams, London: Faber and Faber, 2000.
Ashbery has argued that ‘there is hidden in Roussel something so strong, so ominous and so pregnant with the darkness of the “infinite spaces” that frightened Pascal, that one feels the need for some sort of protective equipment when one reads him. [p. xxviii]
Nadine Boljkovac, ‘Mad Love’, Gilles Deleuze: Image and Text, Eugene W. Holland, Daniel W. Smith, Charles J. Stivale (eds.) London: Continuum, 2009.
[Describing the voice-over and a scene in Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962), ] Upon these words the screen darkens to a blackness pierced only by a subtle subterranean reverberation over which the droning voice continues: ‘And soon afterwards Paris was blown up.’ [p. 128]
If the human race survives, future men will . . . look back on our enlightened epoch as a veritable age of Darkness. . . . They will see that what we called ‘schizophrenia’ was one of the forms in which . . . the light began to break through the cracks in our all-too-closed minds. [Boljkovac quotes Deleuze & Guattari quoting R. D. Laing, p. 30]
Cinema ‘spreads’, Deleuze suggests, ‘an “experimental night” . . . ‘ [p. 137]
Robert Boyle, “Some Observations About Shining Flesh, Both of Veal and Pullet, and The without any Sensible Putrrefaction in those Bodies”, in The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle, 6 vols., Thomas Birch (ed.), fascimile reprint with an Introduction by Douglas McKie (1772; Hildesheim: Georg Olum, 1965-66), vol. 3, pp. 651-55, on p. 651, quoted in Lorraine Daston & Katharine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature: 1150-1750, New York: Zone Books, 2001, p. 9.
Yesterday, when I was about to go to bed, an amanuensis of mine, accustomed to make observations, informed me, that one of the servants of the house, going upon some occasion to the larder, was frighted by something luminous, that she saw (not wtihstanding the darkness of the place) where the meat had been hung up before. Whereupon, suspending for a while my going to rest, I presently sent for the meat into my chamber, and caused it to be placed in a corner of a room capable of being made considerably dark, and then I plainly saw, both with wonder and delight, that the joint of meat did, in divers places, shine like rotten wood or stinking fish; which was so uncommon a sight, that I had presently thought of inviting you to be a sharer in the pleasure of it.
Kathleen Stewart, Ordinary Affects, London: Duke University Press, 2007.
Worries swirl around the bodies in the dark. [p. 10]
Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage, San Francisco: Hardwired, 1996.
Until writing was invented, man lived in acoustic space: boundless, directionless, horizonless, in the dark of the mind, in the world of emotion, by primordial intuition, by terror. Speech is a social chart of this bod. The goose quill put an end to talk. It abolished mystery; it gave architecture and towns; it brought roads and armies, bureaucracy. It was the basic metaphor with which the cycle of civilization began, the step from the dark into the light of the mind. The hand that filled the parchment page built a city
Ben Marcus, Notable American Women, New York: Vintage, 2002.
There is light enough for the one hour of transcription each day, and it is within this time that I have assembled these remarks, having carefully considered the true nature of what I think and feel during my other twenty-three daily hours, allotted to me as darkness by my captors . . . [p. 3]
Jean-Luc Godard (dir.) Alphaville, 1962.
Alpha 60 (computer): Do you know what illuminates the night?
Lemmy Caution: Poetry.
Etel Adnan, Paris, When It’s Naked, Sausalito: The Post-Apollo Press, 1993.
From where I stand I see many lit windows, and many more which are dark, and in the dark, useless, closed Eyes. They’re frightening, letting darkness pour into homes, and scary, when the inhabitants are in the country. [p. 16]
O Heraclitus! what was the river you knew so well? How did you survive your own impermanence? Can we read you, for sure, through our dark streets and closed horizons? [p. 22]
I was going to Nice this morning but I got up after 10 and thought I’ll catch the 4 p.m. plane. My legs felt heavy, and the sky darkened. There was no eclipse of the sun, but just the same, something dark was descending on Earth. [p. 41]
When the sun itself, in all its torrid glory, does not succeed in warming the earth, the human mind accepts defeat. A cold wind blows across the soul and while the light ascends gradually over the land, a darkness of another nature envelops us. [p. 47]
We’re at the beginning of some private ice-age, the somnolence of winter will conduct us into the northern fields of solitude, where we will forget the interplays of life and death and subsist in darkness, on very little, indeed, very very little. [p. 49]
Who are these dark shapes running down the Avenue, hurrying towards multilayered shopping centers which are an immense failure although they shake the world? [p. 58]
Delacroix confided one day that he had in his heart “something black to satisfy.” That blackness is the substance of Paris, the city which makes the will infinite and gives to one’s fancy inexhaustible forms. [p. 114]
Darkness smoothes out the edges of my heart. [p. 115]
Roland Barthes, The Preparation of the Novel: Lecture Courses and Seminars at the Collège de France (1978-1979 and 1979-1980), Kate Briggs (trans.), New York: Columbia University Press, 2011
… (probably John 12:35: “The light is among you still, but not for long. Go on your way while you have the light, so that darkness may not overtake you.”) [p. 4]
Amanda Beech et al.Speculative Aesthetics, Robin Mackey, Luke Pendrell, James Trafford (eds.), Falmouth: Urbanomic, 2014.
…art discourses and SR discourses have often spurred each other on in the employment of a set of idioms and mannerisms, mediations that gesture toward the dark rapture of de-mediation. [p. 4]
Catherine Malabou, Changing Difference, Carolyn Shread (trans.), Cambridge: Polity, 2011.
… perhaps there is a second reason for this “failure,” [of Derrida’s grammatology to become a recognised science of writing] one which derives less from the aporetic nature of the deconstruction of the traditional concept of writing — the deconstruction that prohibits any positive theory or philosophy of writing — than from an area of shadow lurking in the deconstruction itself, and therefore also shading the redefinition of writing it proposes. I wish to focus on this darkness that negatively reveals writing’s “plasticity” — to introduce a new term that I’ll explain in the course of this analysis. [p. 43]
Roger Caillois, ‘Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia’, [online]
… the invariable response of schizophrenics to the question: where are you? I know where I am, but I do not feel as though I’m at the spot where I find myself. To these dispossessed souls, space seems to be a devouring force. Space pursues them, encircles them, digests them in a gigantic phagocytosis. It ends by replacing them. Then the body separates itself from thought, the individual breaks the boundary of his skin and occupies the other side of his senses. He tries to look at himself from any point whatever in space. He feels himself becoming space, dark space where things cannot be put. He is similar, not similar to something, but just similar. And he invents spaces of which he is “the convulsive possession.” All these expressions shed light on a single process: depersonalization by assimilation to space, i.e., what mimicry achieves morphologically in certain animal species.
