The dark night of the soul
This week’s theme was ‘Collaboration’ and the weekly activity consisted in partnering up with one or two colleagues and entering into a creative partnership with the aim of creating a mini-project that was to be then discussed and reviewed during our weekly webinar. To help find the right partner, each one of us was asked to post a single sentence (headline, piece of prose, poetry…) or an image. We were then to get in touch with colleagues whose text or image we felt resonated with our own contribution.
One of my colleagues posted a link to the trailer of a film entitled ‘After Life’ by Japanese director, Hirokazu Kore-Eda.
Having never watched the film myself, I searched for the storyline on IMDb.com and this is what I found:
After people die, they spend a week with counselors, also dead, who help them pick one memory, the only memory they can take to eternity. They describe the memory to the staff who work with a crew to film it and screen it at week’s end; eternity follows.
I was intrigued and therefore responded with this quatrain from Edward FitzGerald’s translation of Omar Khayyám’s ‘Rubáiyát’ (1989: 76):
I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
And by and by my Soul return’d to me,
And answer’d ‘I Myself am Heav’n and Hell:’
Htet (that’s my colleague’s name) responded positively to my request for collaboration and she suggested the working theme ‘Noctuaries’ as a kind of framework for our collaborative project… something about documenting late night thoughts and how they surface in our brain as we lie awake in the dead of night when all around us is silent. We decided to tackle this by visually documenting the different and unrelated experiences of two persons in two different parts of the world during one particular night. We later came to realise that we could treat the theme ‘Noctuaries’ literally and/or metaphorically. What would result would essentially be a juxtaposition of two different visual interpretations of the theme ‘Noctuaries’ in time present. With this in mind I started researching and was soon reminded of that beautiful poem, ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, written by Saint John of the Cross (1959: 16-17):
On a dark night, Kindled in love with yearnings—oh, happy chance!—
I went forth without being observed, My house being now at rest.
In darkness and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised—oh, happy chance!—
In darkness and in concealment, My house being now at rest.
In the happy night, In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught, Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.
This light guided me More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me— A place where none appeared.
Oh, night that guided me, Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the Beloved!
Upon my flowery breast, Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him, And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.
The breeze blew from the turret As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand he wounded my neck And caused all my senses to be suspended.
I remained, lost in oblivion; My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself, Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.
I chose to tackle my experience of the lived present by picking three visual idioms that in unity corresponded to the trajectory of any given day – from nighttime, to daytime, and back again to nighttime. These are the images I contributed to the project:
And the following artist statement was written in reaction to the finished work:
This mini-project, titled “Parallel Dimensions”, investigates the experience of the lived present from two idiosyncratic perspectives, namely those of the two authors of this project. Treading between the fine line that demarcates reality from illusion, and cognizant of the somewhat fictitious and maybe wholly imaginary nature of this division, the authors relate their experiences as they meander through the vast expanses that define their habitat and extract from it visual idioms that serve as anchorage to their personal experience of selfhood. The two narratives coexist together in parallel dimensions, as the title of this mini-project suggests, and the narratives can be witnessed singularly and or in tandem. Either way, what matters is not so much the stories that seemingly emerge automatically from these visual idioms, stories that our cognitive abilities are very apt at producing especially when stimuli are given relation simply by being put side by side, but that felt moment of relatedness one may experience while pondering the images with a subject who ironically lies out of the photos’ boundaries – a subject wiped out from the depicta, yet present in every atom of the arrested, photographed being.
SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS. 1959. Dark Night of the Soul. 3rd edn. Translated by Edgar Allison Peers. New York: Image Books.
IMDB. Available at: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0165078/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_18 [accessed 23 February 2019].
KHAYYÁM, Omar. 1989. Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. Translated by Edward FitzGerald. Penguin Books.
Cars at night. February 2019 at Triq iz-Zejtun, Marsaxlokk. Photograph by the author.