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Reconnecting with darkness: Gloomy landscapes, lightless places

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Reconnecting with darkness: Gloomy landscapes, lightless places

Abstract

This paper investigates the effects and affects of darkness, a condition that is progressively becoming less familiar for those of us in the over-illuminated West. In countering the prevailing cultural understanding that darkness is a negative condition, I draw attention to other historical and cultural ways of positively valuing darkness. Subsequently, in drawing on two sites, a gloomy landscape at a dark sky park in South Scotland, and a tourist attraction in which a simulation of New York is experienced in a completely dark environment, I explore the multivalent qualities of darkness. In foregrounding the becoming of sensory experience in gloomy space, I highlight the mobilisation of alternative modes of visual perception in as well as the emergence of non-visual apprehensions, and suggest that the potentialities of darkness might foster progressive forms of conviviality, communication and imagination.
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Reconnecting with darkness: gloomy
landscapes, lightless places
Tim Edensor a
a Department of Geography and Environmental Management , School of
Science and Engineering, Manchester Metropolitan University , Chester
Street, Manchester , M1 , 5GD , UK
Published online: 01 May 2013.
To cite this article: Tim Edensor (2013): Reconnecting with darkness: gloomy landscapes, lightless places,
Social & Cultural Geography, 14:4, 446-465
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Reconnecting with darkness: gloomy landscapes,
lightless places
TimEdensor
Department of Geography and Environmental Management, School of Science and Engineering,
Manchester Metropolitan University,Chester Street, Manchester M1 5GD,UK,
t.edensor@mmu.ac.uk
This paper investigates the effects and affects of darkness, acondition that is progressively
becoming less familiar for those of us in the over-illuminated West. In countering the
prevailing cultural understanding that darkness is anegative condition, Idraw attention
to other historical and cultural ways of positively valuing darkness. Subsequently,in
drawing on two sites, agloomy landscape at adark sky park in South Scotland, and a
tourist attraction in which asimulation of New York is experienced in acompletely dark
environment, Iexplore the multivalent qualities of darkness. In foregrounding the
becoming of sensory experience in gloomy space, Ihighlight the mobilisation of
alternative modes of visual perception in as well as the emergence of non-visual
apprehensions, and suggest that the potentialities of darkness might foster progressive
forms of conviviality,communication and imagination.
Key words: darkness, illumination, perception, sensation, landscape, space
Introduction
MiroslawBalka’sHow it is,installed in the
TurbineHallatLondon’sTateModern
Gallery,in2009, made quite an impact. A
huge, container-like metal box, with one end
open, facingaway from the entrance, and
inside walls lined with light-absorbingblack
velvet, both enthralled and troubled visitors.
Walkingtowards the unseen end of the box,
visitors became progressively cloakedina
deep darkness.Symbolic allusionsabounded
as visitors andreviewers tried to make sense of
the work, which for some,connoted the rail
trucks that conveyed victims of Nazi genocide
to concentrationcamps or the suffocating
containers that transport illegal migrantsto
Europe from the East. Yetitseemed that in the
momentofencounter,the overpowering
affects and sensations of the inner environ-
ment subsequently overwhelmed represen-
tational thinking. In the absence of light,
other sensations of tactility,sound and smell
were foregrounded, provoking an enhanced
Social &Cultural Geography,2013
Vol. 14, No. 4, 446–465, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14649365.2013.790992
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awareness of the velvety textures of the wall
lining, the footsteps and breathing of other
visitors, and the scentsofperfume and body
odour.
The mobilisation of these non-visual senses
was necessary to avoid the social discomfort of
bumping into others.Although one’s eyes
gradually made out murky shapes in the gloom
and any rising fear could be swiftly allayed by
turningback towards the opening, walking in
thick darkness seemed unnerving for some,as
sighs andspoken fears made evident, whereas
for others, myself included, the very darkness
seemed exciting, alluring andmysterious. I
contend that both kinds of responsewere
provoked by theabsence of darkness in
everyday life and its deep unfamiliarity for
most people, but also the profound ambiva-
lence that haslong surroundeddarkness.
In this paper,byway of addressing the
paucityofstudies of the geography of the night,
Ireconsider the relationship between humans
and darkness.AsJohn Jakle notes, ‘landscape
has been conceptualised primarily in terms of
daytime use’ (2001: vii). Although all earthly
space is illuminated or dark for much of the
time, theories almost invariably focus on that
which is perceivedduring daylight. Yetthe
landscape at night, with its illuminated and
dark areas,possesses divergent qualities and is
apprehended in very differentways to the daylit
landscape.Inanera in which extensive
illuminationhas made theexperience of
darkness rare throughoutthe West, Iwill
counter the negative qualities associated with
darkness by foregroundingsitesinwhich
darkness is being revalued. Throughoutmost
of history illumination has been partial and
limited yet in moderntimes, the experience of
the night is now rarely shaped by the experience
of deep darkness.This prevalent historical
darkness has, as Koslofsky points out, inspired
multivalent conceptions ranging from a‘dia-
bolicalnight,nocturnal devotion, honest
labour at night, and anight of drunken excess
and indiscipline’ (2011:5). Overwhelmingly,
however,for centuries dominant conceptions
of darkness have been associated with the
primitive, evil and dangerous.Icontend that
these negativeassociations are increasingly
questioned, particularly in the context of the
over-illumination that blights much Western
nocturnal space, acondition with which
darkness contrasts.
FirstIoutline not only these persistent
negative understandings but also alternative
accountsthat foreground more positive qual-
ities that are associated with gloom.Ithen
explorehow the apprehension of dark spaces
and landscapes mightbeunderstood. Given
the lack of academic studies upon which to
draw,the discussion subsequently focuseson
autoethnographicaccounts of visits to two
very different sites associated with darkness,
although thesesubjective impressions are
interwoven with other accountsthat focus on
thesensory apprehension of gloom. The
relationship between darkness andlandscape,
and the sensoryexperience of alandscape
devoidofartificial light,issubstantively
explored through acommentary of avisit to
the Galloway Forest DarkSky Park in South
Scotland,asite whosedesignationhas
emerged fromthe Dark Skymovement,
which campaigns for adecrease in illumina-
tion so as to foster aricher encounterwith the
starry nocturnalsky.Tofurther bring out the
complex feelings provoked by darkness in
place, Iinvestigate atourist attraction in New
York at which atotal absence of light is
critically used to interrogate the experience of
the city andhow this may be altered in the
dark where vision is non-existent. These
accountsendeavour to revaluethose attributes
of darkness that have been sidelined in the
questfor bright space: thepotential for
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conviviality andintimacy to be fostered in the
dark, theaesthetics and atmospherics of
darkness and shadow, the affective power of
the star-saturated sky,the possibilities for
lookingatthe world otherwise and appre-
hending it through other senses.
Dark in times past and present: continuing
fears and desires
Even though modernillumination has trans-
formed nocturnalurban experience,produ-
cingspaces of regulation, hierarchical
selectiveness, consumption, fantasyand
imagination, darkness continues to be largely
negativelyconceptualised in the West. We
persist in referring to the ‘dark side’and the
‘forces of darkness’toconnote the devilish,
qualities that contrast with the advent of light
cast by Godout of precedingdarkness,
Christian allusionsthatremain deeply
embedded in Western thought andfeeling.
Although we no longer refer to Africa as the
‘Dark Continent’ in contradistinction to the
enlightened West, we continuetocite a‘heart
of darkness’todenote the most depraved
actions perpetrated by humans,and we
describe that vague historical period imagined
to contrast with the illuminating modernity of
scientific, rational thought as the ‘Dark Ages’.
We continue to refer to ‘dark deeds’ or ‘dark
thoughts’, to the‘shadowlands’inwhich
supernatural forceslurk, to being ‘kept in the
dark’ as ametaphor for astate of ignorance,
and we take a‘shot’or‘leap’ in the dark when
we engage with unseen andunknownrisk.
Besidesresonatingwith religious meta-
phors, these metaphors no doubt testify to
earlier conditions in which perils of all sorts
lurked across spaces of pervasivegloom.