The magical hold (one can truly call it so without doing violence to the language) of night and obscurity, the fear of the dark, probably also has its roots in the peril in which it puts the opposition between the organism and the milieu. Minkowski’s analyses are invaluable here: darkness is not the mere absence of light; there is something positive about it. While light space is eliminated by the materiality of objects, darkness is “filled,” it touches the individual directly, envelops him, penetrates him, and even passes through him: hence “the ego is permeable for darkness while it is not so for light”; the feeling of mystery that one experiences at night would not come from anything else. Minkowski likewise comes to speak of dark space and almost of a lack of distinction between the milieu and the organism: “Dark space envelops me on all sides and penetrates me much deeper than light space, the distinction between inside and outside and consequently the sense organs as well, insofar as they are designed for external perception, here play only a totally modest role.
Hito Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen, Berlin: Sternberg press, 2012
Video essays and experimental films remained for the most part unseen save for some rare screenings in metropolitan film museums or film clubs, projected in their original resolution before disappearing again into the darkness of the archive. [p. 35-36]
. . . what kind of montage of two images/elements would produce something beyond and outside these two images/elements, something that would not represent a compromise, but would instead belong to a different order — roughly the way someone might tenaciously pound two dull stones together to create a spark in the darkness? [p. 91]
Laurie Penny, Meat Market: Female Flesh under Capitalism, Winchester: Zer0 Books, 2010.
Naomi Wolf described in 1991 how pornographic signs had come to “people the sexual interior of men and women with violence, placing an elegantly abused iron maiden into the hear of everyone’s darkness, and blasting the fertile ground of children’s imaginations with visions so caustic as to render them sterile. . . ” [p. 12]
Kathleen Jamie, ‘Darkness and Light’, Findings, London: Sort of Books, 2005.
Pity the dark: we’re so concerned to overcome and banish it, it’s crammed full of all that’s devilish, like some grim cupboard under the stair. But dark is good. We are conceived and carried in the darkness, are we not? When my son was born, a midwinter child, he cried pitifully at the ward’s lights, and only settled to sleep when he was laid in a big pram with a black hood under a black umbrella. Our vocabulary ebbs with the daylight, closes down with the cones of our retinas. [p. 3]
Susan Bernofsky, ‘Secrets, Not Code: On Robert Walser’s Microscripts’, introduction to Robert Walser, Microscripts, New York, New Direction Books, 2010.
Because certain clusters of letters in Walser’s minituration of Kurrent [script] wind up resembling entirely different combinations, the deciphering work required creative as well as critical leaps of faith. In one case, Morlag and Echte transcribed the words describing the long fingernails of a barbarian empress as Königindernachtnägel (Queen of the Night nails), only to discover at a later stage of revision that they’d misread — the proper transcription was Klytramnestranägel (Clytemnestra nails). [p. 11]
Malcolm Pollard, ‘The Use-value of Georges Bataille’, The Beast at Heaven’s Gate: Georges Bataille and the Art of Transgression, Andrew Hussey (ed.), Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006.
When Bataille considered what position in the history of thought should be ascribed to him, he identified a place at the edge of discourse, upon which he would shed a light that would, paradoxically, reveal the night. Illumination or revelation is here mediated by darkness. [p. 129]
Bataille’s use-value is indelibly marked with the trace of [ . . . ] excess; the place that he identifies for himself is located at the fading blackout of ‘le réel discursif’, illuminated by impending darkness. [p. 130]
Doris Lessing, Mara and Dann, London: Flamingo, 1999.
Now the dark was coming up through the rocks. [p. 89]
Walter Benjamin quoted in Marjorie Perloff, Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century, University of Chicago Press, London, 2010.
To quote a word is to call it by its name. So Kraus’s achievement exhausts itself at its highest level by making even the newspaper quotable. He transports it to his own sphere, and the empty phrase is suddenly forced to recognise that even in the deepest dregs of the journals it is not safe from the voice that swoops on the wings of the word to drag it from its darkness . . . [p.89]
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism, Winchester: Zero Books, 2009.
There is a kind of machismo of demythologization in [Frank] Miller and [James] Ellroy’s work. They pose as unflinching observers who refuse to prettify the world so that it can be fitted into the supposedly simple ethical binaries of the superhero comic and the traditional crime novel. The ‘realism’ here is somehow underscored, rather than undercut, by their fixation on the luridly venal – even though the hyperbolic insistence on cruelty, betrayal and savagery in both writers quickly becomes pantomimic. ‘In his pitch blackness’, Mike Davis wrote of Ellroy in 1992, ‘there is no light left to cast shadows and evil becomes a forensic banality. The result feels very much like the actual moral texture of the Reagan-Bush era: a supersaturation of corruption that fails any longer to outrage or even interest’. Yet this very desensitization serves a function for capitalist realism: Davis hypothesizes that ‘the role of L.A. noir‘ may have been ‘to endorse the emergence of homo reganus‘. [p. 11]
Michel Foucault, ‘Madness, the Absence of Work’, Critical Inquiry, Winter 1995, pp. 290-298.
. . . I am constesting something that is ordinarily accepted: that the advances of medicine could indeed succeed in eradicating mental illness just as they have done away with leprosy and tuberculosis but that the one thing to remain is the relationship of humankind to its ghosts, to its impossible, to its bodiless pain, to its carcass of the night; that once pathology is removed from circulation, the dark link of the human to madness will become the ageless memory of an evil that has been effaced as a form of illness but persists as misfortune.
Italo Calvino, Cosmicomics, William Weaver (trans.), London: Picador, 1993.
The planets of the solar system, G. P. Kuiper explains, began to solidify in the darkness, through the condensation of a fluid, shapeless nebula. All was cold and dark. Later the Sun began to become more concentrated until it was reduced almost to its present dimensions, and in this process the temperature rose and rose, to thousands of degrees, and the Sun started emitting radiations in space.
Pitch-dark it was,–Old Qfwfq confirmed . . . There was no way of telling time; whenever we started counting the nebula’s turns there were disagreements, because we didn’t have any reference points in the darkness, and we ended up arguing . . . What were we waiting for, nobody could have said; to be sure, Granny Bb’b remembered back to the times when matter was uniformly scattered in space, and there was heat and light; even allowing for all the exaggerations there must have been in those old folks’ tales, those times that surely been better in some ways, or at least different; but as far as we were concerned, we just had to get through that enormous night. My sister G’d fared the est, thanks to her introverted nature: she was a shy girl and she loved the dark. For herself, G’d always chose to stay in places that were a bit removed, at the edge of the nebula, and she would contemplate the blackness, and toy with the little grains of dust in tiny cascades, and talk to herself, with faint burst of laughter that were like tiny cascades of dust, and–waking or sleeping–she abandoned herself to dreams. They weren’t dreams like ours (in the midst of the darkness, we dreamed of more darkness, because nothing else came into our minds); no, she dreamed–from what we could understand of her ravings–of a darkness a hundred times deeper and more various and velvety. [p. 19-20]
Michel Foucault, ‘Theatrum Philosophicum‘, originally in Critique 282(1970), pp. 885-908, Donald F. Brouchard & Sherry Simon (trans.)
To think in the form of the categories is to know the truth so that it can be distinguished from the false; to think “acategorically” is to confront a black stupidity and, in a flash, to distinguish oneself from it. Stupidity is contemplated: sight penetrates its domain and becomes fascinated; it carries one gently along and its action is mimed in the abandonment of oneself; we support ourselves on its amorphous fluidity; we await the first leap of an imperceptible difference, and blankly, without fever, we watch to see the glimmer of light return.
