The question of how much we welcome the morning and how much we fear the night may yet lie at the heart of what we call our ‘well-being’. The West facade of many a medieval cathedral features ghoulish and demonic faces and figures, apparently placed there by the stone masons to ward off the evil of the oncoming night. And many a Victorian or Edwardian school or public building is set at an angle designed to catch as much daylight as possible.
Allowed one constitutional walk per day I chose the relatively unpopulated dawn as my preferred time to perambulate the local park. I’ve seen the sun rise several times this week and it’s always a worthwhile sight.
Technically of course the sun never ‘rises’, but that’s the way the complex interactions of the sun, moon, stars and planets appear to a simple human like me.
So much of life and experience is, in this way, misunderstood and misinterpreted by us, using our basic senses and what we call our ‘common sense’. Meanwhile science is able to explain everything in far more complex, different and often what we call ‘counter-intuitive’ ways.
This leaves us modern folk living a kind of dichotomy, understanding our lives and experience as a mixture of the scientific -on one hand- and the intuitive and more purely sensual -on the other. When I say ‘sensual’ I suppose I mean unprocessed, unrationalised, you might say ‘un-understood’ experience.
I’m OK with that. When I need science I’ll use it of course, and when I want to experience unscientifically, like watching the sun ‘rise’ for the pure pleasure of doing so, I’ll set science aside, as long as doing so doesn’t put me or anyone else in any danger.
Then again, to only experience dawn as a sensual spectacle does also require purposefully setting aside the immensity of the questions raised by the experience, i.e. the acknowledgement that I am truly perched on an orb spinning through infinite space in which everything is whirring and turning in relation to everything else.
The thought of this complexity, and the complexity of this thought are probably impossible to manage unless we apply either a scientific or an aesthetic frame (an episteme perhaps) to contain it all.
So, my response to the sun ‘rise’ is pleasurable, probably according to established aesthetic notions of ‘the sublime’ with its mix of fear and excitement. I take pleasure, spiced with a little awe, in witnessing the spectacle, but the spectacle contains, implicit within it, immense questions and challenges to comprehension (the scale, motion and complexity of the universe).
The sun’s ‘setting’ will of course provide another, beautiful and/or sublime, awesome and thought-provoking spectacle, though mixed now with a valediction for the day and a sense of the onset of night, which is, invariably – even to us moderns – more fearful than the morning and the new day delivered by a sunrise.
So, I walk out to face the dawn each day with a kind of relish, hurrying my steps lest I miss the moment of the sun’s first appearance over the horizon. And at the end of the day I relatively dawdle towards bed, going through a series of rituals that will gradually ease me under the covers and help ensure as comfortable and unconscious a night as possible.