Koslofsky (2011) points to the associations
of darkness throughoutthe seventeenthand
eighteenth centuries with witchcraft, devilry,
heresy,sin anddeath, as the devout struggled
through ‘the long night of the soul’, theirfaith
threatenedbytemptation and terror.Super-
stition and fear of the devil pervadedcommon
understandings andthe powers of numerous
fabulousand malign entities, the evil spirits
and disciples of Satan, the demons, imps,
goblins, ghouls, boggarts, elves, witchesand
other supernatural beings magnified in the
dark night. The idea that the dead inhabited a
light-less world was widespread. Such notions
associated with the darkness of night persist,
andpopular cultureremains hauntedby
mythicalcreatures such as vampires, were-
wolves andzombies that relate to more
contemporary concerns.
These longstanding fears also have origins
in the very real perils that pervadedapre-
illuminated worldafter nightfall. In towns and
cities, rubbish, ditches full of excrement and
overhanging timbers were unseen dangers, and
in rural areas ‘fallen trees, thickunderbrush,
steep hillsides andopen trenches’ (Ekirch
2005: 123) posed hazards. Lanterns or lamps
might guide those who ventured into the dark,
but they were liable to expire or be blown out
by the wind. In the absence of light, it was
difficult to distinguish between friendsand
foes. The dark night was the domain of other,
more human perils, the footpads,burglars and
arsonists as well as the later increase in violent
gangs and criminals in the earlymoderncity
provided further reason to stayindoors.
Householders securely bolteddoors to prevent
intrusionand many larger towns organised a
watch, adefensive group who guarded against
fire and interlopers, as well as locking the town
gates after sundown. Theeffort to
keep darkness at baywith candles and
rushlightswas ongoing, andeven these light
sourcesonlyilluminated that whichwas
nearby.Fears about robbers and rapists
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persist,adding to the supernatural and occult
mythsthat foster nyctophobia.
Isuggest that encountering darkness con-
tains residual intimationsofthis pre-industrial
life as arealm in which bad things lurk in the
shadows, whereyou can get lost, an oneiric
realmofinsubstantialand indeterminate
forms. By contrast, Christians continueto
conceive God as the light-bringer and Christ as
the ‘light of the world’.This religiousimagery
has transmuted into scientific discourse, with
light serving as ametaphorfor ‘truth, purity,
revelation and knowledge’ (Bille andSørensen
2007: 272) and signifying the enlightenment
ideals of rational exploration and objectivity
through which ‘thepallofgloomwhich
preventsthe full visibility of things, men and
truths’ may be banished(Foucault 1980: 153).
In addition, the centrality of lighttovision is
implicitinthe evolution of modern ways of
seeing. These prominently included adisci-
plinarygazethrough whichpower was
mobilised and circulated across illuminated
and daylit space, and romantic practices of
gazingupon and subsequently representing the
extraordinary—notably‘picturesque’and
‘sublime’ landscapes (Urry and Larsen 2012)
where the play of sunlight was akey aspect
through which such qualities were discerned.
These practical andmetaphorical appraisals
of light are underpinned by the widespread
imperative to banish darkness with the advent
of electric lighting, synonymous with the
industrial age and producing ‘a new landscape
of modernity’ (Nasaw 1999: 8). Illumination
has opened up the night to extensive, more
diverse space-making social practicesand freer
movement as the previously gloomy night-
scape that coerced most people into a
shuttered existence after sundown has largely
disappeared. ChrisOtter is right to assert that
thedevelopmentoflightingtechnologies
reveals an uneven history of ‘multiple,
overlapping perceptual patterns and practices
rather than singular paradigms’, typified by
improvisation, local politics and competing
technological systems (2008:10).Neverthe-
less, the broad shifttoextensive artificial
illumination has progressively opened up ever
more spaces for nocturnaluse, intensifying the
glare of lightinto multiple hitherto unlit
realms.Integral to the emergenceof‘bourgeois
sensibility’ and liberal modes of governance,
lighting has formed part of an overarching
mission to eradicategarbage,dirt, disease,
noise andgloom through the development of
clean water,policedpublic spaces and
improved public health.Accordingly,darkness
has been gradually ‘transformed from primor-
dial presence to amore manageable aspect of
life’ (Koslofsky 2011: 278).
Crucially though, theterrors associated
with darkness have never been culturally and
historically universal but have been variously
supplementedbyeconomic andpractical
imperatives, alternative pursuits anddesires
that construe darkness more positively.For
despitebureaucratic, scientificand urban
planning injunctionstobanish darkness,
creating ‘new centres of power andnew
marginsofexclusion’ (ibid.:280), often
oriented aroundgender and class, there have
always been those who find succour,opportu-
nity,excitement and refugeinthe dark. As
illumination has expanded across space, it has
been resisted and used by ‘the traditional
inhabitantsofthe night: servants, apprentices
and students...tavernvisitors, prostitutes’
and other workers and pleasure-seekers (ibid.:
278).
The seeking out of darkness,however,did
notemerge withthe advent of urban
illumination, as Veronica Della Dora shows
with regardtothe gloomycaves sought by
early ascetic Eastern Christians. Rather than
offeringthe sensualplenitude andvisual
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revelation offered by views from mountain
peaks, the cave servedasasite of prayer and
retreat in which the lack of vision promoted
apophaticreligiousintimations.For these
denizens, ‘(V)isualpresence conceals spiritual
absence;visualabsence invites divine pre-
sence’ (2011: 762).Similarly,Koslofsky draws
attentiontohow the growth of aconfessional,
mysticaltheology in later medieval and early
moderntimes promoted an apophatic sense of
devotioninthe dark, acondition valuedas
conducive to profundity and beauty,and the
acquisition of divine knowledge expressed by
an acknowledgement of the ineffability and
inexpressibility of God. Yetsuch desires for
the crepuscular were not circumscribed by
religion,for as Raymo(2008) explains, in the
bardic schools of ancient Ireland, youngpoets
were sent to cells containing nothing but abed,
and enclosed in total darkness. An environ-
ment freeofvisual distractions,itwas
believed, offered the most fertileconditions
in which to composepoetry.
In medieval Europe,night wasusually
divided into first andsecond sleep, where
after afirst sleep of afew hours, people would
awaken during the dark hours, and besides
completing householdtasks,might converse,
tell stories,share intimacy or spend time
thinking before their second sleep.Other
secular,prosaicvalueswere expressed by the
poorer classes who could escape the surveil-
lance of domineering masters undercover of
darkness,and by political activists who gained
‘freedom from both labour and social scrutiny’
(Ekirch 2005: 227).Indeed, in more modern
times, Roger Palmer conceives of the night as
similarly ripe for transgression, the ‘timefor
daylight’sdispossessed—the deviant, the dis-
sident, the different’ (2000: 16–17) to engage
in oppositional activities and for pleasure-
seekers to escape the strictures of commerce,
economic rationality and spatial regulation
maintained during daylight. In the dark, they
may carve out time and space, replacingthese
dominantimperatives with ‘sensualities and
sociabilities, aesthetics and the art of resist-
ance’ (ibid.: 453).Inthe nocturnalcity,usually
in conditions of shadow and gloom, musicians
ply their trade,and bohemians and urban
explorersreclaim aspace repletewitha
multitude of promises as well as abjection
and exploitation, as sex workers anddrug
dealersministertoparticularnocturnal
desires.