John Williams, Stoner, London: Vintage Books, 2012.
‘Yes,’ William said and did not speak further. But he was for a moment very fond of Gordon Finch; and when he got out of the car and watched Gordon drive away, he felt the keen knowledge that another part of himself, of his part, was drawing slowly, almost imperceptibly away from him, into the darkness. [p. 92]
Michel Foucault, ‘A Preface to Transgression’, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, Donald F. Bouchard (ed.) New York: Cornell University Press, 1977.
Perhaps [transgression] is like a flash of lightning in the night which . . . gives a dense and black intensity to the night it denies . . . yet owes to the dark the stark clarity of its manifestation. [p. 35]
Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, London: Routledge, 2001.
Thus, European culture is inventing a depth for itself in which what matters is no longer identities, a distinctive characters, permanent tables . . but great hidden forces developed on the basis of their primitive and inaccessible nucleus, origin, causality, and history. From now on things will be represented only from the depths of this density withdrawn into itself, perhaps blurred and darkened by its obscurity, but bound tightly to themselves, assembled or divided, inescapably grouped by the vigor that is hidden down below, in those depths. Visible forms, their connections, the blank spaces that isolate them and surround their outlines – all these will now be presented to our gaze only in an already composed state, already articulated in that nether darkness that is fomenting them with time. [p. 251-252]
Seamus Heaney, The redress of Poetry, London: Faber and Faber, 1995.
If I pass during some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm. . . [p. xvi]
Thomas Bernhard, Gargoyles, Richard & Clara Winston (trans.) London: University of Chicago Press, 1986.
Outside it is a warm summer evening and I propose to my son that we go out again on the walls. Let us use the evening, I say, let us walk. We all go out, including the women. In the yard then on the walls we all enjoy the combination of setting sun, walls, nature. Then darkness comes and we decide to walk down into the darkness, going as far as the gorge, past the Krainers’. We surrender ourselves to the darkness. We have surrendered ourselves to the darkness as to science, I say. My son says: A natural science. I say: A political science. The darkness is a political science. We all wish that this summer evening would not end. [p. 174]
In dialogue, in monologue, we draw everything more and more strenuously out of the darkness and cite it as proof; we exist only in proofs, you know, and then we lose it again in the darkness. [p. 176]
Catherine Clément, Syncope: The Philosophy of Rapture, Sally O’Driscoll & Deirdre M. Mahoney (trans.) , London: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.
The voyage begins with this violent desire for night. . . [p. 20]
True night noes not exist. No, the black night, the primal one, will never exist. [p. 23]
On a November night in 1619, Descartes discovered in a kind of sudden flash the intuition that was to support his whole philosophy: there was a basic agreement between natural laws and mathematics. It was the night of one’s Dreams, a might tremendously full of dreams. From that moment, Descartes became the most cautious of philosophers, as if he wanted both to recover the terrifying light of that nocturnal truth and to reconstruct it, but step by step, with a slow and gradual patience. [p. 40]
Descartes was twenty-three when he spent his famous might of the revelation of the “wonderful science.” He waited patiently for maturity: not too old, not too young, Just right. Long years of slow trudging. The philosopher’s first distrust is of youth: the same youth that Bataille saw as the characteristic of night. [p. 41]
[Descartes’s] first certainty was gained at the expense of a total eclipse of the world, in a nighttime darkness no longer inhabited by anyone. [p. 42]
Plato, or the fight against Darkness. The struggle is endless. The shadow of the daemon always threatens, as does the whole shadow of the gods, which demands caution and steadiness. If Socrates wisely prays to the god Pan, if he pays his dues to Asclepius, it is because one never knows. the evil side of the gods can always attack a man, turn him into a tragic hero, an aborted god, a monster, in human in his lack of restraint and human suffering that overwhelms him and that he understands in darkness. [p. 59]
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, William Weaver (trans.) London: Pan Books, 1979.
… two forms of religion exist in Isaura.
The city’s gods, according to some people, live in the depths, in the black lake that feeds the underground streams. [p. 19]
Polo knew it was best to fall in with the sovereign’s dark mood. ‘Yes, the empire is sick, and, what is worse, it is trying to become accustomed to its sores. This is the aim of my explorations: examining the traces of happiness still to be glimpsed, I gauge it’s short supply. If you want to know how much darkness there is around you , you must sharper your eyes, peering at the faint lights in the distance.’ [p. 48]
Georges Bataille, ‘The Big Toe’, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939, Allan Stoekl with Carl R. Lovitt and Donald M. Leslie, Jr. (trans.) Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985.
The division of the universe into subterranean hell and perfectly pure heaven is an indelible conception, mud and darkness being the principles of evil as light and celestial space are the principles of good: with their feet in mud but their heads more or less in light, men obstinately imagine a tide that will permanently elevate them, never to return, into pure space. [p. 20]
Georges Bataille, ‘The Pineal Eye’, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939, Allan Stoekl with Carl R. Lovitt and Donald M. Leslie, Jr. (trans.) Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985.
… if the affective violence of human intelligence is projected like a specter across the deserted night of the absolute or of science, it does not follow that this specter has anything in common with the night in which its brilliance becomes glacial. [p. 81]
… It is thus that the Earth — whose immense regions are covered with plants that everywhere flee it in order to offer and destroy themselves endlessly, in order to project themselves into an alternately light and dark celestial void — releases to the disappointing immensity of space the totality of laughing or lacerated men. [p. 83]
… But the troubled feelings of a degradation even stranger than death do not have their source in a typical brain: heavy intestines alone press under this nude flesh, as charged with obscenity as a rear end — one that is just as satanic as the equally nude bottom a young sorceress raises to the black sky at the moment her fundament opens, to admit a flaming torch. [p. 84]
The intolerable cry of cocks has a solar significance because of the pride and feeling of triumph of the man perceiving his own dejecta under the open sky. In the same way, during the night, an immense, troubled love, sweet as a young girl’s spasm, abandons and throws itself into a giant universe, with the intimate feeling of having urinated the stars. [p. 85]
Rosalind E. Krauss, The Optical Unconscious, London: MIT Press, 1994.
‘… Whatever the beginning might be, the terrain of this counterhistory soon became guideposted with various conceptual markers, ones that did not map it — for this would be impossible — but only pointed to the way the foundations of modernism were mined by a thousand pockets of darkness, the blind, irrational spaces of the labyrinth. [p. 21]
Walter Benjamin, ‘A Small History of Photography’, One Way Street, Edmund Jephcott & Kingsley Shorter (trans.), London: Verso, 1997.
… soon advances in optics made instruments available that put darkness entirely to flight and recorded appearances as faithfully as any mirror. After 1880, though, photographers made it their business to simulate with all the arts of retouching, especially the so-called rubber print, the aura which had been banished from the picture with the rout of darkness through faster lenses, exactly as it was banished from reality by the deepening degeneration of the imperialist bourgeoisie. [p. 248]
And Tristan Tzara, 1922: “When everything that called itself art was stricken with palsy, the photographer switched on his thousand candle-power lamp and gradually the light-sensitive paper absorbed the darkness of a few everyday objects. [p. 254]
Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker, London: Picador, 1982.
