The Twilight of Light and Time

On the Shadows of Doubt found in the poetics of Light and Time

Bronzino:  Venus, Cupid, Folly & Time,  1540-1546, National Gallery London

Bronzino: Venus, Cupid, Folly & Time, 1540-1546, National Gallery London

Twilight of Light and Time

The title of this lecture, whereby Shadows Cast from a Thin King was purposively allegorical, metaphorically disguises a shared moral conceit between Light and Time. The Twilight of Light and Time refers to the many poetic quotes that allude to time revealing truth by bringing it to light, but with the veiled inclusion of doubt. These poetic judgements, which scatter the vocabulary of knowledge, induce a moral alliance between reason and being which I will herein reveal.

From the many classic quotes on the subject, I would like to borrow from Sophocles:

“The long unmeasured pulse of time moves everything. There is nothing hidden that it cannot bring to light, nothing once known that may not become unknown.”

Sophocles introduces time as the mover or motivator par excellence. As the mover time brings things to light and takes them away. It is up to time, whose intrinsic nature is to move made manifest in things, to seek, find and ‘bring to light’ (reveal) that which was previously unknown (or false), thereby bringing the thing into view of knowledge, clarity and/or justice; but also to hide, obscure, veil and aid forgetting. Within Sophocles’ quote, (unlike Shakespeare’s: “Time’s glory is to calm contending kings, to unmask falsehood and bring truth to light”) the image of Time, as personified through the deification of Time as Kiaros/Kronos[1], is presented in both his significant roles[i]. Time is both a revealer and a deceiver, a deliverer of knowledge and also its suppressor. This double image of Time lies in a larger iconography of ‘Father Time’, which includes the like metonyms of: “Time devours everything”, and “Time reveals all”[ii].  In the words of Shakespeare, ‘thou nursest all and murder’st all that are”.[2] Time is the sole soldier in the army of light, or so it seems.

 For the moment we are dealing with bringing time to light, revealing the duplicity of time. If Time is brought to light, it reveals a contradiction in its singular aims; aim one: to create and reveal, aim two: to destroy and disguise. But it does so, despite the “pseudomorphosis” of its iconographic genesis, consistent with a guiding principle or concept, as expressed in the opening of the Sophoclean quote. “The long unmeasured pulse of time moves everything.” This concept provides an image of time as an existence creator, Sophocles intimates, in an eternal (“long unmeasured”) endless expanse. Time is “a universal and inexorable power which through a cycle of procreation and destruction causes what may be called a cosmic unity”[3], to quote Erwin Panofsky. Time is manifest in the movement of the things it creates and destroys, and these things create space through their population of it. Things exist in time, temporally (given from the ‘Temps’) and time exists naturally belonging to things; the things created and destroyed by it. What I want to make clear is that time is not separate from things it “brings to light”; rather time is essential to them, as they are to time.[iii]

 If we return to the metaphors of the Sophoclean quote, light takes the image of the seeing (and perceiving) eye. “There is nothing that it [time] cannot bring to light, nothing once known that may not become unknown”. Time brings its objects into lights intelligible view, and through this view can one identify the object (restoring truth or clarity from the obscurity of darkness). So it is through this characterisation that light becomes, in a sense, aligned with knowledge and/or enlightenment. However, as Plato explains, light also blinds us, obscuring the possibility of grasping the intelligible view. Light does not always reveal the thing; rather, it re-veils[4] the thing. Light veils the thing in light through projecting light upon it, rendering the thing available to be seen, and, returning to the metaphor, it is the intelligible view that receives the reflected light, making intelligible and discernable sense of it. Herein lies a disturbing conceit, where there is light upon an object (or thing) there are shadows, even in the endless expanse of thinking.[iv]

 Hence the binding relationship between time and light is intricately entwined about and through the thing. Light moves, which is its core nature. Whether it is observed from the perspective of Newtonian particle theory (“although Newton himself was more cautious on the question than some of his followers”[5]) or in view of Christian Huygens’ wave theory, light moves. Given that time is the mover, light moves on times account, its creations and destructions, and is rendered intelligible to the eye through and by things[v]. Time, on the other hand, is measured by light.

As I have established, the nature of light is movement, thereby it travels in a direction. Just as the sun lights the world by day, half the globe is always plunged into the dark of night. There are three significant types of shadow produced when light encounters a thing: the cast shadow, the shade, and the type of shadow that, in the endless expanse, is produced by the object or thing upon itself is known as an ‘attached’, or ‘self’-, or (as defined by Leonardo Da Vinci[6]) an ‘original’ shadow. (With regards to the Thin King, I referred solely to the cast type of shadow). The self-shadow, as I will refer to it hereon, is intrinsic to the formal characteristics of the object where the object itself interrupts the path of the travelling light.  

