Night Passages

Night Passages: Philosophy, Literature, and Film

ELISABETH BRONFEN
TRANSLATED BY THE AUTHOR WITH DAVID BRENNER
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 496
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/bron14798
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    Night Passages
    Book Description:

    In the beginning was the night. All light, shapes, language, and subjective consciousness, as well as the world and art depicting them, emerged from this formless chaos. In fantasy, we seek to return to this original darkness. Particularly in literature, visual representations, and film, the night resiliently resurfaces from the margins of the knowable, acting as a stage and state of mind in which exceptional perceptions, discoveries, and decisions play out.

    Elisabeth Bronfen investigates the nocturnal spaces in which extraordinary events unfold, and casts a critical eye into the darkness that enables the irrational exploration of desire, transformation, ecstasy, transgression, spiritual illumination, and moral choice. She begins with an analysis of classical myths depicting the creation of the world and then moves through night scenes in Shakespeare and Milton, Gothic novels and novellas, Hegel's romantic philosophy, and Freud's psychoanalysis. Bronfen also demonstrates how modern works of literature and film, particularly film noir, can convey that piece of night the modern subject carries within. From Mozart's "Queen of the Night" to Virginia Woolf 's oscillation between day and night, life and death, and chaos and aesthetic form, Bronfen renders something visible, conceivable, and comprehensible from the dark realms of the unknown.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51972-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Philosophy, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. PROLOGUE: MY QUEEN OF THE NIGHT
    (pp. XI-XIV)

    The night is not simply a time for sleeping. For all those who do not wish to reveal their thoughts to their pillows alone, a vibrant time opens up after darkness. At night the diurnal world undergoes reflection and commentary. At night we encounter another way of reckoning time; a time that cannot be reckoned; a time of reckoning. Indeed, some people actually need a portion of night on a daily basis so they can be enclosed in silence, apart from everyone else. Whether we regularly stay awake after dark or do so only sporadically, on the threshold between the...

  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. XV-XVIII)
  6. INTRODUCTION: THE EXILE OF THE STAR-BLAZING QUEEN IN THE MAGIC FLUTE
    (pp. 1-26)

    The point of myths is not to answer existential questions, but rather to expel such anxieties about all that is unknown, which prove to be the source of these queries in the first place. As Hans Blumenberg argues, terror is not so much triggered by what we don’t know, as by the intimation of something radically ungraspable to our comprehension. Indeed, the terror the radically unknown elicits lies precisely in the fact that it can neither be conjured up nor assailed with magic thinking. Telling stories, in turn, allows us to overcome such anxieties by giving a name to that...

  7. PART I. COSMOGONIES OF THE NIGHT
    • CHAPTER 1 NYX AND HER CHILDREN
      (pp. 29-43)

      Cosmogenetic narratives revolve around the notion of formless darkness informing the beginning of all things. The world takes shape only in contrast toand in separation fromthe deep darkness from which it has emerged, engendering an incessant interplay of day and night, light and shadow, becoming and passing away. In creation stories, the terrestrial difference between night’s dark and day’s light that fundamentally structures the order of the everyday world recalls the nonexistence preceding it by positing a primordial night as the precondition from which all ordinary nights are distinguished. In this chapter, I will first explore how classical antiquity imagined...

    • CHAPTER 2 LET THERE BE DARKNESS!
      (pp. 44-64)

      In the book of Genesis, the world emerges owing to an inaugural illumination of a desolate darkness. In contrast to the cosmogony of antiquity, however, in the place of primordial chaos we find an all-inclusive God, whose eternity contains all aspects of a world still to be created:

      In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said ‘Let there be light;’ and there was light. And God saw that...

    • CHAPTER 3 HEGEL’S NIGHT OF THE WORLD
      (pp. 65-85)

      The project of the Enlightenment, deriving its name from the idea that progress entails a bringing of light, understands the search for truth as being concomitant with an elucidation of all dark psychic representations. The light of knowledge separates from the darkness of ignorance as Sarastro’s reason does from the superstition of the Queen of the Night. Yet if in The Magic Fluteall knowledge that does not follow the laws of rationality ultimately must be expelled from an enlightened order of things, the dramaturgy of the opera reveals a seminal conundrum. A domain of nocturnal phantasmagoria must first be (re)produced,...