Despite the expansion of illumination into
most spaces,the moderncity also contained a
host of new dark realms,the tunnels, cellars
and sewers imagined as specific sites of danger
and desire, as well as the theatres, cinemas,
photographicdarkrooms, ghosts trainsand
later on, black-box galleries in art venues
(Elcott 2012). Thus,although illumination has
contributedtothe modernproduction of a
‘technological uncanny’ through the trans-
formationofthe cityintospectacle, the
productionofaphantasmagoric realm, the
radiant city also has its contrastingly stygian
realms in which we mayexperience‘the
shadowyhauntings of the fleeting and insub-
stantial’ (Collins and Jervis 2008: 1). Darkness
then,the unlitelements that we cannot
perceive,contributes to the illusoryqualities
of this oneiric illuminated city,‘exhilarating
and disorienting to its inhabitants’ (McQuire
2008: 122), in which distances are difficult to
ascertain, illuminated buildings appear to float
in asea of darkness and largeswathes of space
are impregnable to sense-making. This phan-
tasmagorical light and dark city has been
represented in fantastic chiaroscurooffilm
noir,the lurid night-timephotography of
Alfred Steiglitzand the chargedcanvasesof
Edward Hopper,cultural formsthat collec-
tively foster the production of arealm of fears
and enticements, acity that is simultaneously
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‘a snare, acanvas, aforeign land, afantasy,a
stage’ (Sharpe 2008: 7).
The appreciation of gloom is also manifest
in the Danish practice of creating hygge in
interior spaces,anatmosphere of cosiness and
convivialitythrough thejudicioususe of
candles and firelight(Bille andSørensen
2007).Beyondthe west,other practices
conceive shadowand darkness in positive
ways as well.Most famously Ta nizaki’s(2001)
exquisite account of the virtues of shadows in
generatingmystery,subtleaestheticsand
reverie servesasacounterblast against the
impact of extensive illumination, conceived by
Tanizaki as aWesternintrusion on the
Japaneseexperience of place.InTaoism, the
darkness retreat fosters the central value of
indiscernibility.Anindividual may spendupto
severalweeks in acompletely darkened room,
ameditativesetting in which participants are
inducedinto astateofrelaxation as the eyes
recuperate from visualover-stimulation, and
the usual attention on ordinaryschedules and
responsibilities is suspended. After some time,
it is claimed,images may appear in the dark
and dreamsbecomeparticularlylucid (Uni-
versalTao). On the other hand, in RuralIndia,
the dearthofillumination is oftenconceived as
synonymous withunderdevelopmentand
productive of danger,signifying poverty and
alack of mobility (Kumar 2012).
Despite certain positive conceptions and
uses of darkness,itisevident that in the West,
the broadly negative conceptualisation of dark
persists.Takingissue with thebinaryof
darkness and light insofar as they play across
space, Gallanand Gibson (2011) pointtothe
shiftingcultural and historical meanings that I
have identified. They argue that the peddling
of normative dualisms is liable to facilitate
conservative and authoritarian practices of
control through establishing curfews,intensi-
fying surveillance and promoting particular
religious,commercialand moralvalues.
Alternatively, they suggest, this historical
evidence emphasises the benefits of darkness,
which might accordingly be reconsidered as ‘a
conduit for new forms of convivialityand
camaraderie’ (2011: 2514). With this in mind,
Inow further investigatethe perceptual
capacities and impedimentsengendered by
the affordances of darkness.
Apprehending dark space
To address how we experience darkness, an
interdisciplinary approach that also drawson
biology,phenomenology and geographyas
well as social practicesand cultural history is
required, for responses to gloom are formed in
thesituated spatial, historical, physical,
sensual andepistemological encounter with
shifting formsand variants of dark space.
Although thevisualhas been afforded
prominence in landscape as objectand viewer
as subject, recent(post)phenomenological
accountshave emphasised the landscape as
animatedand foregroundedmultisensual
apprehension. As with all spatial experience,
the meaning and apprehension of dark space
unfold relationally,underlining, as Rose and
Wylie insist,that landscape constitutes ‘the
materialities and sensibilities with which we
act and sense’ (2006: 478). We do not behold
apassive, inertscene but are immersed in a
pulsing space, in the currents and energies of a
world-in-formation, even in the darkness,and
the light or lack of it is entwinedwith our
sensing bodies, blurring distinctions between
outside and inside. Critiques of accounts that
have privileged the visualpointtothe non-
visual ways in which space is apprehended
through the sensesofhearing, smell, touch and
proprioception, which may supplant vision as
themostdominant sense at particular
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moments and be entangled with seeing. More
nuanced understanding of visualperception
and the landscape it co-produces go beyond
the consumption of the objectified spectacle
and accountfor the multisensualqualities of
looking,the ways in which it is often
intertwined with sound and touch (Degen,
DeSilvey and Rose 2008).Further,asWilliam
Connolly insists, ‘visual perception ‘involvesa
complex mixing ... of language, affect, feel-
ing, touch and anticipation’ (2011: 46). These
entanglementsthrough which we become
attuned to landscape, provide an array of
resourcesthrough whichwerespond to
changing conditions,such as darkness,with
which we may open ourselves up or with
which we may shrink.
Nevertheless, the apprehension of darkness
is conditioned by the propensities of the
human eye to discern aspectsofplace and
landscape in little or no light, as well as the
position of the headatthe top of the body with
its two eyes looking forward as it moves
through space. Light—a form of electromag-
netic radiation— is detected by the human
sense of sight via frontally situated eyes. Vision
is facilitatedwhenthe eye’sconvexlens
focuses light to produce an inverted image of
ascene on the retina, which is then sent via the
optic nervetothe braintoprocess this
information. However, thelight-sensitive
receptors on the retina are of two kinds,
cones androds, which respond to different
wavelengths of light and consequently pro-
duce two different forms of vision. Although
the cones function as the eye adapts to normal
levels of (day)light, allowingthe experience of
acolour spectrum,the rodsoperate when
there are low levels of light. The rods thus
shape thehuman visual apprehensionof
darkness,making the eyes more sensitive to
light, shape and movement but impairing the
ability to discern colour.Moreover, during the
daylight, human vision generally scans when
encountering alandscape: the eye ‘does not
look at thingsbut roams among them,finding
away through ratherthan aiming for afixed
target’ (Ingold 2011: 132). Yet, as Iwill show,
in the darkness,the sight of small patches of
light in an otherwise dark landscape, or the
contrastingly bright stars and mooninthe sky,
may serve to focus vision far more acutely than
in the daylight whereamultitude of competing
potential sights deter orientation towards such
focal points.The eye takes around 20 minto
becomeattunedtodarkness, afterithas
operated in illuminated surroundings. Accord-
ingly,because we usually perceive space under
contemporary conditions of pervasive illumi-
nation, theeye takeslonger to become
acclimatisedtodarkness;thus, the efficacy of
human night vision is weakened.
In the visualperception of space, Alphonso
Lingis identifiesthe ways in which achanging
range of ‘levels’ of light that are shaped by the
depth of field and brightness,continuously
play across space, extending‘an expanse in
which things can be seen’ and with which we
continuously adjust (1998:26).Thus,wemay
be drawn to aparticular colour,patch of light
or shade as shiftingpatterns of light and dark
engender continuous (re)attunement. Accord-
ingly,being in and of the landscape involves
different modes of looking within shifting
fields of varying depth—gazing upon vistas,
attending to obstacles, glazing over in distrac-
tion, scrutinising matters closeathand—as
scenes unfold incessantly,aslight levels shift
and bodies attune.According to Greenlaw
(2006), acomplex,subtle and ever-changing
patternoflight anddarkacross British
landscapes contrasts with the fierce interplay
of shadow andglare in more southern realms.
In Britishspaces, the world takes shape under
conditions of cloudiness, mild shadowsand
weak suns to produce adistinctive tonal
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atmosphere and mode of apprehending and
representing landscape.
Accordingly,asMorris emphasises, dark-
ness is ‘situated, partial and relational’ (2011:
316), as the examples featured in this paper
emphasise.Accordingly,the experienceof
darkness might be best understood as an
ongoing flow,where the body’srhythms and
those of the earth,sun and moon,the variable
levels,intensities and qualities of light, the
affordances andfeatures of the landscape
(especially as the body moves through it) and
the shifting moods, mindful thoughts and
imagination course through time space. Where
gloom descends, modes of looking shiftasthe
varyinglevels and qualities of dark and light
facilitate or restrict movement, focus attention
on particular elementsinthe landscape both
near andfar,motivateorrestrict the body’s
movement,and shapethe emotionaland
affective response to space. Where there are
lower levels of light, there is adiminution of
colour,asthe landscapedevolves into apared
down palette of blacks and greys in which
other colourscan no longer tincture surround-
ing space, ‘radiatepresence, projecting their
qualities outwards andcolouring the environs’
(Thibaud 2011: 211).
