The Imagined Sky - Cultural Perspectives - Darrelyn Gunzburg

The Imagined Sky - Cultural Perspectives - Darrelyn Gunzburg

Reach for the Stars! Light, Vision and the Atmosphere

The Imagined Sky - Cultural Perspectives - Darrelyn Gunzburg

Tim Ingold [+-]
University of Aberdeen
Tim Ingold is currently Chair of Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen. He has carried out ethnographic fieldwork among Saami and Finnish people in Lapland, and has written on comparative questions of environment, technology and social organisation in the circumpolar North, on the role of animals in human society, and on human ecology and evolutionary theory in anthropology, biology and history. More recently,he has explored the links between environmental perception and skilled practice. Ingold is currently writing and teaching on issues on the interface between anthropology, archaeology, art and architecture. His latest book, Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture (Routledge),was published in 2013.


What is the sky? I begin by comparing the answers that psychologist James Gibson and philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty give to this question. For Gibson, light delivers objects to our perception, but is not visible as such. Yet if there were no more to the sky than its luminosity, then the sky itself would be invisible, leaving no difference between day and night. Drawing on the example of van Gogh’s painting, Starry Night, I show how light is understood by Merleau-Ponty not as radiant energy but as the experiential consequence of a fission/reaction that unites us with the cosmos even as it divides us from ourselves. Light, in other words, is a phenomenon of the atmosphere, brought about through the conflation of the cosmic with the affective. As a space of inhalation and exhalation, we alternately breathe in the atmosphere (fusion) and breathe it out (fission). I relate this alternation to one between line and colour, showing how colour lends atmosphere to the line, and how line gives colour to the atmosphere. I conclude that this alternation is fundamental to sentient life.

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Ingold, Tim. Reach for the Stars! Light, Vision and the Atmosphere. The Imagined Sky - Cultural Perspectives. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 215-233 Jun 2016. ISBN 9781781791684. Date accessed: 22 Sep 2023 doi: 10.1558/equinox.22684. Jun 2016

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