Bright bright darkness
There’s been a book sitting on my wish list for over a year now, it’s called In Praise of Shadows — it’s an essay written by Junichiro Tanizaki, a Japanese novelist (1886-1965) with a focus on Japanese aesthetics and their juxtaposition to Western ideals. In his essay, In Praise of Shadows, he argues that there’s an economy of experience nested in the often ignored shadows and subdued darkness. Unlike artificial light that is subjective and aims to impose preferences, darkness is objective — it is factual.
Nowness, a creative video channel recently released a video essay with a Swiss/Austrian economist turned Zen Buddhist. The video is titled: Stille. In the end, Zen priest Vanja Palmers, in response to big questions that arise during silence and meditation, closes with this.
…These are the big questions that we explore in silence and to which we often get more answers than if we talk about them.
— Vanja Palmers
I think we can approach darkness in a similar vein to the stillness mentioned above.
In the beginning, there was…
If you’re familiar with my photography — I often flirt with darkness. I challenge myself to merge subject matter with shadows to the point of altering the identity of things while maintaining their spirit. This fascination stems from my childhood.
When I was a small boy, over the Summer, I would fly to Mexico with my mom to visit her mother. Around 6 pm, the adults would take naps and on some occasions, we would get a thunderstorm that would rattle the windows and cause the power to go out. The combination of rainfall, darkness, and thunder was the perfect concoction. I loved it. Suddenly the world stood still and danced to nature’s roars.
When the power went out, the adults would rise from their slumber and my mom’s mother would light candles and place them at the corner of every room. Familiar faces would become unfamiliar. The golden glow of the flame casting upon household items transported me into a new world.
Tanizaki’s essay encourages one to consider our relationship with light. We flood our homes with lamps and subject our eyes to hours of screen time. Some spaces completely eliminate any sense of time. You step foot in a large department store that is open 24/7 and suddenly, you don’t know if it’s 1 pm or 1 am. His essay invites us to appreciate the world and the natural beauty that many of us tend to take for granted. He contemplates the sobriety of the mundane and turns his back on false pretensions.
“If light is scarce then light is scarce; we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty.”
— Junichiro Tanizaki
Tanizaki writes in detail about the way light and shadows interact with the texture of objects. Perhaps you’ve own things that take on a new life under different lighting conditions. For instance, take an empty glass and observe it under sunlight followed by nighttime, and watch it take on a new life.
“The quality that we call beauty must always grow from the realities of life.”
— Junichiro Tanizaki
“We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and darkness that one thing against another creates.”
— Junichiro Tanizaki
The quote above brings to mind our conceptions of beauty that we drool over, and it wasn’t until recently that I discovered that beauty like music is the darkness and silence in between the notes. And as our world becomes more artificially lit, we lose sight. In urban cities, light pollution hides the artistry of the sky.
Darkness, like silence, like meditation, can encourage us to draw our own conclusions of the world or act as a beacon. In a way, it suspends the world around in a manner in which only the souls of things remain, glistening through highlights and shadows. Darkness can cultivate imagination if approached through a contemplative intention — finding solace in both the sun and the moon’s brilliance.
Darkness alone exposes us to our inner light and helps restore the balance we need to counter the rush of life — the rings, pings, screens, and things that we can’t escape, our Zoom calls, errands, YouTube commercials, and advertisements.
Darkness can be restorative.
So perhaps the next time you think about flipping the switch, maybe you’ll opt-out and allow yourself to be blanketed by the sun’s rest and maybe you’ll find something new.
Grab a copy of In Praise of Shadows here.
Beginner’s Mind | A Playlist
Music plays a big role in writing these newsletters. With every issue, I will introduce a new playlist that won’t necessarily complement the subject of the newsletter.
If you follow the Beginner’s Mind playlist below, every month, it’ll be refreshed with new tracks that drive and inspire the writing that goes into this.
This month, I’m including two recently discovered tracks, off the mini-film series Small Axe. The two tracks are from Lover’s Rock. The songs are Silly Games and Kunte Kinte Dub. Two goddamn great tracks.