Reach for the Stars! Light, Vision and the Atmosphere
Tim Ingold [+]
University of Aberdeen
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.