For those born before television, before sleep became one amongst many options, night was travelled through with caution. Because it was a place where all of the world’s negativity lurked. Night clouded reason and at nightfall the legends of the non-living once again became real, exacting a personal tribute of blood and death. Darkness was – and is – the collector of all repressed urges, the mine from which Paleozoic material was extracted and then burned on the age-old fire of the imagination. It was the place where detritus and remains were collected. It was the compost heap where everything which the day had left beind was piled up.
The beauty of the night resided in an ancestral terror which gripped old and young alike. Night was loved for that thrill of fear. Until just a few decades ago, night was synonymous with silence. A silence where every sound rang out appallingly loud, the creaking of settling furniture or passing of a slow train or groaning which escapes the mouth of a sleeper.
Silence amplified the night. Marlene Dietrich knew this. She could not close her eyes even with the help of tranquillizers. It is she who introduces Shir hatan, a yiddish song, saying: “This is a song that tells you about the sounds you hear in the night. The animals cry because they’re hungry and the child cries in the night because he’s hungry and lonely”.
Before progress became just commerce and decided to expand its dominions in time and space, night made us more alone. It placed us naked in front of our demons, in front of the torment of a solitary journey.
Today it is normal and natural for many of us to travel through the night awake. Until the nineteen sixties, cities were hardly lit. Today, in a surge of “enlightenment”, most streets and squares are lit as in daytime, destroying the darkness of the night, the dangers and the traffic which night holds and letting city dwellers sleep soundly. A stupid thing, since night physiologically produces areas of shade which no Big Brother can ever scrutinize and control. And violence is now irredeemably ingrained in man’s operations.
Who is frightened by the night? Frightened, not made anxious. Few people. I think of the bedridden, entrenched in themselves and listening to messages sent by their body, interpreting and resisting them. I think of the transversal nations which go by the name of “clandestine immigrants”. Worlds parallel with the worlds of those who use the night to look for consolation or to consciously wipe out thoughts with fun. In the darkness these nations pass by without recognising each other.
Someone sang that the night belongs to lovers, and you cannot say that he is wrong.
I believe that it was only in the nineteen hundreds that people began to talk of “night of humanity”, “night of reason”, etc. meaning the historic moments when redemption was no longer possible, moments when we used less the brakes of inhibition which, we think, help us to remain human, bearers of humanity, and the Beast is broken. But we must ask why Hitler and nazism are the focal example of it, while the Israel-Palestine conflict manages so easily to avoid the stigma.
Probably, when we exchanged night for day, when we decided that night was like day, that there was no difference between living in one or the other, between doing it at the same time, in that moment we lost the light of reason. We became apathetic, indifferent to what happens in the world, ignorant of why it happens. We turned ourselves into the non-living, into the mirror image of those creatures who frightened us so much and who allowed us to feel the blood run in our veins. We turned into human beings for whom being dead or not being alive are not very different. We acquired a condition of the spirit which is difficult to turn back from, and even more difficult to look back from.
And yet it is in night, in sleep and dreams, that thoughts, man’s intuitions, should take shape. In the black cavern into which the world sinks every twelve hours, seeds of future reasoning (and thus of future reason) should proliferate. Who knows, maybe it is like that for some people. Maybe some people always hope it is.