Lunar Hymn to the Night

Descartes was fanatical about clarity, and the men of the Enlightenment worshiped the Sun, that majestic allegory of bourgeois Reason. To this, the critical thinks of the Frankfurt School had a scathing reply: “With the spread of the bourgeois commodity economy the dark horizon of myth is illuminated by the sun of calculating reason, beneath whose icy rays the seeds of the new barbarism are germinating.” (Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, The Dialectic of Reason, 1944).

The Romantics were the first to oppose the Sun, in the blinding light of the day, to the infinitely softer and haunting night. The German Romantic poet Ludwig Tieck has written a few words that sum up this new nocturnal philosophy: die mondbeglantzte Zaubernacht, “the night of enchantments, illuminated by the moon”. And Novalis, the poet so much admired by André Breton, has, as we know, dedicated a Hymn to the Night, of which here is a luminous passage: “More heavenly than those glittering stars we hold the eternal eyes which the Night hath opened within us. Farther they see than the palest of those countless hosts. Needing no aid from the light, they penetrate the depths of a loving soul that fills a loftier region with bliss ineffable. (…) gracious sun of the Night (…) Thou hast made me know the Night, and brought her to me to be my life; thou hast made of me a man. Consume my body with the ardour of my soul, that I, turned to finer air, may mingle more closely with thee, and then our bridal night endure for ever.”

The surrealists are the heirs of this romantic passion for the night. Because it is alcheringa, the “dream lands” of Australian aborigines. What are dreams, if not these “infinite eyes that Night has opened in us”? The dream world is a nocturnal space & time, where imagination, emerging from the depths of the unconscious, escapes the censorship of diurnal rationality. It is only when the moon is cut by the clouds that Andalusian dogs can indulge in their delicious nocturnal hunt, haunted by crazy erotic dreams.

But Night is also the Kingdom of Enchantments: it’s the time when witches and specters, ghosts and vampires, fairies and nymphs, magic frogs and celestial lizards come out of their hiding places to haunt the Earth. It is only in the tender light of the Moon that Nosferatu, Sergeant Bertrand, Fantômas and other heroes of the Night can indulge in their passions. The marvelous itself, this “dream light”, this “green light of passion”, which “flames over the masses during the hour of revolt” (Pierre Mabille) – and at the moment of the “Grand Soir” – isn’t that also tied to the Night?

From romantics to surrealists, the Hymns of Novalis to the Conseil du Soir of Michel Zimbacca, a thread of lunar light crosses the centuries.