    • CHAPTER 4 FREUD’S NIGHT SIDE OF THE SOUL
      (pp. 86-106)

      “Where id was, ego shall now be,” Sigmund Freud proclaims, recalling the cosmogenetic gesture of Genesis. The self-knowledge to be gained in the course of psychoanalytic therapy is meant to separate consciousness from the realm of affects and instincts. Although this process brings light to the psychic apparatus, Freud’s mature subject nevertheless continues to carry a piece of night within: the unconscious psychic materials, whose discovery brings with it such serious injury to narcissism. Under ordinary conditions, the subject considers himself to be master of his psychic household; he believes that the critic he has created at its kernel to...

  8. PART II. NIGHT TALKS
    • CHAPTER 5 SHAKESPEARE’S NIGHT WORLD
      (pp. 109-135)

      As a linguistic term, the night denotes both the opposite of the day and its supplement. As Gérard Genette notes, we equate the week with seven days, even though it contains seven nights as well. The day excepts the night, even though it also includes it. A conceptual consequence of this uneven distinction between day and night is the fact that, because the day is considered to be the norm, it requires no further specification. The night, by contrast, represents the deviation, distortion, or modification of the norm. Although day is conceived as the more essential part of the binary...

    • CHAPTER 6 FREUD’S BOOK OF DREAMS
      (pp. 136-155)

      Mothers tell bedtime stories so that by evoking the night as a protective site their children can fall asleep peacefully. The scenes they call forth are meant to assuage their children’s fear of a world that, because it has fallen into darkness, has taken on an unfamiliar guise. Sometimes the story simply serves to call forth a peaceful nocturnal scene that will make children feel safe in their beds. In Goodnight Moon, we find a description of how darkness slowly sets over all the objects in the nursery, whereas the child lying in bed wishes each and every one of...

    • CHAPTER 7 A POETICS OF INSOMNIA
      (pp. 156-174)

      At the beginning of In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust’s narrator wakes up in the middle of the night. Suspended between sleeping and getting up from his bed, he recalls how, for a long period of time, he would go to bed early and fall asleep almost immediately after putting out the candles, only to be awakened again by the thought that it was time to seek out sleep. For a few seconds he was convinced that the book he had put away just before falling asleep was about himself. His reawakened reason is not disturbed by this transference...

  9. PART III. GOTHIC NIGHTS
    • CHAPTER 8 MORAL TEMPTATIONS OF THE NIGHT
      (pp. 177-193)

      With every sunset, the clearly contoured world of daylight again falls into darkness; therefore, Christian mythology casts the night as the devil’s realm of influence, where his evil is at its most powerful. Although God created the world out of darkness, its light must incessantly be wrested from the night over and over again. The magical thinking of superstition, however, not only conceives of the night as a force that destroys the sun and daylight, with each twilight devouring the world only to release it again unharmed each dawn; the power struggle between day and night also decides whether goodness...

    • CHAPTER 9 SEEING THE WORLD DARKLY
      (pp. 194-221)

      Voltaire, one of the main representatives of the Enlightenment, has Reason tell her daughter Truth in his Eloge historique de la raison (1775): “We must first walk through the darkness of ignorance and lies in front of us before we can enter your castle of light from which we were both cast out so many centuries ago.” With this statement he curiously anticipates the transition to the magical thinking that finds its acme in gothic literature around 1800. Reason herself declares that the human subject must first experience the abyss within the soul before he or she can discover the...

    • CHAPTER 10 NIGHT’S DOUBLES
      (pp. 222-244)

      The doppelganger embodies night’s complex duality par excellence. It is not only conceived as a counterpart to the day, but is also itself doubled, harboring both dangerous temptations and the promise of redemption. Reminiscent of Nyx’s children Hypnos and Thanatos, this gothic figure enacts the conflict between conscious diurnal rationality and the unconscious nocturnal side of the soul as a fascinating yet fatal dialogue the ego entertains with itself. Edgar Allen Poe’s William Wilson persistently meets up again with the self from which he has separated, seeking to warn his double of the terrible consequences his culpable deeds will have....

    • CHAPTER 11 THE NOCTURNAL FLANEUR
      (pp. 245-274)

      In his poem, “Evening Twilight” (1861), Charles Baudelaire calls the waning of daylight that transforms humans into restless beasts a “friend of all criminals,” who “like an accomplice sneaks up on you softly on wolf’s paws.” The beginning of the evening gives comfort and relief only to those who have accomplished their day’s work, such as the persistent scholar and the exhausted day laborer. As daylight grows darker, immoral demons awake, setting out on their secret passages to besiege the city with their shady activities. For Baudelaire these include prostitutes, actresses, musicians, gamblers, con men, and thieves. Speaking to the...