Such a blackness. Nor jus over us and all roun it wer coming up inside me as wel. Not jus wood and paint I smelt the blood and boan the redness in the black. [p. 58]
That dog. I wunnert what the name of him myt be. Which I dont mean name like my name is Riddley or formers myt call a pair of oxen Jet & Fire. I knowit he dint have no name the other dogs callt him by nor I wunt try to put no name to him no moren Iwd take it on me to name the litening or the sea. I thot his name myt be a fraction of the nite or the number of the black wind or the hisper of the rain. [p. 81]
Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, London: Duke University Press, 2010.
For Adorno this gap [between concept and reality, object and thing] is ineradicable, and the most that can be said with confidence about the thing is that it eludes capture by the concept, that there is always a “nonidentity” between it and any representation. And yet, as I shall argue, even Adorno continues to seek a way to access — however darkly, crudely, or fleetingly — this out-side. [p. 13]
Adorno struggles to describe a force that is material in its resistance to human concepts but spiritual insofar as it might be a dark promise of an absolute-to-come. [p. 16]
Georges Didi-Huberman, Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz, trans. Shane B. Lillis, London: University of Chicago Press, 2008.
The question of images is at the heart of the great darkness of our time, the ‘”discontent of our civilization.” [p. 182]
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities, Volume One, Eithne Wilkins & Ernst Kaiser (trans.) London: Pan Books Ltd. 1979.
Bonadea often led a double life, like that of any citizen who, entirely respectable in the everyday world, in the dark interspaces of his consciousness leads the life of a railway thief… [p. 43]
[Moosbrugger] turned round as the warders were already leading him out, he fought for words, stretched his hands above his head and shouted in a voice that shook itself free of his guards’ grip : “I am satisfied, even though I must confess to you that you have condemned a madman ! ” This was an inconsistency. Ulrich sat breathless. This was clearly madness, and just as clearly it was merely the distorted pattern of our own elements of existence. It was disjointed and steeped in darkness. [p. 85]
[Count Leinsdorf] very well knew the theological doctrine of the contemplatio in caligine divina, contemplation of the darkness of God, which is in itself infinitely clear, though for the human intellect it is a dazzling darkness . . . [p. 100]
As [Ulrich] left the flat he was cheered by an agreeable impression that he had already had on his arrival. This was the little maid with the dreamy eyes, who now showed him out. Then, in the darkness of the hall, the glance of her eyes, fluttering up to him for the first time, had been like a black butterfly. Now as he went away it floated down through the darkness like black snowflakes. [p. 108]
J G Ballard, ‘The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista’, J G Ballard: The Complete Short Stories, Volume I, London: Harper Perennial, 2006.
– the walls of the lounge would stiffen and darken in a vortex of anger that converged upon a small zone of lightness hiding in one of the alcoves, as if to obliterate its presence, but at the last moment Gloria’s persona would flit nimbly away, leaving the room to seethe and writhe. [p. 430]
Scott Esposito, ‘Eight Glances Past Georges Perec’ in Lauren Elkins & Scott Esposito, The End of Oulipo?: An Attempt to Exhaust a Movement, Alresford: Zero Books, 2013.
[On the relationship between Georges Perec’s Life A User’s Manual and Edouard Levé’s Autoportrait, ‘reimagining how space may be used by a novelist’] It is not that their works lack organising conceits; it is that said conceits are deep wells of darkness that absorb meaning rather than radiate it. [p. 54]
Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows, Thomas J. Harper & Edward G. Seidensticker (trans.) Stony Creek: Leete’s Island Books, 1977.
And while I am talking of this whiteness I want to talk also of the color of the darkness that enfolds it. I think of an unforgettable vision of darkness I once had when I took a friend from Tokyo to the old Sumiya teahouse in Kyoto. I was in a large room, the “Pine Room” I think, since destroyed by fire, and the darkness, broken only by a few candles, was of a richness quite different from the darkness of a small room. As we came in the door an elderly waitress with shaven eyebrows and blackened teeth was kneeling by a candle behind which stood a large screen. On the far side of the screen, at the edge of the little circle of light, the darkness seemed to fall from the ceiling, lofty, intense, monolithic, the fragile light of the candle unable to pierce its thickness, turned back as from a black wall. I wonder if my readers know the color of that “darkness seen by candlelight.” It was different in quality from darkness on the road at night. It was a repletion, a pregnancy of tiny particles like fine ashes, each particle luminous as a rainbow. I blinked in spite of myself, as though to keep it out of my eyes.
Smaller rooms are the fashion now, and even if one were to use candles in them one would not get the color of that darkness; but in the old palace and the old house of pleasure the ceilings were high, the skirting corridors were wide, the rooms themselves were usually tens of feet long and wide, and the darkness must always have pressed in like a fog. The elegant aristocrat of old was immersed in this suspension of ashen particles, soaked in it, but the man of today, long used to the electric light, has forgotten that such a darkness existed. It must have been simple for specters to appear in a “visible darkness,” where always something seemed to be flickering and shimmering, a darkness that on occasion held greater terrors than darkness out-of-doors. This was the darkness in which ghosts and monsters were active, and indeed was not the woman who lived in it, behind thick curtains, behind layer after layer of screens and doors — was she not of a kind with them? The darkness wrapped her round tenfold, twentyfold, it filled the collar, the sleeves of her kimono, the folds of her skirt, wherever a hollow invited. Further yet: might it not have been the reverse, might not the darkness have emerged from her mouth and those black teeth, from the black of her hair, like the thread from the great earth spider? [p. 34-35]
Catherine Malabou, Ontology of the Accident: An Essay on Destructive Placticity, Carolyn Shread (trans.) Cambridge: Polity, 2012.
[Explosive plasticity may emerge] from apparently anodyne events, which ultimately prove to be veritable traumas inflecting the course of a life, producing the metamorphosis of someone about whom one says: I would never have guessed they would have “ended up like that.” A vital hitch, a threatening detour that opens up another pathway, one that is unexpected, unpredictable, dark.
Charles Moore, introduction to In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, Stony Creek: Leet’s Island Books, 1977.
…for us the act of inhabitation is mostly performed in cahoots with the sun, our staunchest ally… It comes with the thrill of a slap for us then to hear praise of shadows and darkness; so it is when there comes to us the excitement of realising that musicians everywhere make their sounds to capture silence or that architects develop complex shapes just to envelop empty space. Thus darkness illuminates for us a culture very different from our own…
Slavoj Žižek, How to read Lacan, London: Granta, 2006.
… in German Idealism, the metaphor for the core of subjectivity is Night, the ‘Night of the world’, in contrast to the Enlightenment notion of the light of reason fighting the darkness around. [p. 48]
JG Ballard, ‘Screen Games’, The Complete Short Stories Volume 1, London: Harper Perennial, 2006.