Afocus on light anddarkalso reveals how
conceptions of landscape usually exclude the
celestial, instead, focusing upon that which is
of the earth, the landforms,contours and
configurations, geomorphologies, natural his-
tories, cultural inscriptions and distinctive
features of particular kinds of terra firma.By
contrast, elements such as light, dark, sunsets,
wind, rain,cloudsand foghavebeen
ontologically conceivedasthe immaterial
opposite of the concrete, material earthliness
of the land, around and above which they
swirland float.Tim Ingold refutes the
distinction between material earthliness and
the immaterial, celestial qualities of landscape,
fortogethertheyconstituteafluid and
emergent indivisible field. Thus, the land is
not ‘an interface’ separating earthand sky but
is a‘vaguely defined zone of admixture and
intermingling’ (Ingold 2011: 119) in which
medium and substance blend, as they do also
in the human body.Tosee andnot see the sky
is to see alight or adarkness that continuously
enfolds andisenfolded into the worldand
providesthe means through which we perceive
it, contributing to the light or darkness that
constitutes the experience of inhabiting the
visible world, through its glare, gloom,colour
and intensity.
To focus solely on these physical capacities
and the entanglementofthe perceiving body
and the landscape, however,istosideline how
perception of the landscapeisshaped by
cultures of looking. Hannah Macpherson
reinforces Connolly’sassertion that ‘seeing
involves movement, intention, memory,and
imagination’ (2009: 1049) but highlightshow
these elements shapeattunement. Accordingly,
in present times, becoming attunedtodark-
ness is unfamiliar for many because of the
continuing negative associations and domi-
nant visualpractices Ihave discussed and the
absence of darkness in most everyday spaces.
Widespread knowledge of the regular patterns
in the star-filled sky used to guide the way for
travellers. Moreover, familiaritywith the
phases of the moon meant that in apprehend-
ing the nocturnallandscape, including the
ways in which moonlight transformsland-
scape, ‘changing coloursand contours in its
shape-shifting light ... there existed avariety
of possibilities, some toosubtle forour
moderneye to appreciate’ (Attlee 2011: 5).
Now,however,according to David Nye, the
ability to perceive the night sky and to see in
the dark is curtailed because most people
‘know only an artificial darkness that is fogged
with electric light’ with the sky ‘a smudged
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and meaningless background’ (2010: 9). This
hints at an emergent dissatisfaction with the
over-illumination that saturates most space,
with the exception only of ‘the great deserts
and oceans (that)offerlarge areas of darkness
(Attlee 2011: 3), as most of us are ‘condemned
to simmerinour own electric boullabaise’
( ibid .: 9), marginalising qualities of mystery
and beauty,and limiting opportunitiesfor
intimacy and self-reflection. Massive expendi-
ture of energy is deployed to keep cities
illuminated throughout the night and besides
its effects on humans, the impact of pervasive
illumination can severely affect the perceptual
capacities of non-humans. The rhythms of
bird and insect migrationare disturbed,
fireflies cannot transmittheir signals, and
though moths are drawn to light, excessive
illumination banishes them to darker realms.
Migrating sea-turtles becomedisorientated,
and the navigation of beetles by moonlight
becomes confused. The movements of sala-
manderstowards ponds to breed is disrupted,
song birds are killed by flying into illuminated
buildings and cows’milk production mightbe
interrupted.
Experiencing dark landscape: Galloway
Forest Dark Sky Park
To investigate the experience of acompletely
unilluminated landscapeand by wayof
foregrounding this unfamiliarity,Inow pro-
vide an account of avisit to Glen Trool in
Britain’s first dark skyparkinSouthern
Scotland.Galloway Forest DarkSky Park,
and others such as Exmoor andSark in the
UK, Hungary’sZselic National Landscape
Protection Area,and Flagstaff and the
mountains of Hawaiiinthe USA, have been
inspired by adesire to create nocturnal
landscapes that are not dominated by artificial
lighting or what is termed ‘light pollution’.
They seek to reinstatethe experience of
darkness.The Campaign for Dark Skies points
to an aesthetic loss as well as to the
environmental, social, health and economic
problems produced by poor and excessive
electric illumination, identifiedaccording to
five criteria that define ‘light trespass’,‘light
clutter’, ‘over-illumination’,‘glare’ (where
contrast between dark andlight is great)and
‘skyglow’. Although the first four generally
occur in urban areas, skyglowhas become so
extensive that it pervadesareas far from cities,
deterringthe attemptsofastronomers to gaze
upon nocturnalskies. The 300 square mile
Galloway forest, containing the darkest skies
in Europe, rates a3(out of 9) on the Bortle
scale (which measures night sky darkness
based on the observability of astronomical
objects). To maintain this condition of dim-
ness,measures to reduceskyglow, light
trespass, andglare include the shading of all
light installations, lightingcurfews andstra-
tegic tree planting.
Neverhaving visited Glen Trool before, its
unfamiliarity was compounded by my experi-
encing the valley in the dark, on the night of
the 21 September 2012. It was avery clear
night with no cloud cover and athin crescent
moon that disappeared from the sky after
10 pm. As night fell, the evening patchwork of
grey landforms gave way to amore homo-
geneous, dark gathering of largely featureless
earthly elements thatcontrasted with the
constantplay of light above. This epitomised
John Daniel’scontention that daylight vision
‘catches on the surface of things, gets snagged
andtuggedabout by theirmultiplicity’
whereas lookingattrees in aforest, the
sensation is of their ‘commonality’ and ‘not
the names Iknew them by but theiressential
namelessness’ (2008: 23). Thisdense inter-
twining of earthly matter was only disrupted
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when aform suddenlybecame apparent,such
as the separate silhouette of asingle pine or
oak tree againstthe sky.
The lightinthe moonless night sky does not
suffuse the land with warmth like the sun or
cast shadowslike the moon but produces an
uncanny sense that sustains the aforemen-
tionedoveremphasis on thedistinction
between ‘solid ground’ and the celestial.In
the forest, given the dearth of availablevisual
information cast by celestial light on the
earthly elementsofthe landscape when the
crescentmoon haddescendedbelow the
horizon, vision was drawntowards the sky.
The subject is swathed in darkness,likethe
landscape, and cannot distinguish him or
herself from it visually.Bydaylight, fore-
groundand background co-exist in the field of
vision, and the eye continuously shifts between
them as the body moves through the land-
scape. But underconditions of darkness,like
fog, we are left to ‘to ponderour conditional
engagements with the near and far’ (Martin
2011: 455). By daylight, the depth of the
landscape is readily apprehendedwith refer-
ence to the horizon, ‘a mediating device that
offers aform of visual calibration throughthe
perceivable distance or depth between self and
horizon’ ( ibid .: 460), as asuccession of scenes
fade into the distance towards the horizon
where detail ceases. In the dark, the horizon
simply marks the boundary between earthand
sky,enclosing adarklargely undifferentiated
realm that thwarts the usual sense that the
landscape broadens out from the observer.In
Galloway,our attention thus focusedprimar-
ily on the sky.
The night sky changes with the variable
patternsofstars and the changing levels of
light bestowed by the falling and rising sun,
and on other evenings this dynamism wouldbe
characterisedbyvariations in cloud cover,the
shiftingclarity of the atmosphere and the
phases of the moon. The sky thus dominated
the landscape in away it rarely does during
daylight, andinthe relative darkness of the
forest park, this attractsastronomers to gaze
upon distant galaxies,asitdoes wheretourists
seek the aurora borealis in more northerly
climes (Edensor 2011).Walking through Glen
Trool from 10.30 pm with one companion,
and no sign of anyother people, the absence of
skyglowproduced optimum conditions for
gazing upon the constellations, including an
evident MilkyWay,now an unfamiliar sight in
most of the UK.