Every thing that time brings to lights attention invariably, by the very nature of light upon an object, has its self shadows attached, its self doubt. Ironic as it may seem, it is due to these attached self-shadows that the view quickly acquires information about the thing time has presented. For instance, shelf-shadow reveals the sphere in the circle, the cube in the hexagon, and the olive from the ellipse. Under the conditions of a universal light where the object is seen from a multitude of lighted perspectives, all perspectives would relay a flat image, requiring unnecessary calculations of the intellect and imagination to reconstitute the many perspectives into the cognisance of a single thing.

These self-shadows are the prerequisite tools through which the gaze recognises itself. You may recall from my last lecture that we stand where we stand, are who we are, only because an intimate part of ourselves stands on the other side, outside of ourselves, with the other (shadows). As far as the object or thing is not yet a subject, this intimate part can be considered as the cast shadow, however, in the event of subjectivisation, it is the attached self-shadow that becomes the intimate distinction, in the endless expanse of the moment of the event. Where the gaze (doubled) encounters itself it is activated through the recognition not of light, nor of the fallen shadow[7], but of the self-shadow, self-doubt. The revelatory aspect of the gaze is housed in the astonishment of this recognition, by necessity complete with the perplexity of doubt. Self-shadows testify to the loss or lack inherent to the subject, they are the markers of absence, or, as Zupancic might prefer, they testify to the presence of the lost or abandoned other.

The gaze may therefore take on the metaphor of light itself. It is from the privileged position, the intelligible view, that light holds with regard to time and things that reveals the rupture or split between itself as projective origin and its object as reflective extent. However light casts doubt through its nature and interaction with things in such a way that it produces the intimate other of itself which in return testifies to the presence of that light. Just as the mechanics of perspectival drawing engage light positions to extract shadow details, these shadows, in return, implicate the type and source of light from whence they came.  

In other words, the self-shadow becomes, in the event of subjectivisation, the minimal differing that constitutes the intimate otherness of self[vi]. One might simply say that it is the indetermination of self-doubt that allows or makes available any (momentary) determination of self. In evoking doubt I do not reserve reference to only Cartesian or post-Cartesian doubt. “Doubt implies a reference to a double, a doubleness of mind: to be in two minds about things.”[8] This doubt testifies to a rupture, a split or ‘wound’ in the univocity of ontological thought and being. There is no authoritative unified and intelligible voice to mark or reveal the thing/object, rather there are two (or many) voices engaged in the ordeal of elenctic and sceptic discussion. Reason is necessary for discussion, not its end.  

To be clear, light possesses a double character. Where light reveals a surface, it plunges another in darkness. For every bright idea we have, I’m suggesting that there is an essential part of that idea which eludes us. The shadow that compels us to ponder longer, endure obscurity and doubt, is not necessarily that shadow which exists on the other side, it is the abject of thinking itself, the one we recognise clinging to the edges, the one that helps us comprehend and articulate our imagination, defying determinacy but aiding interpretation. It is the very perplexity and doubt attached to a thought that compels thinking into creative action, into a cacophony of thinking in the between. We plumb the object of thought in an effort to enlighten ourselves, and this effort, compelled by perplexity, places itself in the arms of obscurity- in the obscure twilight of the thing, attached and by nature a part of but other to the object itself, an intimate other which points toward the cast and shade shadows, the others that give proof to the thing itself which are absent (refer to a Light Lecture on Light). 

What does this mean for the rhetoric of objective knowledge, the intelligible light of reason and the promise of determinate enlightenment? For Nietzsche there is an internal constitutive dichotomy in the ambition for objectivity as ideal[9]. Something is always beyond its grasp, looking back at us in the action of the gaze; however this part that consistently escapes the objective ideal, the part which “stealthily slips away to the nether side of the looking-glass”[10] according to Alenka Zupancic, will always be on the other side, for it is not an actual part of the objective and is cast from the thing; rather, in thinking (the endless expanse or denkraum[11]) the only available other is the self-shadow, testifying or pointing to the presence of the lack, but further helping to define the presence of the thing itself. This shadow is not an intrinsic element of the objective; it is the intimate companion which moves relative to the object and the enlightening perspective. The rhetoric of enlightenment has disregarded this point and retains the image of the shadow solely as the device of obscurity and concealment, as the antithesis of objective knowledge; the thing that must be ‘chased away’. But it is precisely the attached shadow which helps incite imaginative reasoning and to develop a discursivity of the thing. The place where this self-shadow does appear to us is, as I will designate, twilight

