Darkness is not a mere absence of light. Darkness is not blackness. A black hole in the universe may emit no light because it draws all energy around into itself. But there is energy. There is too much energy. A superabundance of energy! But it is all inwardly directed. That is blackness. Darkness may be a state in which all cows are black. But blackness is not darkness. Darkness is much more than blackness. With blackness, cows can be distinguished from their surroundings by feeling them. By tracing our hands over their bodies, we would be able to identify a species. But in darkness, there are no species. No genera. No families. Just darkness. Darkness hovers. Blackness penetrates.
In the beginning of any creativity, there is darkness. One does not know what will appear or when it will appear. It is darkness that is exciting with promise. Darkness, unlike blackness, is a temporal rather than spatial phenomenon. Though temporal, it has two sides or two faces. In the beginning of becoming, of coming to be, the face of darkness is the face of the deep. Darkness hovers over itself. The other face of darkness appears near the end rather than at the beginning. In the beginning, when there is darkness, there is no light. However, just before the end, there is full light. The face of darkness at the beginning is scintillating with what is to be. The face of darkness before the end is the face of dread.
Arthur Koestler recognized the difference between blackness and darkness. For in darkness before the end, there is full light. Yet one cannot see. The blackness has become bleakness. In Darkness at Noon, Koestler relayed his experience as a member of the Communist Party in the thirties. There could be full sunlight, the most sunlight in the entire day. And there can still be darkness. Darkness is not an absence of light, but an inability to see. Before the end, it is an inability to see what should be apparent to anyone. Although there is more than enough light to see, if we look on, if we stand aside and gaze, no one can be differentiated. Everyone was a prop in service to the self-absorption of Stalin.
In the early part of this month, in a stunt to reverse his ratings decline due to his border closure, Donald Trump went to visit the American border with Mexico near McAllen, Texas. Senator John Cornyn, Senator Ted Cruz sporting his new beard, Sean Hannity, Trump’s echo chamber on Fox News, Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, Lieutenant Todd Semonite, Head of the Army Corps of Engineers, all tramped after Trump as he walked along the Rio Grande. They were either stone-faced or nodded in agreement at his many utterances claiming to prove a need for a wall – or a barrier, or a steel fence. Watching the whole entourage on television offered a direct experience of darkness, darkness at noon when the sun shone right overhead and there were no shadows, when differences are readily apparent. But there were no differences. Though Ted Cruz wore a bomber jacket and the jackets of others could be differentiated, these were all men, even the one woman, these were all men in grey flannel suits.
It was a day in which all cows and all politicians and all members of the senior administration were black. Not Black, but black. Like black holes, light was sucked inward to prevent enlightenment. Blackness was the inverted world of light, of the Enlightenment. Trump asserted that building his wall was “common sense” as he redefined common sense as non-sense. Like all tyrants before him, Trump declared that he had an “absolute right to declare a national emergency.” A national emergency did not have to exist. If he declared it, then it did exist. Trump’s word was the law.
What happens if there is no such national emergency, but Trump declares that one exists? What happens if the President determines that a national emergency exists because he did not get what he wanted? That is the emergency. The 1976 National Emergencies Act grants Trump no such absolute right. However, it does not deny it. It relies on other constitutional provisions – the power of the House to determine where and when money can be spent. When there is day and when there is night and when night can be turned into day and the brightness of day can be turned into night, then we know that darkness is hovering over the face of the deep once again. However, we recognize that the deep has become shallow under the cover of darkness.
From the inside, everything is black and lacks colour and nuance. But to experience the blackness from the outside is to experience darkness, is to discover that that we are hovering above that blackness and it is we who are cast into darkness, not because we cannot make distinctions, but because what we see is indistinguishable. But if we look harder, if we search our own minds and memories for contrast, we will know that what we see is simply dull and drab, that we are viewing everything under a black cloud, that if we look closely, if we look with our hearts as well as our eyes, we will see eyes of the Other that are really slits of pain and brows that are wrinkled in agony. Instead of triumphalism, we will see desperation. We will see the slits turn into dots as they move closer together on the face of the deep. We will see only self-loathing.