The infinite, dispassionate play of innumer-
able starsand galaxies was somewhat over-
whelming and asource of wonderment,
especiallygiventheirunfamiliarity to me
because of the impossibility of witnessing a
night sky such as this in most areas of the UK.
Astonishingly,this concentration upon the
skieswas dramatically intensified by the
appearanceofafantastic, mysterious sequence
of slow moving, very bright lights that were
astounding to behold in alandscape such as
this. Allattention focusedonthis incompre-
hensible sight,later revealed to have been a
meteor or space junk entering the earth’s
atmosphere andburning up, and unbeknown
to us at the time, the subject of widespread
alarm and fascination across the UK (BBC
News 22 September 2012).
Despite the overwhelmingly dynamic sky
that diverted concentration away from the
ground, we gradually becomeconscious of
the shifting availability of light according to
the qualities of the surrounding andcovering
elementsinthe landscape, as well as the
reflectivequalitiesofparticular elements.
Although at first it was difficult to discern
anythingdistinctive, our eyes slowlybecome
attuned to the different levels of lightthat
emerged. In other contexts, Attlee discusses
how moonlight does not revealthe hidden in
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the landscape but transforms it, ‘changing
coloursand contours in its shape-shifting
light’ (2011:5)and in more wintry realms,a
covering of snow maystand out in an
otherwisefeaturelesslandscape, reflecting
light, whereas other photo-absorbing features
cannot. As we walked through Glen Trool,
more obscure glimmerings werefaintly appar-
ent, including the wet surfaces of rocks, the
silvery sliversofstreams andthe smoothwhite
surfaces of silver birch trees, although darker
shapes wouldalso suddenlyloom out of the
dimness. Yetthese variationsonblack and
grey could not enchant and spread through the
landscape as could the vibrant coloursof
daylight. More crucially,the path, laid with
light-coloured shale, was visiblefor afew feet,
although wheretree cover occurred, it became
impossible to discern, necessitating the use of a
torch. Withoutthis artificial light, movement
seemed perilous, but its use hadthe effect of
revealingparticular elementsclose at hand.
The architecture of apine tree in its mono-
chrome shapeliness stoodout against the
blackness, bringing forth an appreciation of
form that would not be gained in daylight
becauseofthe plethoraofother visual
elementsinalandscape and therebyrevealing
thevisualaffordances of darkness as a
backdrop.
There seemed to be no other people in Glen
Trool but from seemingly far away,though
how far was impossible to guess in the absence
of other visual information, another visitor’s
presence was revealed by athin torchlight.
This weaklightheralded this presence far
more acutely in the absence of any other
artificiallightthan wouldhavebeen the case
by daylight, when in all likelihood the visitor
wouldnot have been perceptible. Yet,
although this presence was amplified by the
torchlight, there could have been several other
people in the glen who were not using torches
and therefore could not be perceived at all.
Wylie insists that as seeing subjects we are
always intertwined with aconsciousness that
we can always be seen as part of the ‘landscape
of visiblethings’ (2006: 152), as an observable
as well as observing subject. Similarly,Con-
nolly discusses Merleau-Ponty’sinsistence that
the perception of depth in the landscapeis
achieved by prior experience of space from
multiple perspectives, an anticipatory disposi-
tion that also conjures up the sense that we can
be seen from multiple perspectives, in con-
temporarytimes often as an object of
surveillance.However,inthe dark,our
presence may not be perceptible at all, raising
perhaps, sensations that we can hide or act as
we wish in the absence of the constraining
gaze of others,but also worriesthat should an
accidentbefallus, nobody will seeus.
Similarly,the imperceptible presence of others
may be both pleasing and alarming.
To see in and with the dark is to see
otherwise, to apprehend space as an entity that
lacks the complex configurations sensedby
day,tonot see certain features of the landscape
at all, but to see others vividly.Not only that,
but where gloom thickens, the boundaries of
the body becomeindistinct, merging with the
surroundings andproviding an expansive
sense of the space beyond us as we become
one with the darkness.These ‘modalities of
vision’ make impossible the omniscient gaze of
the separate being detached from the land-
scape, mobilisingavisualexpertise that
classifies the characteristicsofspaces and
places. Instead, vision in the gloom might, as
Otter contends,‘have lesstodowith power
than with emotional and affective experience’
(2008: 5),withlevelsoflightand dark
provoking affective and emotional resonances,
cajolingbodies into movement,activating
passions, instigating sensual pleasures and
discomforts.
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In addition to the reconfiguring of visual
experience, acrucial aspect of apprehending
landscape by dark is that because it is harder
to judge depth and distance, with many details
obscure and colours largely absent,wedraw
on the non-visual sensesoftouch, smell,
hearingand proprioception to move through
and experience space. The experience of
landscape that connectsthe perceivingbody
to an expansivedarkness caninstigate
sensations of being tethered to the earth by
gravity,temperature, the stillness and fresh-
ness of the air,adelicatearray of sounds, and
the shifting textures underfoot,aswell as a
conjectural and imaginative approach to space
that moves beyond the scanning gaze practised
in daylight. For instance, accordingtoRobert
MacFarlane, in the dark ‘one becomes more
aware of landscape as amedley of effects. A
mingling of geology, memory,nature,move-
ment’, in which landforms ‘exist as presences:
inferred, less substantial but more powerful
for it’ (2005: 75). With specificreference to a
mountain landscape, he contends,wemight
becomeawarethat we walk ‘through the
depths of time as well as physical space’ as
human and geological history press upon the
walker,whose imagination ‘curls around the
landscape, sensingits shapes and intuiting the
forces, which have brought it into being: ice,
fire and water’ with ‘incredible slowness and
unimaginable force’ ( ibid.: 76).
In discussing thedominance of visual
apprehension of the landscape, John Tall-
madge asserts that in daylight, the ‘ubiquity
and pervasiveness of light make everything
stand out in hard-edged clarity.Wecan read
thingsatadistance andmake our plans’.
However,hecontends that vision ‘allows us to
know thingsonly by their surfaces’ (ibid.:
142). Tallmadgediscusses how he ‘couldfixa
position, identify aperson or animal moving
across aslope,tracearoute’ in the daylight,
but by night ‘identification tooklonger and I
had to suspend judgement while gathering
information from other senses’, using hearing,
touch andsmell, aprocess that ‘required more
patience and intimacy than sight’. He contends
that in becoming attunedtothe landscape
through these other senses, the body ‘relaxes,
opens, breathes, extends its attention outward
into the world the way aplant feels its way
into the soil with roots or into the air with
leaves’ (2008:140).
In Glen Trool, this is exemplified by how the
route was negotiated in darkness, for the path
meandered, descending andascending fre-
quently.Because it could only be recognised a
few feet ahead or not at all when under the
shadow of trees, the anticipation of what
movementstomake had to occur moment to
moment, with no sensoryinformation about
what would happen. The body could thus not
prepare for asteepascent or vertiginous
descentbut had to operate in the here and
now.This curiously made the journeyless
tiring, for mental engagement with the act of
walking relies on this somatic expectancy,the
body bracingitselffor the effort of walking
upwards or downwards. This uncertainly also
called upon an intercorporeal experience,with
Iand my companion debating how to progress
along this dark route: ‘This bit is steep!’,
‘What’sthat there?’, ‘Careful, the path is over
here’, ‘Look out, there may be adrop’. At
these moments, as with the partially sighted
and blind hillwalkers discussed by MacPher-
son, ‘residualsight tended to be concentrated
on navigation and safety ...walking becamea
practice more analogous to an adventuresport
than acontemplative stroll’(Macpherson
2009: 1048). Although the path we followed
had been shaped to offer scenic experience of
the glen, to stimulate the romantic gaze, we
could not enact such avisualpractice.