During the next days I painted several new screens, duplicating the zodiacal emblems, so that each afternoon the game became progressively slower and more intricate, the thirty screens forming a multiple labyrinth. For a few minutes, at the climax of the game, I would find Emerelda in the dark centre with the screens jostling and tilting around her, the sculpture on the roof hooting in the narrow interval of open sky. [p. 753]
Peggy Phelan, ‘Whole wounds: bodies at the vanishing point’, Mourning Sex: Performing Public Memories, London: Routledge, 1997.
Western theatre is itself predicated on the belief that there is an audience, an other willing to be cast in the role of auditor. The “act” at the heart of theatre making is the leap of faith that someone (that ideal spectator some call “God”) will indeed see, hear, and love those brave enough to admit that this is the movement that keeps us from our deaths (or at least from permanently dark houses). [p. 31]
Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project, London: MIT, 1991.
[Quoting WB] The “compact darkness” that at night seemed to leap out of the Passages at passers-by, causing them to hurry away in fear, are like “the places one was shown in ancient Greece that descended into Hades”; their “history, condition and dispersal” become this century’s key to the past, to the “underworld into which Paris sank.” [p. 102]
[Quoting WB] “Fashion, like architecture, [. . . ] stands in the darkness of the lived moment. He has taken this phrase from Ernst Bloch. It is central to Bloch’s social utopian philosophy, describing the mystical “nunc stans,” the momentary, fleeting experience of fulfillment dimly anticipatory of a reality that is “not yet.” [p. 114]
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness, New York: Harper & Row, 1969.
Kenneth Goldsmith, Uncreative Writing: Mannaging Language in the Digital Age, London: Columbia University Press, 2011.
Although we tend to focus on the vast amount of human-to-human social networking being produced, much of the conversation across [the internet] is machines talking to other machines, spewing “dark data,” code we never see. [p. 224]
Gabriel Josipovici, Whatever Happened to Modernism?, London: Yale University Press, 2010.
the very confidence of the articulation of the [illustrative] narrative gives the lie to our own sense of things being confused, dark, impossible to grasp fully. [p. 164]
Achille Bonito Oliva, Art Tribes, Skira, 2002.
In the darkness of their consumption images become interchangeable. They are lodged in the memory and end up constituting the heritage of a collective imaginary museum. [p. 56]
Peter Sloterdijk, Bubbles: Spheres I, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2011.
… we shall weave the fiction that we are able to split our adventurous intelligence in such a way that one half of it takes up position in the entry ramp to the mystical cave — still viewing it from the outside, that is — while the other half is initiated to enter the homogeneous totality of darkness. [p. 285]
Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973.
Man petrifies and darkens in the distances he has created [p. 19]
Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, London: Penguin, 2004.
I saw the dark sky above me, and the clouds going by me. I jerked my body so I could look down. I saw the dark mass of the mountains. My speed was extraordinary. My arms were fixed, folded against my sides. My head was the directional unity. If I kept it bent backwards I made vertical circles. I changed direction by turning my head to the side. I enjoyed such freedom and swiftness as I had never known before. The marvellous darkness gave me a feeling of sadness, of longing, perhaps. It was is if I had found a place where I belonged – the darkness of the night. I tried to look around, but all I sensed was that the night was serene, and yet it held so much power. [p. 125]
Alain Badiou, ‘The Unreconciled’, The Century, trans. Alberto Toscano, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007.
… The obscure (almost ontological) tie that binds a satisfied Europe to a crucified Africa. Africa as the secret blackness at the heart of the white man’s moral detergent. [p. 27]
John Fowles, The Magus, London: Vintage, 2004.
I had always believed, and not only out of cynicism, that a man and a woman could tell in the first ten minutes whether they wanted to go to bed together; and that the time that passed after those first ten minutes represented a tax, which might be worth paying if the article promised to be really enjoyable, but which nine times out of ten became rapidly excessive. It wasn’t only that I foresaw a very steep bill with Julie; she shook my whole theory. She had a certain exhalation of surrender about her, as if she was a door waiting to be pushed open; but it was the darkness beyond that held me. [p. 241 – 242]
Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium, London: Vintage, 1996. (quoting Giacomo Leopardi in Zibaldone)
The words notte, noturno [night, nocturnal], etc., descriptions of the night, etc., are highly poetic because, as night makes objects blurred, the mind receives only a vague, indistinct, incomplete image, both of night itself and of what it contains. Thus also with oscurità [darkness]… [p. 58]
China Miéville, Kraken: An Anatomy, London: Pan Books, 2010.
Billy nodded slowly. The nod mutated until it was a shake of the head. “It doesn’t make any sense,” Billy Said. He closed his eyes and tried to think. He looked into the black behind his own eyes as if it was the black of the sea. He tried to reach down into it, for some deep intuition. He could reach, and feel, nothing. [p. 229]
Kraken give me strength, he prayed. Give me strength out of your deep darkness. [p. 280]
Samuel Beckett, Texts For Nothing, trans, Samuel Beckett, London: Calder & Boyars, 1974.
And yet it’s changing, something is changing, it must be in the head, slow in the head the ragdoll rotting, perhaps we’re in a head, it’s as dark as in a head before the worms get at it, ivory dungeon. [p. 13.]
Hans Fallada, Alone in Berlin, London: Penguin, 2009.
They toss and turn, each listens to the other’s breathing, and in the end they start to talk. It’s easier to talk in the dark. [p. 143.]
David Toop, Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener, London: Continuum, 2010 (describing his early interest in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans)
Cooper wrote frequently of a ‘breathing silence’ through which the harried protagonists must pass, often in darkness or concealment [p. viii]
All of us, or should I say those of us equipped from the beginning with the faculty of hearing, begin as eavesdroppers in darkness [p. ix]
H. P. Lovecraft, The Colour Out of Space, London: Penguin Modern Classics, 2011.
The night had been dark and the buggy-lamps faint, but around a farm in the valley which everyone knew from the account must be Nahum’s the darkness had been less thick. A dim though distinct luminosity seemed to inhere in all the vegetation, grass, leaves, and blossoms alike, while at one moment a detached piece of the phosphorescence appeared to stir furtively in the yard near the barn. [p. 20.]
Michel Foucault, ‘The Thought of the Outside’, Essential Writings, Vol. 2
One is attracted precisely to the extent that one is neglected. This is why zeal can only consist in neglecting that negligence, in oneself becoming a courageously negligent solicitude, in going towards the light in negligence of shadow, until it is discovered that the light itself is only negligence, a pure outside equivalent to a darkness that disperses, like a blown-out candle, the negligent zeal it had attracted.
[its] perpetual manifestation never illuminates what the law says or wants: the law is not the principle or inner rule of conduct. It is the outside and envelopes actions, thereby removing them from all interiority; it is the darkness beyond their borders… [p. 156-157]
Antonin Artaud, ‘Theatre and the Plague’, The Theatre and its Double, trans, Victor Corti, London: Calder Publications, 1993.
‘… out of the mental freedom with which the plague evolved without any rats, germs or contact, we can deduce the dark ultimate action of a spectacle I am going to try and analyse.’ [p. 14]
Giorgio Agamben, ‘What is Contemporary’ in What is an Apparatus, ed. Werner Hamacher, trans, David Kishik & Stefan Pedatella, Stanford: Standford University Press, 2009.
