Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Darkening the lightness

This morning I noticed a large, grey-white globe sitting on a black cylinder, which in turn sat on top of a square black plinth,  near the main gate into Charlotte Square.  It looked, I decided, very like a giant, round lightbulb.  As we came round the square I could just make out the word, 'enLIGHTen' on a small poster on the gate.  Mr Google informed me that enLIGHTen is a joint Year of Creative Scotland and Edinburgh City of Literature Trust project to, in the words of their website:  'fuse words and cutting edge technology to light up the night sky during March.  Massive projections of famous quotes form the Scottish Enlightenment period will illuminate buildings along George Street and Rose Street...'  I  am not unhappy about a giant light bulb in Charlotte Square and no doubt David Hume would be pleased...as long as it is his words that are being projected.

Who doesn't love the sight of Edinburgh Castle lit up at night looking as if it has been spun from sugar? Where would Christmas be without lights, or Diwali or for that matter, Vegas?  Light represents goodness  and virtue and reason (except, perhaps, in Vegas).  We moved out of the dark ages and progressed (barring the occasional historical hiccup) to the age of enlightenment.

And so it follows that we dislike the dark, fear it, give it a bad reputation.  Kathleen Jamie in the essay 'Darkness and Light' in her book - Findings - writes, '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 darkness, are we not?'

When I was a little girl, my mother would tell me, 'There's nothing there in the dark that isn't there in the light.'  Which would have been a comfort, except that this was the same woman who was constantly warning me about the perils of hit and run drivers, strangers offering sweets, abandoned refrigerators, rusty nails, level crossings, and rabid dogs, cats, bats, squirrels and gophers (I spent years standing in the outfield when we were playing  baseball convinced a rabid gopher was going to spring up out of the ground and savage my ankles.  I had seen 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and though Mr Kline, my 5th grade teacher was in most respects good news, I understood he was no Atticus Finch, ready with a rifle to coolly dispatch a crazed, foaming rodent).   If all those hazards were lying in wait in the daylight, how on earth would I avoid them in the dark?

But without the dark, what would be the point of fireflies, or sheet lightning, or stars?  The moon would be a pale insipid thing, hardly worth mentioning;  the northern lights would become the aurora bori-isn't.  Bats and owls would be under-employed and vampires would go out of business.

The American Medical Association says the human species needs darkness to 'survive and thrive'.  It is well known that 24 hour daylight makes your circadian rhythms into something that resembles knotted string.

One of the things I've noticed since I've moved to Edinburgh from the Outlandish Isles, is that it is never, properly dark.  Never the deep, velvety, dark of the countryside.  Even in my flat at night the tenement lighting shines through the transom like a Edinburgh City Council nightlight.

So, if you see me in court over the coming months, charged with scrawling neatly reasoned syllogisms on public buildings, you can be sure I will have my defence ready to hand:  'Your Judgeship,' I will say.  'There were mitigating circumstances...I am suffering from too much enlightenment.'

1 comment:

  1. Once on a time, you could see the Milky Way from Edinburgh. Then they took away all the soft gas-lights and replaced them with vile sodium ones and now even the Moon has a hard time competing....