In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Interstice: Light and Shadow More light, more light. —Goethe, dying words Look round and round upon this bare bleak plain, and see even here, upon a winter’s day, how beautiful the shadows are! Alas! it is the nature of their kind to be so. The loveliest things in life, Tom, are but shadows; and they come and go, and change and fade away, as rapidly as these! —Charles Dickens, Martin Chuzzlewit In the beginning, there was darkness. Light entered this undifferentiated night to dramatically dethrone and substantially transform a preexisting uniformity and primordial unity. Shadows, in turn, are offspring of luminosity, kindred alter egos to sensuous things, stalking silhouettes but loyal companions of material objects. Together, light and shadow conspire to disclose a lush palette of phenomena, to promote biological growth and provide organisms with a cool respite, to encourage the interplay of notions of presence and absence, and to make possible the beautiful nuances belonging to aesthetic expression in painting, drawing, and photography. They are both essential, if often overlooked, ingredients of the elemental world. In its origins and metaphysical history, Western thought is married profoundly with the language of light. Seeing is made synonymous with believing; brightness connotes intelligence; sight is said to be indispensable to insight. Plato famously places light at the epicenter of a conception of enlightenment in his Allegory of the Cave. Light, he maintains, is a prerequisite to the discovery of truth. To this end, the imprisoned souls in his myth make a series of turns from the darkness of dogma and doxa (opinion) to the illumination provided by a recessed fire, finding their way with intellectual inquisitiveness and philosophical persistence to the radiance of the sun, Plato’s simile for goodness, beauty, and transcendental reality. Descartes likewise extols the very epistemological clarity of light and vision, which are supposed to guide us away from error and falsity. One can almost imagine his 243 244 | Elemental Philosophy epiphanies as he meditates before a candle in the dark. And, more recently, Heidegger resurrects the ancient Greek notion of aletheia or truth as unconcealedness, that which is revealed and brought to light. In what could be a distillation of many of the predominant perspectives, Hans Blumenberg writes: “Light is intrusive; in its abundance, it creates the overwhelming, conspicuous clarity with which the true ‘comes forth.’” From such a vantage point, it generates space and makes possible orientation in the physical environment along with the serene contemplation that gives rises to theory—the light of the mind. Light, then, is a “gift that makes no demands, the illumination capable of conquering without force.”1 With few exceptions, the world’s major religions have embraced and embedded light deeply within their frameworks. In ancient Egypt, the eye of the sun god Ra lit up the cosmos. In the Bhagavad Gita, Hinduism’s most popular work, we find the avatar of Krishna—a hierophany of the god Vishnu and a manifestation of the all-encompassing Brahman—represented through superabundant radiance: “If the light of a thousand suns / were to rise in the sky at once, / it would be like the light / of that great spirit.”2 Other faiths take similar inspiration. Zoroastrians typically pray in front of fire and worship Ahura Mazda, a deity of goodness and light. Buddhist’s counsel: “Be a lamp unto yourself.” The Old Testament generates elemental light through divine command: Fiat lux. “Let there be light,” heralds “Genesis” before it is deemed wonderful and as it is divided sharply from darkness.3 With the emergence of Christianity, the Lord is portrayed as “the light of this world” as well as “the truth, the light and the way.” Illumination is also conducted inward so as to be accessible through the hearts of believers. Christian scholars, in fact, labored to draw a distinction within light itself, separating lux from lumen, where lux is the being of light and its “spiritual” reality while lumen is the “body” of light and the material means through which it acquires presence.4 And so the story of light’s revelation issues forward and develops in intricate manners. Light allows phenomena to appear but it does not arrive on the perceptual scene itself in quite the same way. In a broad sense, it is the grand stage wherein and through which the natural world unfolds and presents itself in all its pageantry rather being a mere constituent part of the cosmic drama. Nonetheless, light stealthfully eludes our discerning grasp, racing...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.