Light Traces (Studies in Continental Thought)
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What is the effect of light as it measures the seasons? How does light leave different traces on the terrain―on a Pacific Island, in the Aegean Sea, high in the Alps, or in the forest? John Sallis considers the expansiveness of nature and the range of human vision in essays about the effect of light and luminosity on place. Sallis writes movingly of nature and the elements, employing an enormous range of philosophical, geographical, and historical knowledge. Paintings and drawings by Alejandro A. Vallega illuminate the text, accentuating the interaction between light and environment.
presented. Formed by lines that are without width and hence, strictly considered, are invisible, a triangle is itself invisible; and a drawing can be nothing more than a trace serving to bring the figure to light. Words, too, especially when their saying is most forceful, cease to be mere images of the things to which they refer and of the meanings they express. Above and beyond merely signifying, they come to trace, ever so lightly, the contours and weavings of undivided sense. The endless
curved slightly downward and how this feature made the hawk appear all the more ready to swoop down to the ground, should some small creature suddenly come into sight. The bird’s eyes were fixed, and yet its stare was intense. As with most wild things, they had that strange look, that uncanny remoteness, that, once one has experienced it, leaves no doubt but that a chasm separates humans from living things that are truly wild. This unbridgeable separation across which genuine communication is
making the pure whiteness of the snow seem, by contrast, to shine all the more brilliantly, lending both intensity and shape to the otherwise dark light. Even if sounds were to intrude on the silence, the tread, for instance, of someone walking across the snow, almost nothing would be heard; for the snow cushions and absorbs all that sounds, quiets whatever might come to break the silence. While we know that the quiet will not last indefinitely, we hold at bay the moment when disruption will
inevitably come, project it effortlessly into an indefinite future, opening thus a protective interval between the present scene and the disturbance to come, an interval that prevents that future from touching the scene that now lies quietly before us. While bearing the memory of the storm – or rather, letting it be borne along by the present scene – we hold in suspension all expectation of what is to come. At least, this is what we are required to do if we would experience the quiet of this
while at the same time collecting, intensifying, reflecting, and spreading the sunlight that bathes the scene. Opening to the light, vision retraces the lines drawn by nature across the scene and remarks their points of intersection. The scene leaves its traces on all the senses, not just individually but in such a way that each sense crosses over to the others, effacing their difference. Vision is paired with listening; they flow together to such an extent that the sight of the water’s