  10. PART IV. NIGHT AND FILM NOIR
    • CHAPTER 12 RETURN OF A HOLLYWOOD STAR
      (pp. 277-290)

      Our earthly existence, the wager of film noir, is nocturnal. This Hollywood genre conceives the world as an intricate maze from which there is no escape. In it rules a law of contingency that irrevocably turns to fate. What initially seems to be a happy coincidence, a lucky chance, or an unforeseen accident ultimately proves to be an inevitable act of providence that could never have ended any other way. In retrospect, many noir heroes speak of their past in terms of a gamble, claiming that from the start it was all meant to go one way. As the unlucky...

    • CHAPTER 13 NOCTURNAL DESIRE OF THE FEMME FATALE
      (pp. 291-307)

      The term film noir was first suggested by Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton. They wanted to find a common denominator for a set of highly diverse thrillers and melodramas, beginning with John Huston’s Maltese Falcon (1941) and ending with Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958). They chose the term deliberately, wishing to signal these films’ proximity to the hard-boiled tradition in American crime fiction that had been published by Gallimard after World War II in its série noir program. They also wanted to allude to the legacy of French poetic realism of the 1930s, most notably the films by Jean...

    • CHAPTER 14 INTO THE NIGHT
      (pp. 308-325)

      If the nocturnal world of film noir stands under the auspices of a feminine power, it also decides the fate of all who enter this other world seeking to circumvent the laws of the everyday and live out their fantasies unencumbered by its constraints. For all those involved, these dark film narratives about thwarted hopes and disclosed betrayals veer toward a decisive scene of recognition that no one can avoid. In this darkly shaded world, gamblers obsessed by fortune not only transgress the law, but also reach their own physical and psychic limit. At the heart of the labyrinthine path...

    • CHAPTER 15 FATE AND CHANCE
      (pp. 326-340)

      Tragedy, as Stanley Cavell argues, not only offers proof that our actions have consequences “which outrun our best, and worst intentions”; a play like Shakespeare’s King Lear also shows that “the reason consequences furiously hunt us down is not merely that we are half blind and unfortunate, but that we go on doing the thing which produced these consequences in the first place.” We must therefore ask what it takes to break loose from a self-engendered cycle of fatality. What we need, Cavell argues, is neither rebirth nor salvation, “but the courage, or plain prudence, to see and to stop....

  11. PART V. THE ETHICS OF AWAKENING
    • CHAPTER 16 WHAT LIES AT THE END OF THE NIGHT
      (pp. 343-350)

      Since Plato, philosophical thinking has been understood as something that sheds light on the dark realms of the unknown, rendering something visible, conceivable, and tellable. As I have argued throughout this book, the night’s absence of light serves in turn as the ground and vanishing point for a thinking and imaging of the world based on vision. It is the matrix against which any mode of thinking aimed at illumination must distinguish and position itself. And yet, the night resiliently returns from the margins of the map of the knowable to which the enlightenment has allocated it, particularly in aesthetic...

    • CHAPTER 17 GEORGE ELIOT’S DAWN
      (pp. 351-369)

      George Eliot explains why, in contrast to her predecessor, the epic satirist Henry Fielding, she could not undertake extensive narrative comments and digressions: “I at least have so much to do in unraveling certain human lots, and seeing how they were woven and interwoven, that all the light I can command must be concentrated on this particular web, and not dispersed over that tempting range of relevancies called the universe” (171). Victorian England, which she resuscitates on the pages of Middlemarch, is not only represented as a tapestry of figures confined to a single town and its surroundings. The characters...

    • CHAPTER 18 EDITH WHARTON’S TWILIGHT
      (pp. 370-389)

      In the midst of a stream of people passing through Grand Central Station in the afternoon, Lawrence Selden pauses, his eyes refreshed by the sight of the radiant Miss Lily Bart. Wearing, as he notes, “an air of irresolution” that might be “the mask of a very definite purpose” (3) she stands apart from the crowd. Unlike the others, she does not rush forward to the street, nor does she move back toward the platform. She is simply standing, arrested on this threshold, as if waiting for something. She strikes him as one who is determined to act, but as...

    • CHAPTER 19 VIRGINIA WOOLF’S NIGHTS AND DAYS
      (pp. 390-428)

      Early one June morning, Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway leaves her house to buy flowers for the party she is giving that evening. Walking across Hyde Park, she thinks to herself that “She felt very young; at the same time unspeakably aged. She sliced like a knife through everything; at the same time was outside, looking on. She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day” (6). That night she hopes “to kindle and...

  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 429-438)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 439-454)