DT would have us believe that people can and should only be seen on a screen, online or on television. Otherwise, there is no reality. Modern technology allows directors to populate the picture before us with tens, with hundreds, with even thousands of men, all in camouflage with nothing essential that distinguishes one from the other. They look like they are ready for battle, for combat, but they are like the cardboard artillery pieces the Brits mounted on their shores in 1939-40 to fool the Nazi enemy into believing that they were prepared for war.
Everything DT reveals shows that all that glitters is not gold. The glitter hides the total absence of underlying value. It glistens but does not gleam. DT serves a Macdonald’s hamburger to a wealthy guest with impeccable taste when he invites him to break bread at his home. Instead of the details revealing what is true and real, they unveil a fraud.
To be able to see in the darkness, it is necessary to prepare. We must get in shape to be able to overcome numbness in order to confront dumbness and deflate it. We do not do so by participating in the overblown, by making the blackness lurid, but by muted understatement. Our minds and eyes must become alert even when we cannot see the danger before us. We must rely on our noses to sniff the threat. The trick will be to read when we can only see and to see what we are actually reading. That takes preparation. That takes practice. At least, if we want to see and understand the great weight holding down the flimsiness and fragility and apparent weightlessness that confront us daily. When all that appears is a blur, look for clear lines. When we view a few and seemingly simple lines and a very muted and small-ranged palette, look for depth.
How do we express what we see? With economy. A shallow and ignorant man incapable of articulation requires only a few quick flicks, flashes of economy, a verbal austerity, like a character in a Ruth Prawer Jhabvala short story. What requires revelation is not DT’s dreary and unrefined raw character, but his danger, his threat to society and to civilization. It requires probing into the shallowness to discover the depth beneath, that the sense of entitlement has been built on a sand dune easily washed out to sea in a storm. For beneath it all, it is important to recognize that Donald Trump is a refugee from Queens who has sought refuge, first in Manhattan and then in the rest of the world, but despises refugees because they remind him of where he came from, a world of material wealth but spiritual impoverishment, a world which he, unlike most refugees who come with richer backgrounds, was unable to leave behind.
How do you portray a man with no knowledge of syntax or coherence or consistency or validity with one with syntax, with explication, with logic and with a fluency that captures rather than hides the waves of reality? If the observer becomes obsessed with ignorance of a profound order, he or she becomes mesmerized when that ignorance is married to power. On the one hand, the hypnotized can only see what they are told to see. On the other hand, that hypnotic quality is also a vital danger to one who values distance. Precaution is then necessary, the same precaution Agamemnon needed when passing between Scylla and Charybdis, between a rock and a hard place, between two apparently equal hazards. As Aeschylus wrote, “When all is dark, shall we unwisely; Rush blindfold on an unconsulted deed?” What does an observer do if he or she lacks the acerbic wit that provides the sharp spears to prevent madness from colonizing one’s mind?
By remembering that if we are to survive the high noon of darkness, it cannot be done by looking back nostalgically to the morning when it was far easier to see and one was not blinded by the glitter and the glum. We must be prepared to see, or, if not to actually see, to anticipate that youthful seers will be around the corner who have no memory and no nostalgic longing for what has been lost. As such, they may be somewhat immune to the grifter, to the lecher, to the manipulator who claims the future is a return to an eternal never-never land of greatness. For the poseur always has reincarnation on offer. When fixated on being reborn, whether here on earth or in the afterlife, one becomes a sucker for false promises, and, much more seriously, blind to the pain and poverty in one’s surroundings. Let me illustrate with an ancient reference.
Yesterday, we drove out with a guide to Monte Albán, a magnificent architectural site only 10 kilometres south-east of Oaxaca. As we rose into the mountains to a level of about 6,000 feet, I felt we were in Israel visiting an architectural site there since the topography seemed so similar though the elevation was much higher. I personally felt it in my breathing as I very quickly became breathless. It did not help that I was hosting a bad cough. But this site was vast, far larger than it first appeared or that I had ever experienced. And that was only the part of the site that had been excavated. We went through the museum first to become oriented.
The biblical narrative stretches back about 1,500 years A.D. preceded by a cosmological narrative that dates the world less than 6,000 years ago. Genesis provides the metaphysical foundation for the central narrative of Exodus, the escape of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and their entry into the Promised Land. The Zapotecs founded what the Spaniards later called Monte Albán, because of the white flowers of a specific tree that blanketed the mountain, in approximately 700 B.C., only a few centuries after the Israelite exodus. As the guide said, Zapotec stories told of their own Moses.