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Although visualperception improved with
gradual optical attunement, other senseswere
heightened by the lack of visualinformation
and other,oftenignoredvital elementsinthe
landscape became prominent. For instance,
although the environmentatfirstseemed
rather silent, sounds graduallyimpressed
themselves on thesensing body.Most
obviously, in the absence of wind, the ever
changing sounds of flowing water
accompanied every step. What must have
beenadistantwaterfall formed an ever-
presentbackground noise,changing in its
tones as the directionand volumeofwater
modified and the sound arrived from different
directions as we walked onwards. Thiswas
augmented by the regular gurglings of small
cataracts andburns,which changed in
intensity and pitch as they were approached
and passed. Sonically,asense of depth was
restored to the landscape. The occasional
rustle in the grass or flight from the trees
heralded the presence of other animals, made
especially evident when atawny owl spent a
minute or so shrieking, leaving asonic vacuum
that compounded the ensuing silence.When
my companion’storch was switched off, his
attendance could only be discerned by the
noises he made while speaking breathing or
moving,unless he was close at hand,inwhich
case the warmthand tactility of his body
revealed his presence. Feet quickly learned to
identify the different textures underfoot, such
as wheretree roots burst out of the ground to
make the path uneven or muddy sections made
it slippery,and this sensoryawareness was
advanced by the sound made by our own
footsteps,the most prevalentnoise. In
addition, strong smells of pinesap, fungi and
carrion attracted our sensoryattention, as well
as other unidentifiable earthy scents. As the
walk progressed, the shifting quality of the air
marked progressthrough different kinds of
space; the mild breeze that assailedthe face
when in open ground and the contrasting
stillness in the midst of agroup of trees. The
breeze, the owl, the water and cometdemon-
strated the vitalism of the landscape at night,
dispelling the initial illusion of quiescence,
althoughthisisalsoattributabletothe
inability of the humansensorium to detect
countless other movements and processes that
co-producethe becoming of the world.
The perceptual experience of Glen Troolin
the dark is perhaps best captured through the
metaphor of flow.Webecame detached and
attached to points in the landscape, sometimes
lost our bearings, focusedonfinding the way,
became absorbed in the atmosphere, tuned
into sounds, sightsand smells, tried to make
things out and were occasionally subsumed by
apowerfulimpressionsuchasthe owl’s
shrieking and the uncannylights. Much of
the time, the landscape and its elements were
vague and imperceptible, yet this engendered
continuous conjecture throughwhich we
made connections with landscape. Martin
asks how one might respond to apervasive
fog: ‘to immerse oneself? Or to struggle to
locate position, to value distance?’ (Martin
2011: 456). In Glen Trool, both modalities
were mobilised in seeking the barely visible
signs that markedlocation anddistance, and
paying attentiontothe close at hand,but also
by being absorbed in the becoming darkness of
the landscape.
In walking through this dark landscape, it
wasalsopossibletoimagine movement
through space in apre-electric age, wherea
greater range of sensoryskill andknowledge
was required. As Ihave alreadystated, when
dark was an everyday feature of life, knowl-
edge of the movements of the moon and stars
facilitated orientation. Similarly, where a
person had to navigate in the dark, they
became keenly aware of sounds and smells to
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identifyspatial configurations and familiar
sites, as well as developing aheightened tactile
sense of place,often facilitated by making
notches in surfaces. Inhabitants mightpractise
echolocation, using handclaps and shouts in
landscapes made strange by darkness,and the
distinctive surfaces and gradients walked upon
becamerecognisablethrough enhanced tactile
sense.Indeed, children’sgamesweredevised to
inculcateregular exposure to darkness,devel-
oping apredilection to locateplace by touch
and afamiliarity with local landmarks and
hazards (Ekirch 2005).
Dialogue in the Dark: sightless in New
York
To deepen this investigationinto the ambiva-
lence of darkness,the constraintsand oppor-
tunitiesitfosters, and its prompting of arange
of sensoryapprehensions and impressions,
Ireturntoanautoethnographic approach in
examining an internal space in which total
darkness is the key feature that shapes its
appeal and guides its rationale.
Situated in the popular tourist complex of
South Street Seaport,and housed in the same
building as Gunther van Hagen’s notorious
Bodies exhibition, Dialogue in the Dark is a
unique visitor attraction that has the avowed
aim of providing an insight into the ways in
which the blind and partially sighted appre-
hend New York City.Devised by Andreas
Heinecke to encourage visitors to abandon
usual patterns of perception and thought, the
attraction aims to promoteamultisensory
experience that also facilitates empathy and
communication with the blindand partially
sighted ‘without hindrances of insecurity,pity
or prejudice’. It is one of seventeen similar
current exhibitions worldwide (Dialoguein
the Dark 2012). Dialogue in the Dark consists
of awalking journeythrough five simulated
venues in Manhattan. Although the attraction
is educational in its attempt to convey the
experience of blindness, as sighted people,
because we had prior experience of the two
specificsites—Central Park andTimes
Square—and also of the three generic sites—
asupermarket, asubway station and train,
and acoffee shop—wecould not but draw
uponthese memoriesinimagining and
anticipating the appearanceofthe sites as we
moved through complete darkness, working to
make sense of space.
At the startofthe experience, visitorsare
provided with awalking cane,and then
requested to sit in asmall chamber, in which
to becomeaccustomed to the absence of
illuminationasthe lightsslowly dimin
transition to total darkness.Subsequently,as
visitors expectantly sit in the dark, ablind or
partially sighted guide verbally greets them,
explains the attraction’smission and provides
some ground rules,intimatingthatthe
inevitable physical contactshouldnot be
repetitively greeted with an apology.Valerie,
our guide, requested that we follow the sound
of her voice and use the stick to locate
ourselves.This caneisused to mark out the
concretewinding pathand immediately
inducesasense of tactility as information
from the end of the stick is conveyedtothe
hand and brain. Although at first an unfami-
liar manoeuvre that requires us to sense the
world proprioceptively through this extension
to the body,the feel of the path via the cane
comes to constitute acomforting material
presence that also foregrounds an enhanced
sense of the quality of concrete.
The first locale to which the path leads,
‘Central Park’, is replete with sounds of water,
birdsong and other people in conversation or
movement,and visitors are asked to place
their hands in the ‘fountain’ andfeel the
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foliage and flowers. Memories of the site are
drawn on to try to pin down the siteinthe
imagination but the sensations of flowing
water,temperature and texture are far more
powerfully immersive in the absence of vision
and inculcateanappreciation of the non-
visual dimensions of the park. Similarly,the
sounds of people convey asense of happy
conviviality and pleasure as amultitude of
New Yorkers andtourists take theirpleasure
in Manhattan’svast green swathe, foreground-
ing the sociality of the setting. The sense of
touch oncemore comestothe fore in the
adjoining ‘supermarket’, where visitors are
requested to handle commodities in order to
identify them. With loose items of fruitand
vegetables, touch proves more acute than
might be imagined, as amarrow,alemon and
an aubergine are readily recognisable, but its
inadequacy in recognisingthe contents of
serialised cans andboxesalsobecomes
apparent,bringingforththe sensoryhom-
ogeneity brought about by standardisation of
products of all kinds into identical units.
The nextexperience involves asimplified
simulation of catching the subwaytrain,and
this is particularly revealing of the difficulties
produced by alack of sight and the progressive
attunement that is required to negotiate such
space. Here, we are asked to walk down the
steps into the subway—of course,there would
be many more steps in reality—and orient
ourselves on the platform to the doorsofthe
train. It seemsalmost impossible that in afar
more complex space, such manoeuvres could
be undertakenand the steering presence of the
guide is essential. As Devlieger andStrickfaden
maintain, the actual experience of under-
ground travelfor blindpeople is complex, for
trains create ‘considerable noise, movement of
air’, and stations ‘can be very large, with few
points of reference’ and do ‘not change much
with varying natural lightortemperature’.
Moreover, because great numbers of people
use the stations for short periods, there are
minimal opportunitiesfor extended social
interactions (2012: 229–230).
This difficulty in makingsense of and
navigating space in the absence of vision is
exacerbatedwhen we alight from the train and
ascend into asimulation of Times Square.
Here, the smells and sounds of this frenetically
busy place composeamultisensual blitz that
wholly overwhelms and disorients the senses.