The contemporary his he who firmly holds his gaze on his own time so as to perceive not it’s light, but rather its darkness. All eras, for those who experience contemporariness, are obscure. The contemporary is precisely the person who knows how to see this obscurity, who is able to write by dipping his pen in the obscurity of the present. But what does it mean, “to see an obscurity,” “to perceived the darkness”?
The neurophysiology of vision suggests an initial answer. What happens when we find ourselves in ta place deprived of light, or when we close our eyes? What is the darkness that we see then? Neurophysiologists tell us that the absence of light activates a series of peripheral cells n the retina called “off-cells.” When activated, these cells produce the particular kind of vision that we call darkness. Darkness is not, therefore, a privative notion (the simple absence of light, or something like nonvision) but rather the result of the activity of the “off-cells,” a product of our own retina. This means, if we now return to our thesis on the darkness of contemporariness, that to perceived this darkness is not a form of inertia or of passivity, but rather implies an activity and a singular ability. In our case, this ability amounts to a neutralization of the lights that come from the epoch in order to discover its obscurity, its special darkness, which is not, however, separable from those lights… The contemporary is the one whose eyes are struck by the beam of darkness that comes from his own time.
In the firmament that we observe at night, the stars shine brightly, surrounded by a thick darkness… [p. 44-47.]
John Ashbery, Introduction to Raymond Roussel, How I Wrote Certain of my Books, ed. Trevor Winfield, Cambridge: Exact Change, 1995.
… there is hidden in Roussel something so strong, so ominous and so pregnant with the darkness of the “infinite spaces” that frightened Pascal, that one feels the need for some sort of protective equipment when one reads him. Perhaps the nature of his work is such that it must be looked at “from the outside” [Cocteau] or not at all. [p. viii.]
Georges Perec, A Man Asleep, trans. Andrew Leak, London: Harvil, 1999.
As soon as you close your eyes, the adventure of sleep begins. The familiar half-light of the bedroom, a dark volume broken by details, where your memory can easily identify the paths your eyes have followed a thousand times (retracing them from the opaque square of the window, eliciting the washbasin from a shaft of reflected light and the shelving from the slightly less dark shadow of a book, distinguishing the blacker mass of the hanging clothes). [p.133]
Jorge Luis Borges, ‘The Secret Miracle’, Labyrinths, London: Penguin, 1970.
He thought how he still had two acts to do, and that he was going to die very soon. He spoke with God in the darkness: ‘If in some fashion I exist, if I am not one of Your repetitions and mistakes, I exist as the author of The Enemies. To finish this drama, which can justify me and justify you, I need another year. Grant me these days, You to whom the centuries and time belong.’ This was the last night, the most dreadful of all, but ten minutes later sleep flooded over him like a dark water. [p.122]
Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Journey To The End of The Night, John Calder, 1997.
I knew only one thing about the blackness, which was so dense you had the impression that if you stretched out your arm a little way from your shoulder you’d never see it again, but of that one thing I was absolutely certain, namely, that it as full of homicidal impulses. [P.27]
Everything that’s important goes on in the darkness, no doubt about it. [P.62]
Giorgio Agamben, ‘On Potentiality’, Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy, Stanford University Press California, 1999.
…Aristotle answers the question we posed above, namely: “Why is there not sensation of the senses themselves”? Earlier we answered the question by saying that it is so “because sensation is only potential.” Now we are in a position to understand what this means. When we do not see (that is, when our vision is potential), we nevertheless distinguish darkness from light; we see darkness. The principle of sight “in some way possesses color,” and its colors and light and darkness, actuality and potentiality, presence and privation.
Potentiality for Darkness
The following essential point should be noted: if potentiality were, for example, only the potentiality for vision and if it existed only as such in the actuality of light, we could never experience darkness (nor hear silence, in the case of the potentiality to hear). But human beings can, instead, see shadows (to skotos), they can experience darkness: they have the potential not to see, the possibility of privation.
In his commentary on De anima, Themistius writes:
If sensation did not have the potentiality both for actuality and for not-Being-actual and if it were always actual, it would never be able to perceived darkness [skotos], nor could it ever hear silence. In the same way, if thought were not capable both of thought and of the absence of thought [anoia, thoughlessness], it would never be able to know the formless [amorphon], evil, the without-figure [aneidon]. If the intellect did not have a community [koinonein] with potentiality, it would not know privation.
The greatness – and also the abyss – of human potentiality is that it is first of all potential not to act, potential for darkness. (In Homer, skotos is the darkness that overcomes human beings at the moment of their death. Human beings are capable of experiencing this skotos.)
What is at issue here is nothing abstract. What, for example, is boredom, if not the experience of the potentiality-not-to-act? This is why it is such a terrible experience, which borders on both good and evil.
To be capable of good and evil is not simply to be capable of doing this or that good or bad action (every particular good or bad action is, in this sense, banal). Radical evil is not this or that bad deed but the potentiality for darkness. And yet this potentiality is also the potentiality for light.
Sebald, W.G., Austerlitz, Anthea Bell (trans.) London: Penguin, 2002
Even now, when I try to remember them, when I look back at the crab-like plan of Breendonk and read the words of the captions – Former Office, Printing Works, Huts, Jacques Ochs Hall, Solitary Confinement Cell, Mortuary, Relics Store and Museum – the darkness does not lift but becomes yet heavier as I think how little we can hold in mind, how everything is constantly lapsing into oblivion with every extinguished life, how the world is, as it were, draining itself, in that the history of countless places and objects which themselves have no power of memory is never heard, never described or passed on. Histories, for instance, like those of the straw mattresses which lay, shadow-like, on the stacked plank beds and which had become thinner and shorter because the chaff in them disintegrated over the years, shrunken – and now, in writing this, I do remember that such an idea occurred to me at the time – as if they were the mortal frames of those who once lay there in that darkness. [P.30-31]
… if Newton really thought that time was a river like the Thames, then where is its source and into what sea does it finally flow? Every river, as we know, must have banks on both sides, so where, seen in those terms, where are the banks of time? What would be this river’s qualities, qualities perhaps corresponding to those of water, which is fluid, rather heavy, and translucent? In what way do objects immersed in time differ from those left untouched by it? Why do we show the hours of light and darkness in the same circle? [p. 142]
Agamben, G. ‘The Author as Gesture’, Profanations, Zone Books, New York, 2007
An author-subject does exist, and yet he is attested to only through the traces of his absence. But in what way can an absence be singular? And what does it mean for an individual to occupy the place of a dead man, to leave his own traces in an empty place?
There is perhaps only one text in Foucault’s work where this difficulty emerges explicitly and thematically and where the illegibility of the subject appears for a moment in all its splender. I am referring to “Lives of Infamous Men,” originally conceived as the preface to an anthology of archival documents, prison records, and lettres de cachet, in which, at the very moment when they are struck with infamy, the encounter with power pulls from darkness and silence these human existences that would otherwise not have left any traces…
The anonymous scribes, the insignificant functionaries who wrote these notes certainly had no intention of either knowing or representing these men: their only aim was to stamp them with infamy. And yet, at least for a moment in these pages, these lives shine blindingly with a dark light. [p. 64-66]
Robert Walser, quoted by Enrique Vila-Matas in Bartleby & Co., London: Vintage, 2005.