In many ways, the tales were similar – one of successful occupation then abandonment and then re-occupation. Further, each successive ruler put his mark on the site by either expanding an existing temple or building a new temple nearby and contracting the size of another temple. But unlike Jerusalem where the temple is in the centre of the city, in the Zapotec site, the people lived on the farmland in the valley at the foot of the mountain and this was a religious site where the people gathered to worship their gods, each temple celebrating one of the different major gods.
The site differed from Jerusalem, not only because it was not a place of habitation but of worship only, not only because there were multiple temples to various gods rather than a single temple mount, but also because it was not a fortress. This does not mean the Zapotecs were not strategic in where they located their city. The city lay to the west, but the enemies lived to the south, the Mayans, the north and the west – the Olmecs, Teotihuacános and the Mexicas. The safe land of the Zapotecs was protected by the mountains and the Pacific Ocean 230 km. to the east. More importantly, the strategy of conflict differed radically. It was centred on the very meaning of the word, Zapotec, a place of reconciliation. Oaxaca was on a trading route where the different peoples of the area – 26 linguistic groups of Zapotecs alone – and in the region, Mayan traders from the south, other groups from the north and from the west, came together to barter and trade in the currency of the time, cocoa beans. Several repeated periods of development and abandonment went on for 1600 years until its final abandonment in the 9th century, 400 years before the Aztec Empire was established and 700 years before Cortés the region on behalf of Spain.
There is another difference between this religious centre and Jerusalem. It had a ball court that has been excavated and preserved. Evidently the sport was played with three to a side using a rubber ball. Prior to the Spanish conquest, Europeans used balls made of leather, but after the conquest, rubber was incorporated into ball sports in Europe. The game was played evidently by bouncing the ball off the walls at each end of a very large court, much longer than a tennis court, so the players would have been required to have enormous stamina to play the game. We were told a story about hoops – a story that is disputed in terms of archeology – were there or were there not hoops? – and history. Re the latter, the story is told that it was extremely rare and difficult to get the ball through the hoop because of its height. But if successful, the player who achieved such a feat was sacrificed so that he could enjoy an afterlife living among the gods.
We were told by the guide that the grounds of the entire plateau surrounded by these monumental structures – erroneously referred to as pyramids for they were simply layers of foundations that were extended upward and outward – could hold 6,000 people. I estimated that the grounds could easily hold ten times that number. Other than the escape and magical tunnels running through them, the structures were solid: The Grand Playa, the System II, the Dancers (named after carvings which turned out not to represent dancers at all), a Southern Platform, The Palace and a number of central buildings. There may have been others. The fact is that the expanse was vast and was clearly one of the greatest Mesopotamian metropolises.
Two particular rituals described to us stood out. A shaman/king – I was not sure whether the religious and political leader was united into one person or not – appeared on a platform with his masks and baubles dangling from him, but he would announce to the multitude the forecast of the rains to come and the proof, a shaft of light that would strike and be reflected from a cistern below. The Zapotecs had been so advanced in their mathematics and astronomical calculations that they built the structure so that at the equinox, or some other predefined time, the light from the sun would penetrate a slot in the structure and be reflected back on the cistern as a beam of light.
Evidently, the ruler had a small cluster of intellectuals attached to the monarchy who kept, developed and passed on the mysteries of that knowledge, knowledge withheld from the people to enhance the mystery and power of the king. Instead of knowledge existing to challenge power, power was used to create a monopoly over knowledge. The magic extended to outright trickery, for the king in all his royal regalia would dance, give his speech and then suddenly disappear, reappearing on the platform of another structure to put on a repeat performance. But if the tunnels were as narrow as the guide described – as a boy he used to go into the tunnels for the archeologists because they did not easily fit, earning usually a quarter for the effort – how did the shaman in his regalia and headdress do it? That was the real magic.
If knowledge is power, if knowledge controlled and monopolized by power reinforces authoritarian rule, in a system, such as ours, where knowledge is said to be the counterweight to correct and limit power, how did the country with the greatest university system in the world elect such an ignorant president? How did the promise of resurrection unite with mass naiveté to choose a trickster and fraud for its president?
To be continued.