Twilight is the site of questioning and interpretation, the site of doubt and its endurance[vii]. The figure of twilight contains etymologically the two (from twi-) lights that denote the site of the between and connotes a doubleness of view, the condition through which we engage elenctic and metaphysical questioning as a quest to procure knowledge. Further, it is also a figure of the between constructed as a state rather than a domain; the twilight has no borders; it is formed solely through the interaction of illumination upon the form itself. Twilight happens at the time between night and day, just as the sun falls past the horizon illuminating the sky in a diffused glow. It is in this area and state where difference[viii] marks the object, opening upon the engaging indeterminacy, the perceived blur that sparks the creative and aesthetic spirit.

Returning to Nietzsche, the only perspective that can attempt to affirm the gaze is one that shifts the perspective, not simply as a relativisation or as a multiplicity, but s shift that creates an “emergence of a stain (or a blind spot) that blurs the transparency of what we see (or know) – this being the objective element in what we see.”[12] (Recall the refrain: man can see only on account of his blindness). Nietzsche’s thesis that “there exists only a perspective seeing/knowing” refers to a particular type of perspective, a between perspective or shift of perspective as the type of perspective that exists as a point of disjunction between the thing and its intimate other. The gaze is precisely this shift or between perspective, the view at the turning-point (wendepunkt) as the irreducible other-upon-the-thing presented as an object open to analytical discourse.[13] (refer also to Lecture: Shadows Cast by a Thin King).

Twilight is the site where the gaze recognises itself, constituting the state of the gaze. The ability to discern difference suspends the necessity for origin and rather offers an opening for the between as this state. Self-shadows, considered under the figure of twilight, present a site for self-doubt that secures a realm of possibility for discursive analysis. The gaze perspective (doubled) alights discursive reasoning and interpretation employing the perplexity of doubt as an agent of metaxological thinking, a thinking of and in the between.

 According to William Desmond, the metaxological “gives a logos of the metaxu, the middle.”[14] Logos refers to “word, speech, and discourse”, but it also refers to “reason”. Metaxological thinking offers a reasoning in the middle, of the middle; the between, the doubtful and often despairing space of twilight. It constitutes a four-fold discursive thinking which includes the univocal, the equivocal, the dialectical and the metaxological. The univocal deals with the singular voice of mind and being and in no way recognises the other or the between. The equivocal accepts difference and diversity but privileges a position of reason that sides with the same or the reflective. The dialectical sense considers a space for the mediation of difference, although “its mediation is primarily self-mediation, hence the side of the same” continues to hold. By contrast, the metaxological sense embraces a plurivocal mediation which is essentially an intermediation. This inter-mediation “keeps open spaces of otherness in the between, including the jagged edges of rupture that we never entirely smooth out.”[15]

Creative thinkers and makers tend to be most sensitive to the “jagged edges of rupture that [] never entirely smooth out”. “Any truly creative work involves casting aside sharply crystallised modes of rational thought and image making.”[16] In creative thinking one engages the metaxological dimension of being. As I’ve established, this dimension employs doubt and obscurity, and due to the despair often encountered, a significant amount of creative work involves self-destruction and tragedy.[17] There is a kind of groping in and through shadowy indistinct and indeterminate territory where a sense of being lost and perplexed motivates creative action into production, creating designs that attempt to interpret and provide distinctive determinates for the metaxu. However, creative concretions remain alive with an excess that cannot be determinately objectified. The creative work continues to echo with a shimmer of twilight, where a determinate origin does not exist, and a determinate knowing escapes any complete apprehension. 

Anguish, despair and suffering involved in tragedy are often also experienced by the creative mind in twilight. The prolonged efforts of intermediation, where spaces are filled with the ubiquitous between, defy determinate crystallised intelligibilities and challenge the imagination to create forms, images and designs that attempt to veil that which cannot be grasped. This groping in the twilight, this ‘being [perpetually] lost’, “harasses and makes insomniac its thinking.”[18] It inspires and compels, itches and seduces, torturing the passionate force that desperately searches for ‘the [irreducible] two that become one’. The tragedy is: there is no hope.