Were a wave to lift me and carry me to the heights, where power and prestige are predominant, I would destroy the circumstances that have favoured me and hurl myself downwards, to the vile, insignificant darkness. Only in the lower regions am I able to breathe. [p.18-19]
I have an non-existent story I wish to tell,” explains the narrator. This novel was originally called Letters to Captain Nemo and later changed its title to No-One Behind the Door. It came about in the spring of 1977, during a fortnight of rural existence and bliss in a small town near Siena.
Having finished the novel, the narrator says he sent it to an editor, who rejected it because he considered it not easily accessible and hard to decipher. So the narrator decided to keep it in a drawer to allow it to settle (“darkness and oblivion are good for stories, I think”) A few years later, the novel turns up in the narrator’s hands again by chance, the discovery giving him a strange sensation, because in fact he had forgotten all about it: “It suddenly appeared in the darkness of a drawer, beneath a mass of papers, like a submarine emerging from dark depths.”
The Narrator in Enrique Vila-Matas’ Bartleby & Co. [p.102] discussing Story of a Non-Existent Story from Tabucchi’s The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico.
Hawthorne and Melville, unwitting founders of the dark hours of the art of the No, knew each other, they were friends, and expressed mutual admiration. Hawthorne was also a Puritan, even in his violent reaction to certain aspects of Puritanism. He was also restless. He was never one to go to church, but we know that during his years as a recluse he would approach his window and watch those making their way to church, and his look is said to have contained the brief history of the Dark Side in the art of the No. His vision was clouded by the terrible Calvinist doctrine of predestination. This is the side to Hawthorne that so fascinated Melville, who to praise him spoke of the great power of blackness, that nocturnal side that we find in Melville as well. [p.105]
… the case of [literary] failures, all things considered, is not especially interesting, it’s too obvious, there is no merit in being a writer of the No because you have failed. Failure throws too much light and not enough shade of mystery on the cases of those who give up writing for such a vulgar reason. [p.106]
Alan Bourassa in ‘Literature, Language and the Non-Human’, published in A Shock to Thought: Expression After Deleuze & Guattari, Routledge, London, 2002. [page refs to follow]
Human or non-human? Our own creation or a gift that obsesses us? We might think of language as we would think of an apparition out of the darkness of an empty road. Is it a fellow wanderer? Does it share my nature and is it haunted by the silence and mystery of the darkness? Does it fear and ward off the imminent reality of the outside? Is it powerless to fight the spirit that possesses it? And can I speak to it? Gain comfort in a shared humanness? Or is this figure itself a secretion of the darkness? A ghost sent to haunt and possess me? Even if it shows compassion for my plight, will its infinite power over me always make it a stranger?
Emotion, sensation, possibility, material, force, all have their place in language. And though we may argue along with Benjamin that it is only in the human that the most perfect language takes place, we must also argue (and not against Benjamin) that human language has nothing to communicate of the non-human world without that non-human world communicating itself to him. What, for example, is less human than light? Less removed from the fleshy weight of the body, the torpidity of muscle? And yet what is more the basis of human knowledge and understanding, Heidegger’s Dasein standing in the lighted clearing of Being? How much is clarity, uncovering, dispelling of darkness the proudest achievement of the human mind? This is what I mean when I say that affect is non-human, yet far from being hostile to the human, gives it the gift of possibility
Vonnegut, K., Mother Night.
In preparing this edition of the confessions of Howard W. Campbell, Jr., I have had to deal with writings concerned with more than mere informing or deceiving… The title of this book is Campbell’s. It is taken from a speech by Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust. As translated by Carlyle F. MacIntyre (New Directions, 1941), the speech is this:
I am part of the part that at first was all, part of the darkness that gave birth to light, that supercilious light which now disputes with Mother Night her ancient rank and space, and yet can not succeed; no matter how it struggles, it sticks to matter and can’t get free. Light flows from substance, makes it beautiful; solids can check its path, so I hope it won’t be long till light and the world’s stuff are destroyed together. [p. x – xi]
McEwan, I. Atonement, London: QPD, 2002.
She paused in the entrance to the drawing room and observed that the chocolate-smeared cocktail glasses had yet to be cleared away, and that the doors into the garden still stood open. Now the faintest stirring of a breeze rustled the display of sedge that stood before the fire place. Two or three stout-bodied moths circled the lamp that stood upon the harpsichord. When would anyone ever play it again? That at night creatures were drawn to lights where they could be most easily eaten by other creatures was one of those mysteries that gave her modest pleasure. She preferred not to have it explained away. At a formal dinner once a professor of some science or other, wanting to make small-talk, had pointed out a few insects gyrating above a candelabra. He had told her that it is the visual impression of an even deeper darkness beyond the light that drew them in. Even though they might be eaten, they had to obey the instinct that made them seek out the darkest place, on the far side of the light – and in this case it was an illusion. It sounded to her like sophistry, or an explanation for its own sake. How could anyone presume to know the world through the eyes of an insect? Not everything had a cause, and pretending otherwise was an interference in the workings of the world that was futile and could even lead to grief. Some things were simply so. [p.148-149]
Casati, R., Varzi, A.C., Holes and Other Superficialities, London: MIT, 1994
A spot in the wall. Let us start with some facts from daily life. Suppose you wake up one morning and look at the white wall in front of you. It is the usual wall you see every morning, of course. But this time, right there in the top left corner, something new catches your eye: you see that a little hole is now there that was not there yesterday.
How do you describe what you see? A spot in the wall, darker than the rest, filled with shadow, that goes deep inside (though you cannot really tell how deep). It looks unitary and complete, compact, though less dense than the wall. A thing, perhaps, but a bit mysterious. It is not made of the shadow you see. It is not even made of the sort of stuff ordinary things are ordinarily made of: not of the air that is inside it, nor of the plaster and bits of paint that have fallen on the floor over night. In fact, if it is something, it does not seem to be made of anything. [p9]
Concavities. Let us go back to our hole in the wall. We argued that it is the presence of a discontinuity in the wall’s surface that makes you see the hole – the dark, shadowy spot that goes deep inside. It is the discontinuity that marks the hole and gives it the individual integrity that caught your attention – unlike other superficial parts of the wall that you never noticed and perhaps never will. And it is this particular type of discontinuity that makes this a hole as opposed to, say, a bump or a protuberance: the dark spot is a hole because the discontinuity involves a concavity. [p19]
Michael Richardson, ‘The Look of Colette Peignot’, Inventory Vol.5 Nos.2 & 3
The injunction ‘don’t accept’ is turned positive, negation attains its apotheosis in a scattering of diamonds on a dark night. [p.69]
Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse, London: Penguin, 1996.
… For now she need not think about anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of – to think; well not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others. [p.95]
… Lily Briscoe knew all that, Sitting opposite him, could she not see, as in an X-ray photography, the ribs and thigh bones of the young man’s desire to impress himself, lying dark in the mist of his flesh – that thin mist which convention had laid over his burning desire to break into the conversation? [p.137]
Claude Burgelin, ‘Georges Perec, or the Spirit of Beginnings’, Pereckonings, Yale University Press, 2004.