This calls to mind Simmel’s(1995) obser-
vations on the cityasitwas in an earlier
modern era, where he depicts urbanites as
compelled to develop ablase
´attitude to
insulate themselves against an unaccustomed
sensoryonslaught.The welter of sounds
producedthe most disorienting andleast
pleasant experience of the tour,being adense
racket that produced an impression of chaos, a
paralysing soundscape that overwhelmed
attempts to gain any sense of place in the
dark. However,Valerie informedusthat the
unsighted are gradually able to distinguish
betweensounds,their distanceand their
provenance, although this was difficult to
imagine for the inexperienced. In addition, the
encounter withTimes Squarealsofore-
grounded aspectsofthe environment highly
pertinent to the blind andpartially sighted; the
material andsensual cues that encouragethem
to accomplish tasks and negotiate space. We
focused on the textures of the pavement that
heralded acrossing point and the chirping
birdsongthat signified when it was time to
cross the road. To end the tour, we were
ushered into an ersatzcafe
´,sitting down
amidst the pervasive smell of coffee, and the
lights gradually come on to revealthe guide.
It must be emphasised that although the
cane providesabasic tool for orientation,
movement was primarily engendered by the
vocal and physical guidanceoffered by our
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guide, Valerie. The injunction to refrain from
apology drawsattention to thedifferent
intimacies andformsofcommunication that
are fostered in the dark. The tone and accent
of voice,the gentle care inherentinthe
necessarychaperoning through unfamiliar
space, the continuous physical closeness and
the feel of breath and body heat, all loomed
largeand generatedaprecious senseof
connection.Acommunionbetween guide
andvisitorwas produced in whichan
encouragingwarmvoice guided passage
through space and transcended any visual
appearance. With its inflexions and encour-
agements, this voice engendered the intimacy
that supportedthe necessary trust that had to
be placed in the guide. It also interrogated the
imperialism of the visual as we attempted to
guess the provenance of textures, smell and
soundstoattain amindful appreciation of
these non-visual qualities.
Iargue that we did not experience the
attraction as wouldablind person, although
we were certainlypersuadedtoempathise with
that conditionasanalternativesensory
apprehension of the world was advanced. I
have already mentionedthat we were able to
imagine the spaces that we were moving
through and sensing because we had pre-
viously experiencedthese iconic andgeneric
places visually.Asense of place was thus
conjured up by the sounds, smells and textures
and augmented by afluid imaginary that drew
on this visualmemory,and wherespecific
memory was unable to recall aparticular
fountain, supermarket aisle or subwaystation,
one was invariably conjured up in the mind’s
eye. For those with vision, darkness solicits
such an imaginary,exemplifying MacPher-
son’sclaim that ‘the processofseeing is
dependent not only on the physical organ of
sight but also on memory andimagination’
(2009:1049), and Connolly’scontention that
perception ‘not only hasmultiple layers of
intersensory memory folded into it,itis
suffused with anticipation’, which allows for
adaptation to conditions (2011:48, also see
Edensor 2012).Wethus engaged in continu-
ous visual conjectureinthis dark realm.
Moreover,although most of the journeywas
spent in what seemed likethe total absence of
light, on acouple of occasionsthe faint glow
of the outline of adoor could be discerned as
our eyes strained to find something recogni-
sable. In this sense,wemight distinguish the
experience from that of the blind person by
recognising that we always scan forthe
perceptible wherewecan see nothing, and
also always have the expectation that the
darkness will end.Wethussee the dark as a
homogeneous black entity when plunged into
it that may be subject to change.
Conclusion
This paper has adopted alargely autoethno-
graphicapproach at twosites at which Ihave
endeavoured to developamore nuanced
conception of the dark. Ihave argued that
darkness haspersistently been negatively
conceived, based understandably on the perils
of apre-illuminated era but also articulated
through religious conceptions and enlight-
enmentvalues. Thishas been furthered by the
enormous spread of illumination across space
not only for commercial andpractical reasons
but also as part of abroader bourgeois project
to encourage‘proper’ modes of perceiving and
sensing the world, informedbyvaluesof
clarity,transparency and romantic aesthetics.
This highlights how the sensing of space is
culturally shaped by the ways in which the
powerful inculcate the prioritising of particu-
lar modes of apprehension and the values
associated with specific sensations. The regu-
Reconnecting with darkness 461
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latory processthrough which darkness has
been banished, Icontend, has reducedthe
complexity and variety of the ways in which
humans sense nocturnalspace.
Despitethisordering of thenight via
extensive illumination, Ihavealso emphasised
that through time andspace there have always
been those who have sought darkness,inspired
by arange of political, religious, practical,
artistic and hedonistic desires. In these pur-
suits we can discern alternative cultural values
and sensations associated with gloom.Thus,
while Ihave acknowledged the perils and
constraints of operating in dark space, Ihave
focusedonhow it mightbeconversely
considered to offeranalternative experience
of landscape andplace,and this resonates with
the resurgence of desires to becomereac-
quainted with the dark. As mentioned, there
are several other dark sky parks and tourist
attractions organised aroundthe simulated
production of dark cities across the globe.
There are also the often euphoricresponses to
the unfamiliar conditions created by urban
blackouts(Nye 2010). In addition, there are
restaurantsthat offermealsservedexclusively
in the dark (Dans le Noir?), the concerts
staged in the dark by Malian blind musical
duo, Amadou and Mariam,the growing
popularity of dark retreats, and the global
event ‘Earth Hour’, organised by the World
Wildlife Fund, duringwhich citiessimul-
taneously switch off swathes of no-essential
lightingfor 1hourtoraise awarenessof
climate change (Earth Hour).
For me, the gloomysetting of Galloway
Dark Sky Park stimulatedalternative modes of
sensing space to those used by daylight, and
this fostered appreciation of other qualities in
the landscape. Visual apprehension focusedon
objects not usually foregrounded in the day-
light, pre-eminently the sky and horizon, but
also theclusters of dark shadow,the
occasional singular slihouette of atree,and
the surfaces of brightly hued and watery
elements. Asense of depth was difficult to
attain,although wasrecovered though a
heightened attunement to sound, exemplifying
how when vision failed,other olfactory,
auditory andtactile sensescame to the fore,
enrichingthe encounter with spaceand
affordingadifferentway of sensing the
vitalism of landscape.The potentialfor
surveillant scrutiny that permeates much
contemporary space was deniedbyaninability
to be seen, acondition replete with ambiva-
lence, along with the inability to perceive
others. These apprehensions also brought to
mind the unreliablequalities of clarityand
transparencyinthe visually beheldlandscape,
especially forcreatures of limitedvisual
capacities. An inability to identify and classify
elements in the dark landscape, however,
called for imagination and conjecture.Accord-
ing to Ingold,imagination should not be
conceived as some sort of fake illusion but as
‘a way of living creatively in aworld that is
itself crescent, alwaysinformation...to
participate from within, through perception
and action, in the very becoming of things’
(Ingold 2012: 3). This world that is con-
tinually cominginto being is entangled the
perceiving subject, entwining sensorydata,
memory andembodied imagination in an
ongoing making sense of the world. Darkness
is part of this flux, becoming continually
disperses and re-emerges with diurnal and
seasonalpatternsand climatic andother
events.
At Dialogue in the Dark,inthe complete
darkness,there was amore enforced focus on
tactile, proprioceptive, textural, sonic and
olfactorysenses, more acutely revealing how
thenon-visual qualitiesofspaceare so
frequentlyeclipsed or dulled by the primacy
of the visual. The recognisable shapeand
462 TimEdensor
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textureofcertain things renderedthem
identifiableand the sonic qualities of place
were profoundly, even overwhelmingly evi-
dent.Yet,inthe absenceofvision, an
imaginativeenvisioningofplace in the
mind’s eye, based on prior experience and
conjecture, even more fully underlines Ingold’s
argument about the integral role of imagin-
ation in the unfolding becoming of place.
Furthermore,anecessary focus on the quality
of our guide‘svoice and her accompanying
tactilepresence fostered arich senseof
convivial intimacy.Yet, while providing an
insight into the potential of these other senses
to enrich spatialexperience andsocial
interaction, Idonot intend to minimise how
in certain respects, the lack of vision in the
dark constrains the knowledge of space and
the efficacy of social intercourse.