“The overwhelming part about tragedy is the element of hopelessness, of inevitability.”[19] To dwell in twilight is to passionately suffer the inevitable infinite moment of obscurity. It is inexhaustible and excessive, and hopelessly inescapable. Hope, to recall A Light Lecture on Light, is the last evil in Pandora’s jar. ‘To wish, expect or look forward to’ something is to deny the happening in the between, to blind oneself from the event and instead ‘leap in expectation’. Blind hope, the final gift from Prometheus, makes available the encounter with the between, and provides the ability and motivation necessary to endure dwelling in twilight.

To return to the quote of Sophocles with which we started:

“The long unmeasured pulse of time moves everything. There is nothing hidden that it cannot bring to light, nothing once known that may not become unknown.”

Time moves things. It moves things from the darkness of nothingness into the light of being. To quote Nabokov: “the cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” However this light of being or existence in the endless expanse of the event of subjectivisation is doubled and we or the thing exist in the between, between existent concept and existent conceit – in twilight. This sentiment is inscribed in the quote: ‘nothing once known that may not become unknown’. We and the thing exist in a between state, elusive, unattainable, and immanently desirable to the passionate metaxological mind and being destined to endure the tragedy of the hopeless imaginative creation of things.


[1] See Panofsky, “Father Time” in Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance, Oxford University Press, Torchbook edition, USA, 1962. He speaks here of the “pseudomorphosis” of Father Time from Kairos, Aion, Chronos, Saturnus, and Kronos.

[2] Shakespeare, Rape of Lucrece, Line 929.

[3] Panofsky, “Father Time” in Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance, Oxford University Press, Torchbook edition, USA, 1962. Pg. 82.

[4] reveal – etymologically from re + veil.

[5] Baxandall, “Rococo-Empiricist Shadow” in Shadows and Enlightenment, Yale University Press, London, 1997. Pg. 80

[6] Ibid. “Appendix: Three notes on Leonardo and early Renaissance Shadow.” Pg.152.

[7] Here I diverge from Alenka Zupančič where she believes the encounter is with the fallen part, the cast shadow. In the space of the event this is simply not so. The Shortest Shadow: Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Two, edited by Slavoj Zizek, MIT Press, Massachusetts, 2003. Pg. 110.

[8] Will Desmond, “What is Metaphysical Thinking” in Being and the Between, State University of New York Press, New York, 1995. Pg. 21. And accompanying footnote: “Consider the German word for doubt, Zweifel, with its reference to a doubt, Zwei; see also the word for despair, Verzweiflung. The “wound” of this doubling is not only negative; it is also an opening of self-transcending.”

[9] Alenka Zupančič , The Shortest Shadow: Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Two, edited by Slavoj Zizek, MIT Press, .Massachusetts, 2003. Pg. 101.

[10] Ibid.

[11] space of thinking.

[12] Ibid. Pg. 112.

[13] Please refer to Zupancic’s reference to Lacan in The Shortest Shadow: Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Two, edited by Slavoj Zizek, MIT Press, .Massachusetts, 2003. Pg. 113-115 where she explains that Lacan “maintains that whenever there is a shift from one discourse to another the analytic discourse emerges”. (Pg. 113) with accompanying reference: Jacques Lacan, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, Routledge, London, 1992. Pg. 305.

[14] Will Desmond, Being and the Between, State University of New York Press, New York, 1995. Pg. xii.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Anton Ehrenzweig, The Hidden Order of Art: A Study in the Psychology of Artistic Imagination, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1967. Pg. xiii.

[17] Anton Ehrenzweig considers that creativity involves self-destruction due to its imaginative process. He suggests that this self-destruction “may explain why art is so often concerned with tragedy”. Ibid.

[18] Will Desmond, Being and the Between, State University of New York Press, New York, 1995. Pg. 24.

[19] J. A. Cuddon, ‘Tragedy’ in The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, Penguin Books, London, 1998.


[i] ‘Kairos’: the brief, decisive moment which marks a turning-point in the life of human beings or in the development of the universe. This concept was illustrated by the figure vulgarly known as Opportunity. Later (this being in classical or late antique representations), after the eleventh century, tended to merge with the figure of Fortune, favoured by the fact that the Latin word for ‘Kairos,’ vis., occasio, is of the same gender as fortuna.

The exact opposite of the ‘Kairos’ idea is represented in ancient art, namely the Iranian concept of Time as ‘Aion’: the divine principle of eternal and inexhaustible creativeness.

