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A Buncha Thoughts...

ekthorp's picture

"I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”

                                                                        ~Galileo Galilei (But probably in Italian…)

The city is different during the night than it is during the day. It is the not the same city. Carmen Papalia partially vocalizes this in Caning in the City when he discusses his own night-blindness, but what we all fail to acknowledge is that all our visions are affected by the shift from night to day. Our visibility is impaired, which leads to a whole range of effects that makes night seem so much more inherently daunting than the day, and in many ways it is a very gendered experience. Papalia’s way of seeing is very different, as necessitated by his inability to see during the night. But it’s also beautifully effective and absolutely incredible that his vision has evolved so. I wish we could appreciate our night vision in this way, instead of being so mistrusting of the night.

While we’ve all been talking about non-visuality, I’ve thought a lot about the utter darkness that night offers. I’ve thought a lot about those moments in childhood tents when you literally cannot see your hand four inches in front of your face, and midnight hikes where the dim light of the stars and the sun reflecting off the moon makes all colors seem grey. I’m not sure how much we’ve considered nighttime as a part of our consciousness of nature, but in a way, it’s an incredibly different and dangerous time. Our perception is different at all times of the day, but it is especially different during the night. I’ve been thinking a lot, half-jokingly, about converting over to nocturnalism. With the implementation of modern lighting, there is no real need for the predetermined sleep patterns that tell us to sleep at night.  To test this notion, complement our themes of disorientation and darkness, I visited my spot by the pond this week during the night.

While walking through the dark to get to my spot by the lake, I contemplated how different I feel walking alone at night than when I walk alone during the day. Even this difference is inefficient, though, because the comfort I feel walking here at night is entirely distant from how I feel walking alone at night when I am home in Arlington, or in either of the cities I associate with home, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. As a young woman, walking alone at night is not generally recommended for me. Which frustrates me to no end. I like walking at night (at least when it’s warm.) During the summer, there’s nothing more satisfying than going out alone at 1 or 2 in the morning, just to feel like you are the only one alive in that moment. Of course, that’s completely inaccurate, and I’m often reminded that others exist by the rush of a car or a passing pedestrian. But being out alone still makes me feel individual. And when I return to a spot I’ve been to at night during the day, I feel like I have a special sense of the space. At the same time, though, I will often completely misinterpret what I see at night and be really confused the next day. Like Papalia, I develop a completely different vision of a place when I’ve seen it at night, but until reading his article, I had never found this difference beautiful or worthwhile. It was just wrong, as if seeing during the day is the default way of understanding your surroundings. But there’s no reason for this, and there never was. With modern lighting, we now have a reason to explore the nighttime world that was once so distant from us, for no reason other than we felt uncomfortable surrounded by utter darkness.

 But I can’t just walk alone at night, at least not as a 20-year-old woman. Darkness has had a lot of effects on society, but one of the biggest one I’ve seen is its ability to shut women inside from the hours between sunset and sunrise. Limited vision allows more women to be taken advantage of, to get attacked, to not be able to defend themselves or even know where their attacker is coming from. I felt comfortable Last Night when I walked around the pond last night, finally landing on top of the boat I use as a bench. Maybe it was the florescent lights lending their impersonating light. But I’ve walked through cities at 2 in the morning much more lit than this pond could ever be, and not felt the same security.  I think it was mostly the fact that I was on a tiny women’s college campus, so there was very little threat.

The default-ness of day-seeing made me to question a lot of what I see in the dark, as well. Because we live in the day, we are blind to the effect night has on us. Just like we do not realize how much the turning and changing of the cities distills our senses, we are unable to realize how nature’s blind fold effects our feelings. But we should take advantage of this. Paplia’s vision-impairments allow him a very different way of seeing, but we seem to limit access to different vision to those who are physically different than us. But we don’t need to. Nature has given a way to see things entirely differently. Between sunset and sunrise each day, we can expand how we understand our world. We can effectively live in another world, one remarkable similar to its day-time counterpart.