Our Vanishing Night


(Notes for the ‘Night Vision’ program)
Excerpt from the article ‘Our Vanishing Night‘ by Verlyn Klinkenborg:
“Now most of humanity lives under intersecting domes of reflected, refracted light, of scattering rays from overlit cities and suburbs, from light-flooded highways and factories. Nearly all of nighttime Europe is a nebula of light, as is most of the United States and all of Japan. In the south Atlantic the glow from a single fishing fleet—squid fishermen luring their prey with metal halide lamps—can be seen from space, burning brighter, in fact, than Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro.

In most cities the sky looks as though it has been emptied of stars, leaving behind a vacant haze that mirrors our fear of the dark and resembles the urban glow of dystopian science fiction. We’ve grown so used to this pervasive orange haze that the original glory of an unlit night—dark enough for the planet Venus to throw shadows on Earth—is wholly beyond our experience, beyond memory almost. And yet above the city’s pale ceiling lies the rest of the universe, utterly undiminished by the light we waste—a bright shoal of stars and planets and galaxies, shining in seemingly infinite darkness.

In the end, humans are no less trapped by light pollution than the frogs in a pond near a brightly lit highway. Living in a glare of our own making, we have cut ourselves off from our evolutionary and cultural patrimony—the light of the stars and the rhythms of day and night. In a very real sense, light pollution causes us to lose sight of our true place in the universe, to forget the scale of our being, which is best measured against the dimensions of a deep night with the Milky Way—the edge of our galaxy—arching overhead.”

Paul Virilio in ‘Unknown Quantity‘:
“Because of the scale of light pollution caused by over-powerful electric lighting, two thirds of humanity are now deprived of true night. On the European continent, for instance, half of the population is no longer able to see the Milky Way, and only deserted regions of our planet are still really plunged into darkness at night. This has reached the point where it is no longer only the night sky that is threatened but indeed the night itself, the great night of interstellar space; that other unknown quantity that, nonetheless, constitutes our only window on the cosmos. The situation is such, furthermore, that the International Dark-Sky Association has just launched a surrealist petition to get the night listed on the world heritage list as a heritage of humanity!

‘The World is Deeper than the Day thinks, ‘ wrote Nietzsche, while it was still a question of sunlight. But already, here and there, and often everywhere at once, contemplation of a screen not only replaces contemplation of script, the written word, the writing of history, alone, but also contemplation of the stars. So much so that the audiovisual continuum has superseded the - substantial - continuum of astronomy.”

Image: fragment from Thomas Ruff, ‘Sterne, 11h 54m, -20°’, 1989 (part of a series based on astronomical survey photos taken from the European Southern Observatory in Chile in the context of the ESO Southern Sky Atlas project [1974-1987])

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