Penser/classer is a libretto of beginnings. Perec responds to Descartes’s magnificent assertion – “I think therefore I am” – with a modest and groping: “I don’t think but I’m searching for my words.” His manner of zigzagging about in order to better “refer thinking back to the unthought [l’impensé] on which it rests, and the classifiied to the unclassifiable (the unnameable, the unsayable) which it is so eager to disguise” is clearly a way of keeping alive the link between thought-words [mots-pensées] and the vacillation, hesitation, and treacherous darkness from which they emerge. [p.13]
Alphonso Lingis, The Imperative, Indiana University Press, 1998.
A Field of perceived things is not the basic form of our sentient contact with our environment. We must elaborate a phenomenology of the levels upon which things take form, the kinds of space, the sensuous elements, and the night. [p.5]
As the day comes to and end, the twilight dissolves the surfaces, absorbing their colours, leaving their reflections suspended in space. The luminous transparency is open spaces condensed into beams and phosphorescence. Things lose their separateness. The shadows advance over the colors and the contours that they outlined are lost. Darkness infiltrates the landscape, obliterating its paths and filling up its open planes. Overhead the blue of the atmosphere recedes and the starlights drift over unmeasureable distances.
The electrification of human habitats maintains this twilight and stops the oncoming of the night. Along city streets the shop windows, restaurants, bars, and discos enclose twilight havens where the hard edges of things are softened into glows and reflections.
When the night itself is there, there is no longer anything to see. The cries, murmurs, and rumbles no longer locate separate beings signalling one another or colliding with one another on observable coordinates. Shouts or distant lights do not mark locations in the night but make the whole of the night vibrant. The odors drift. The ground which we feel and which extends indefinitely about us no longer supports things in their places. What we touch adheres to our hands and is no longer the contours of something closed over its own structure and substance. The rain no longer streaks the distance of its fall.
Though there is no longer anything to see, we see and do not see nothingness. We see the darkness. The night is not a black mass that stops our sight on the surfaces of our eyes; our look goes out into the night which is vast and boundless. The sense of sight can be taut and acute in the depths of the dark. The night is not a substance but an event; it pervades a space freed from barriers and horizons. It extends a duration which moves without breaking up into moments; night comes incessantly in a presence which does not mark a residue as past nor outline a different presence to come.
The darkness which softly wipes away the urgencies and the destinations and the hard edges of reality is felt in a enjoyment that conforms to its depths without resistance and that gives itself over to the rumble of the city and the murmur of nature, to the silken, mossy, and liquid substances that caress our bodies, to the odors and savors adrift in their own space. The visible night gives way to a high noon of sounds, odors, and textures.
When we close our doors to forces that may prey on us under the cover of darkness, we redouble the visible night with an auditory night, an olfactory night, a tactile night… [p.10]
In the darkness of the crowded bus, we feel the warmth of the body of the passenger next to us and the shiftings that stir from within. We do not make contact with his sensibility through some visible surfaces we see, some sounds we hear, and for which we find evidence that the other sees and hears them too. With no quasi-determinate sense of what it is the other sees and hears, we are awake with the sense of another sensibility in the dark parallel to our own. [p.20]
Cary Wolfe writing in his introduction to The Parasite, by Michel Serres, London: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
… Serres suggests that therefore “the system is very badly named. Maybe there is not or never was a system.” “The only instances or systems are black boxes,” he continues:
When we do not understand, when we defer our knowledge to a later date, when the thing is too complex for the means at hand, when we put everything in a temporary black box, we prejudge the existence of a system. When we can finally open the box, we see that it works like a space of transformation. The only systems, instances, and substances come from our lack of knowledge. The system is nonknowledge. The other side of nonknowledge. One side of nonknowledge is chaos; the other, system. Knowledge forms a bridge between the two banks. Knowledge as such is a s pace of transformation.
Georges Bataille quoted by Allan Stoekl in Bataille’s Peak: Energy, Religion and Postsustainability, University of Minnesota Press, London 2007, from Visions of Excess.
In practice it is possible to give as a leitmotiv of Gnosticism the conception of matter as an active principle having an eternal, autonomous existence, which is that of darkness (which would not be the absence of light but the monstrous archons revealed by that absence), that of evil (which would not be the absence of good, but a creative action). [p. 47]
John Mullarkey quoting William James on Henri Bergson’s Creative Evolution (Henry Holt & Co. New York, 1911), in ‘The Rule of Dichotomy: Bergson’s Genetics of Matter, Pli: The Warwick Journal of Philosophy, Volume 15 (2004), p128.
William James was taken aback by what he saw as its profuse originality, warning Bergson in a letter from 1907 that this work ‘risks remaining in darkness for a hundred years’.
Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, Hallward, (trans.) London: Verso 2001.
[The human animal] has succeeded in harnessing to the service of his mortal life his own peculiar ability – his ability to take up a position along the course of truths such that he acquires an Immortal aspect. This is what Plato had already anticipate, when he indicated that the duty of these who escape from his famous cave, dazzled by the sun of the Idea, was to return to the shadows and to help their companions in servitude to profit from that by which, on the threshold of this dark world, they had been seize. [p. 59]
Jean-Luc Nancy, The Ground of The Image, Jeff Fort (ed.) New York: Fordham University Press, 2005.
Such is the image: it must be detached, placed outside and before one’s eyes (it is therefore inseparable from a hidden surface, from which it cannot, as it were, be peeled away: the dark side of the picture, its underside or backside, or even its weave or its subjectile), and it must be different from the thing. The image is a thing that is not the thing: it distinguishes itself from it, essentially. [p. 2]
Text calls Image: perhaps it says nothing other than this call. Image illustrates Text: it dazzles it and us with it, and perhaps does nothing else. | Thus, on both sides there is a pressure and a precipitation towards the presence of the image, the blinding brilliance and the inteimate conviction, immediate certainty. One believes the image with one’s eyes closed. But there is also on both sides a disquietude and a melancholy in the text and its sense: eyes wide open, one sees it sink into the night, into which one would like to follow it. [p. 76]
For the secret Image of . . . –there is no word for an absence of image. Perhaps the text-word? There is no work to say without an image. Which is not darkness. Nor blindness. But the unformed (rather than the formless, always somewhat deformed and therefore discernible), the inapparent, the unappearing. Without parency or patency or latency: but no image. The unimaginable that no word brings to image, not even this word unimaginable. The privative un- here is the entire image, the darkness on stage, the end of the film, the film not printed. Not a thing behind the image waiting to appear, but the reversal and underside of the image, the back of the painting without a painting on the back. Rough surface of the real. Speaking of it turns us away from it, makes it an image after all, as when a painter paints the back of a painting. It is an image that must be unimagined, that is, thought, if thought is a commotion, a syncope, and a bedazzlement. Its flash is not the image of the obscure, but the brilliance that sparks out from having knocked against it: a flash of darkness sliced away. A blow and a shout, a stupefying pain, a breath cut short, the wordless unimagined, in a bark, a wail, a groan, a sonorous uprising. [p. 79]