The Greek expression for time, Chronos, was very similar to the name of Kronos (the Roman Saturn), oldest and most formidable of the gods. Neoplatonics interpreted Kronos, the father of gods and men, as Nούς, the Cosmic Mind (while his son Zeus or Jupiter was likened to its ‘emanation’, the Ψυχή or Cosmic Soul) and could easily merge this concept with that of Chronos, the ‘father of all things’, the ‘wise of builder’, as he had been called. When religious worship gradually disintegrated and was finally supplanted by philosophical speculation, the fortuitous similarity between the words Chronos and Kronos was adduced as proof of the actual identity of the two concepts which really had some features in common. Kronos was a patron of agriculture and generally carried a sickle. The mythical tale that he devoured his own children was said to signify that Time, who had already been termed ‘sharp-toothed’ by Simonides and edax rerum by Ovid, devours whatever he has created. From Erwin Panofsky, “Father Time” in Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance, Oxford University Press, Torchbook edition, USA, 1962. Pg. 71-74.

[ii] For the artistic interpretations of Time and Truth as a theme, please see Dr. F. Saxl, Veritas Filia Temporis: Philosophy and History, Essays presented to Ernst Cassirer, Oxford University Press, 1936. Pg. 197-222.

[iii] Hegel says that time is ‘the existing (daseinde) concept itself’ (PS. Pref., etc.): in virtue of the conceptual structure (i.e. the concept) and the contradictions involved in it, finite entities develop, change, pass away and give rise to other entities. Such changes entail time, and without them there would be no time. Hence time is the ‘existent concept’ (cf. Enc. 11~258A) Time is thus intrinsic to finite things and is not a form imposed on them.

[iv] The Thin King exists with his shadow as [one and the other].

[v] For a thorough understanding of light, the functions of the eye, and perception, see Michael Baxandall Shadows and Enlightenment, Yale University Press, London, copyright Michael Baxandall 1995.

[vi] Michael Baxandall Shadows and Enlightenment, Yale University Press, London, copyright Michael Baxandall 1995. Pg.152. The following is important to substantiate my assertion that the self-shadow serves as an ungraspable but intrinsically necessary constituent of an object of knowledge.

Leonardo’s many particular propositions and demonstrations are carried out mainly with two straightforward operations: by tracing rectilinear rays from light sources to objects, and by establishing simple proportional relations between terms. For instance, extension of derived shadow is the product of the relation between the extension of light source and the occluding section of a dense shadowing object. Extension of light-source is a frequent element in the propositions partly because Leonardo is not yet fully tackling ambient, or ‘universal’, light; but he is moving towards this by studying lighting from very extended sources like windows with posited universal light outside.

There are three kinds of shadow: (1) ‘original’ or ‘primitive’ shadow, which is formally but not functionally what we have been calling self-shadow, (2) ‘derived’ shadow and (3) cast shadow, which two are a redistribution of our projected shadow. There is also the greater or lesser illumination involved in our shading, sometimes called mezzano or (4) intermediate shadow.

(1) The main point about the original self-shadow is that it is not just the self-occluded surface of an object but is original or originating in the sens of being the source of derived shadow rather as an ‘original light’ is the source of rays of light: original shadow emits shadowing rays. Apart from its shadow-emitting property, there are two other peculiar characteristics about original shadow. Intrinsically it has the same value all over, unlike derived shadow and shading, which vary in intensity form here to there. And it clings to the object: move a sphere in light and the self-shadow may move on the surface of the object but will always be there.

[vii] William Desmond, “Things” in Being and the Between, State University of New York Press, New York, 1995. Pg. 303-304.

“Timing means that things have an interim life, a time span in the between. So also their time span is the extension of their singularity beyond any closed monadism. That is to say, the unity of the thing is self-transcending; it is a transitive unity, a unity in transition. Its timing is its transience. The interim of a thing is its duration in the between. Endurance is an en-duration, where the “en” means both an “in” (en-during in the between) and a “one” (being a one in the between). Obviously here duration is not Bergson’s pure dureé. Rather a duration is a singularly stressed time transit, or process of self-becoming. What this implies is: the thing is temporary in itself. Temporary refers not only to the finitude of its span, but also to the promise of its creative becoming within the interval of its enduring. It creatively becomes for itself as a creative issue of the universal impermanence, itself as the ontological matrix of creation, itself grounded in the primal creativity of the absolute origin.” 

[viii]  Derrida: The verb ‘to differ’ [differer] seems to differ from itself. On the one hand it indicates difference as distinction, inequality, or discernibility; on the other, it expresses the interposition of delay, the interval of a spacing and  temporalising that puts off until ‘later’ what is presently denied, the possible that is presently impossible. Sometimes the different and sometimes the deferred correspond to the verb ‘to differ’.