My aim here, however,has been to celebrate
the unheralded virtues of darkness.Ihave
shownhow theaffects generatedbythe
coalescence of dark, temperature, silence and
closeness to others penetrate the body,enfold-
ing it into the field (Brennan2004). This
potency is perhaps intensified in aworld in
which deep darkness is unfamiliar.AsPallas-
maa asserts, darkness can ‘dimthe sharpness
of vision, make depth and distance ambig-
uous, and invite unconscious peripheral vision
and tactile fantasy’ (2005: 46), and it may also
inculcateasense of mystery,profundity and
speculation, in which the process of trying to
see andfeel your way through space givesrise
to unfamiliar,unbidden thoughts and sen-
sations.Darknessoffers opportunities to
dream, mull over,rememberand worry.
Dark space also offers possibilities for devel-
oping more intimate, convivial andfocused
formsofcommunication,unhindered by
multiple visual distractionsthatsidetrack
conversationand story-telling. Connolly
(2011)discusses how aFoucauldian disciplin-
ing of the sensesshapes acultural disposition
to look in particular ways,torespond and feel
and make sense of the seen. An encounter with
darkness can challenge these habitual affective
and sensual anticipatory dispositions, provid-
ing relief from trying to discern the world
through visionand interrogating the illusory
promises that lookingcan revealall, as the
overlooked emerges via other sensations.
Such potentialities are likely to eventuate
since there seems little doubt that the excessive
illumination of contemporary cities will fade
into lessintense lighting in the future, on the
grounds of sustainability,and areconfigured
encounterwith darkness will becomemore
familiar than it is today (Edensor 2013).Asa
familiar way of being in the world,dwelling
within darkness and gloom may becomea
condition which will be ‘familiar,sensible,and
intelligible’ (Vannini, Waskul, Gottschalk and
Ellis-Newstead 2012:368), generatinga
habituated mode of perceivingspace that
echoes with the spatial experiences of times
past.
Acknowledgement
Iwouldliketothank my companion on these
visits, the wonderful Kim Kothari.
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Abstracttranslations
Reconnecter avec l’obscurite
´:des paysages sombres,
des lieux sans lumie
`re
Cet article interroge les effets et les affects de
l’obscurite
´,une condition qui devient de moins en
moinscourantepourceuxparmi nous dans
l’occident sur-illumine
´.Pour s’opposer a`la com-
pre
´hension culturelle dominante que l’obscurite
´est
une conditionne´gative, j’attire l’attention aux
autres fac¸ons historiques et culturelles de faire
valoir l’obscurite
´.Ensuite, en tirant de deux sites—
l’un, un paysage sombre a `un parc de ciel obscure
dans l’Ecosse du Sud, et l’autre, une attraction
touristique dans laquelleon aune expe
´rience d’une
simulation de New York dans un environnement
comple
`tement noirci—j’examine les qualite
´spoly-
valentes de l’obscurite
´.Enmettant en premier plan
l’e
´mergence de l’expe
´rience sensorielle dans l’espace
sombre, je souligne la mobilisation des modes
alternatives de la perception visuelle ainsi que
l’e
´mergence des appre
´hensions non-visuelles, et je
sugge
`re que les potentialite
´sdel’obscurite
´puissent
encourager des formes progressives de la convivia-
lite
´,lacommunication, et l’imagination.
Mots-clefs: obscurite
´,illumination, perception,
sensation, paysage, espace
Reconectando con la oscuridad: paisajes sombrı
´ os,
lugares sin luz
Este artı
´culo explora los efectos ylos afectos
asociadosa la oscuridad, una condicio
´nque resulta
cada vez menos familiar para aquellos de nosotros
que vivimos en unOccidentehiperiluminado.A los
finesdecontrarrestar la perspectivacultural
predominante que le asigna alaoscuridad una
valoracio
´nnegativa, pretendo llamar la atencio
´n
sobre otras formas histo
´ricas yculturales que le
otorgan un valor positivo alaoscuridad. Luego
exploro las cualidades polivalentesde la oscuridad
mediante el estudio de dos sitios: el paisaje sombrı
´ o
de un parque sin iluminacio
´nartificial en el sur de
Escocia yuna atraccio
´nturı
´ stica en el que se simula
la ciudad de Nueva York, experimentada en un
ambiente completamente oscuro.A los fines de dar
cuenta del desarrollo de experiencias sensoriales en
espacios sombrı´os,destaco la movilizacio´nde
modos alternativos de percepcio
´nvisual ası
´como
tambie
´nlaemergencia de formas de aprehensio
´nno
visuales Adema
´s,sugiero que la oscuridad tiene el
potencial para promoverformas de convivencia,
comunicacio
´neimaginacio
´nprogresistas.
Palabras claves: oscuridad, iluminacio
´n, percepcio ´n,
sensacio
´n, paisaje, espacio
Reconnecting with darkness 465
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... Thus, in order to develop stargazing tourism, there is need not only of the necessary natural resource of having clear night sky conditions [19,23], but also of the implementation of key terrestrial resources and infrastructures that provide services to tourists by enabling and enhancing the observational experience [20,21,[24][25][26]. Some tourist destinations in Chile, USA, Spain, New Zealand, and Portugal have invested in innovative stargazing terrestrial infrastructures as a way of providing competitive complementary activities enhancing the choices available to tourists [20,[26][27][28]. ...
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Stargazing tourism is an expanding market niche that requires the development of territorial resources for its implementation and attraction. This paper’s objective is to investigate the preferences and willingness to pay of tourists for the development of strategic land resources for stargazing tourism activities. The field work was conducted on the island of La Palma (Canary Islands), which is promoting the territorial development of infrastructures for stargazing tourism. A random sample of 734 tourists were interviewed in person on-site in December 2019 following the methodology discrete choice experiments that enabled an estimation of tourists’ preferences and willingness to pay for the implementation of key land resources for stargazing. The data are modeled using a latent class model that allows for the consideration of heterogeneous preferences. The results show that there are three groups of tourists with different preferences for land resources of stargazing observation. These segments are respectively related to the interests in culture, active, and astronomic tourism. Those tourists in the active stargazing segment share the largest proportion of the market and favor the implementation of facilities that allow the combination of active tourism with stargazing. The results are useful for land product development and territorial strategies aimed at positioning destinations in the identified demand niches of stargazing tourism.
... Dark tourism is conceived as a spectrum of experiences moving from the darkest pole centering on a set of profound experiences that are tied to death and mortality to the lighter shade of the spectrum dealing with commercial entertainment (Stone 2006). While the qualifier of dark is sometimes mistakenly associated with a morbid fascination for death (Edensor 2013), the dark in dark tourism instead refers to the psychological way travelers are positioning themselves in their self-reflection about the place of death in society and their contemplation of mortality (Martini and Buda 2020). Because dark tourism is confronting us with the finitude of life, it can have the potential to trigger deeper self-reflection about the nature of humanity (Packer, Ballantyne, and Uzzell 2019), the impact that we have on the life of others (Kidron 2013), what unifies us as a community (Farrelly 2019), and the impacts of hatred and prejudices (Podoshen and Hunt 2011). ...
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A critical gap in the dark tourism literature concerns the possibility of social mobilization outcomes after taking part in dark tourism experiences. While a crucial driver behind the creation of museums focusing on war and genocide is to prevent their reoccurrence by socially mobilizing travelers, few studies look at whether travelers can become socially mobilized and take actions for human rights. We apply the Framing Theory of Social Action to investigate whether travelers employ framings in their discourse to reveal social mobilization outcomes after visiting exhibits at a Holocaust Museum. Travelers engage in photo-elicitation and in-depth interviews about their post-experience of visiting exhibits that are focusing on the Holocaust, women’s rights, and apartheid at Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center (IHMEC). Travelers suggest they engage in the main form of social mobilization outcomes: feeling empowered, pursuing remembrance and education, and identifying societal issues that warrant mobilization.