"THIS THING OF DARKNESS": THE NIGHT IN ANGLOPHONE ARTS AND LITERATURE
“THIS THING OF DARKNESS”
THE NIGHT IN ANGLOPHONE ARTS AND LITERATURE
ONE-DAY CONFERENCE – 15 JUNE, 2020
A Graduate Conference Organized by the OVALE Research Team
Research Centre VALE, Faculté des Lettres de Sorbonne Université
“[A] great cause of the night is lack of the sun.” Such is the negative definition of the night given by the shepherd Corin in As You Like It. Thus he testifies to a linguistic opposition, a relation of dependence between night and day. But that relationship is imbalanced: night is the other side of the day, which constitutes the normal term by which it is determined. Consequently, day and night are defined culturally: while the former is the time of life and work, the latter means darkness, and potential disorders. Night is the bride of chaos in Milton’s Paradise Lost, bearing the trace of the anarchy which precedes divine creation. But that suspension, conceived of as a primeval moment, is also the time of death, the bound of all existence.
These presumably negative connotations bear witness to the metaphoric richness of the night, explored relentlessly in literature, the visual arts, and on film. The night is the locus of an ambiguity and indeterminacy, which should not be viewed merely as factors of disorder, but as possibilities for different lives and identities. It is a liminal space, the time for reversals, when boundaries are more easily crossed. The night, therefore, appears as the site of a potential metamorphosis, whether definitive or not, which seems to radically elude the norms governing diurnal practices. Nonetheless, is it merely a form of transgression or does it inaugurate a mode of existence of its own?
The night opens up new possibilities, fuelling the imagination. For Burke, it is the locus of the sublime, multiplying effects and intensifying emotions. As a consequence, night is also the time associated with story-telling, and, subsequently, the time when the imagination can freely roam. Incidentally, it is not surprising that night should be associated with the time of narration, as in the Arabian Nights. Since it is the time when story-telling may occur, as for vigils or bedtime stories, it is no longer just the time for resting and sleeping.
The alternation between waking and sleeping is liable to be disrupted, thus unsettling the mind, with consequences which may range from insomnia to insanity. Urban nights are rife with allegedly disreputable characters. In the darkness one may discern the outlines of a hidden life, unspeakable, repressed. Daytime, then, would correspond to the public sphere, whereas nighttime would be the realm of the intimate. In Stevenson, it is at night that Jekyll turns into Hyde; the appearances of respectability are fit for the day, while the night accommodates the unbounded drives which contravene official morality. With is possibilities for anonymity and cross-dressing, the night is “the privileged stage for transgressions,” as Elizabeth Bronfen writes. Such transgression may even overstep the boundaries of humanity, when fantastic creatures come out at night – vampires, werewolves, witches… The night is also the time for sexuality and licentious activities, as in Joyce’s Ulysses, when the nighttown in ‘Circe’ becomes the nightmarish stage of all possible misbehaviours. On a comic note, Frank Capra explores the subversive possibilities afforded by the night in It Happened One Night, while the protagonists of Clockwork Orange wait till night to unleash their ultra-violence and satisfy their morbid drives.
Yet, that locus of unsettlement also opens up onto new forms of expression. The night is the time when subcultures come into being, when marginalised rhythms can be heard. That is the case for Jamaican sound systems, for instance, the poor man’s night club, where Bob Marley’s “midnight ravers” congregate and dance – forerunners of all the varieties of electronic music which were to flourish at the end of the twentieth century. This nightlife, often repressed by the authorities, can be read as a challenge to the polite mainstream which enjoys broad daylight legitimacy, and as a carnivalesque outlet whose very excesses contribute to uphold the norm it aims to subvert.
Finally, it is possible to question the stability of the borders between day and night. On account of technical, social, and cultural changes, the seemingly immutable alternation of day and night undergoes considerable transformations: this is the case, notably, with the spread of public lighting in industrialised countries since the nineteenth century. While the night was the time of degrading activities, associated with garbage and death, the mastery of light made it possible to light up the factories of the industrial revolution, such as Arkwright’s in 1790. Then, gas lights became widespread in the streets of London or Manchester, notably as a way to fight crime: street lamps were even nicknamed ‘police lamps’. At the intersection of economic power and social control, public lighting became a way of redefining our relation to the night and to assimilate its dark continent. Does the inexorable generalisation of lighting and the ubiquity of screens result in a day without end? Is the night a thing of the past?
Papers that adopt an interdisciplinary approach (philosophy, history, sociology, visual arts...) are more than welcome. Papers may explore (but are not limited to) the following themes:
- Literary and visual representations of the night
- The city by night
- Night as a locus of transgression, subversion, and disorder
- Managing the night: social and technical implications of the night
- Night and story-telling
- Night and dreams, visions and hallucinations
- Night and identity: cross-dressing, performance, metamorphosis
Abstracts of about 300 words, written in French or English, can be sent to the following email address, along with a short bio: email@example.com. Papers should be 20-minute long.
Submission deadline: 6 April, 2020
Notification of acceptance by late April
Baldwin, Peter C., In the Watches of the Night: Life in the Nocturnal City, 1820-1930, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.
Baudry, Patrick, « L’ambiguïté nocturne, une habitation », in Société & Représentations, n°4, 1997, pp. 47-57.
Beaumont, Matthew, Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London, London: Verso, 2015.
Bronfen, Elisabeth, Night Passages. Philosophy, Literature, and Film, New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.
Burke, Edmund, The Philosophical Enquiry into the Origine of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Oxford: R. and J. Dodsley, 1757.
Cabantous, Alain, Histoire de la nuit. XVIIe-XVIIIe siècle, Paris: Fayard, 2009.
Chatterton, Paul and Hollands, Robert, Urban Nightscapes. Youth Cultures, Pleasure Spaces and Corporate Power, London: Routledge, 2003.
Dickens, Charles, Night Walks (1850-1870), London: Penguin Books, 2010.
Durot-Boucé, Elizabeth, Spectres des Lumières: du frissonnement au frisson – Mutations gothiques du XVIIIe au XXIe siècle, Paris: Publibook, 2008.
Ekirch, A. Roger, At Day’s Close. Night in Times Past, New York: Norton, 2005.
Foessel, Michaël, La Nuit. Vivre sans témoin, Paris: Autrement, 2017.
Genette, Gérard, « Le jour, la nuit », in Langages, 12, 1968, pp. 28-42.
Laughton, Charles, The Night of the Hunter, 1955.
Ménager, Daniel, La Renaissance et la Nuit, Genève: Droz, 2005.
Montandon, Alain (ed.), Dictionnaire littéraire de la nuit, 2 vol., Paris: Honoré Champion, 2013.
Palmer, Bryan D., Cultures of Darkness: Night Travels in the Histories of Transgression, New York: Monthly Press, 2000.
Saint-Girons, Baldine, Les marges de la nuit. Pour une autre histoire de la peinture, Paris: Les Éditions de l’Amateur, 2006.
Summers-Bremner, Eluned, Insomnia: A Cultural History, London: Reaktion Books, 2008.
The conference is public.
The scientific committee is composed of Corentin Jégou, Élise Rale, and Nicolas Thibault, PhD candidates and members of the Board of OVALE, as well as of Professor Line Cottegnies, Professor Frédéric Regard, and Professor Kerry-Jane Wallart.
The conference will be held at the Maison de la Recherche of Sorbonne Université, in Paris (28, rue Serpente, 75006).