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Interview with
Eleni Sikelianos

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Review of Exchanges on Light in this issue

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Eleni's poetry
in this issue

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Exchanges on Light is forthcoming in March, 2008 from La Presse.

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Contributors

Third Night

 



from Exchanges of Light

bookcover

by Jacques Roubaud
Translated by Eleni Sikelianos



Third Night

 

 

 

Basil De C.

 

Over the past two nights, we have considered, first the nature of light, then its beauty.  Tonight we will focus on its movement.  You will agree that light's mandate issues from the divine. Which is why, again, I seek the answer to the question of light's motion in the word of God.  For God said, "Let there be light"; he didn't say, "Light will be" or "Let light come to pass."  At the exact instant God spoke, light rushed through the ether, through the sky, and, in an instant without extension, lit all the world, the North as well as the South, the Orient as well as the Occident.  As soon as God's order was heard, it was instantaneously executed. 

 

John Ph

 

Light is Creation's first corporeal form; one could call it corporeality itself.  The problem solves itself so easily if you simply hold this axiom in mind.

 

Dennis PH.

 

Visible light, descending light, is essentially slow, although to our blind eyes it seems infinitely quick.

 

Lewis De B.

 

I maintain that light, being a body (its body being an emanation issuing from luminous bodies) appears first in the intermediary space between earth and sky, and then travels to us in a motion so rapid it escapes our notice.

 

M. Goodman

 

I have trouble grasping both its instantaneity and its ubiquity. It seems to me that an infinitely quick light would be motionless.

 

William H.

 

The paths,

     cleared through the dark,

of light

are facts.

 

 

William H.

 

The paths, cleared through the dark, of light

that goes without saying because we know

all light goes, clearing its way, through the dark.

 

Basil De C.

 

            Light doesn't clear its way through the dark, it dissipates it, annihilates it; but it crosses air, and air is a substance so subtle and diaphanous that light  needs not the least instant to cross it.  Just as it brings sight suddenly to the objects that strike it, and just as, without the least interval, with a rapidity thought cannot conceive, it receives light's streams in all its extremities.  Light makes the ether more pleasant and the waters more limpid, and the latter, not content simply to receive its luster, send back light's reflection, throwing off bright sparks. Light's voyage is instantaneous because it is obeying divine order, but also because it is, by nature, determined to leave darkness no means, not even temporary, of survival. In the presence of light, there is no dark.

 

M. Goodman

 

Then is emptiness dark?  Doesn't Heron of Alexandria tell us that if there were no void, light could not make its way through water?  He goes on to say that if this fluid, like air, had no pores, a vase of water would overflow whenever light struck its surface, which it doesn't do.

 

John Ph.

 

Yes it does; with light.

But I would put it more like this: light, by its very nature propagates in all directions in such a way that a point of light instantly produces a sphere of every dimension unless an opaque body interrupts it and deforms some of them.  Matter's extension into the four dimensions (I don't exclude reversible time) is concomitant to corporeality; non-luminous matter is, by contrast, substance without true dimension, therefore it can't multiply or move by itself in any dimension at all.  Light alone has the power to multiply and propagate instantly in all directions. I'd say it is the agent, par excellence, of the creation of all dimensions.

 

Lewis de B.

 

For the moment, I'd simply like to point out that a movement that takes an infinitely small amount of time is not an instantaneous movement; an imperceptible interval is not an instant of no duration. Reread Alhazen.

 

Dennis Ps.

 

Although moving in an instant that is (because of our own slowness), imperceptible, visible light is essentially slow.  For it doesn't emanate directly from an absolute luminous core, but from a dark body (dark like ours, like all material bodies). A body, a dark body, is a sponge for light; it absorbs real light and adulterates it. Heated like the stars, it goes from red to white, but the glow it emits, which we call light, is only a distortion of the true light it has swallowed and which we force it to give back.

 

Dennis Ps.

 

True light clarifies matter in its subtle, ethereal state by acts of light, incandescences of mundus archetypus, of the world of figures and forms. True, its motion is instantaneous; true, its speed is infinite and in a way that escapes you because it's not a matter of simultaneity, but of a sequence in empty time.

 

William H.

 

Any light can always successively disperse

that which it is, also

light

 

Lewis De B.

 

Let's get this straight: simultaneity and sequentiality are two attributes of light that our friends Dennis Ps. and William H, following their own theories, agree to recognize in light (for reasons which, I must humbly say, escape me); however, there's a well-accepted notion that reconciles this contradiction—the Ray of Light.  Rays of Light are the minimal units; individually, they're sequential, and collectively, they're simultaneous. We know that light is organized in parts that are both successive and simultaneous because you can stop arriving light at a given moment and let light pass a moment later at the same spot; simultaneously, you can stop light at one spot and let it flow through at another. The portion of Light that is stopped cannot be the same as that which passes.  Let us call Rays of Light those minimal Lights that can be stopped apart from the rest of Light, and can be propagated singularly, that act or are activated solely in what the remaining light cannot do or undergo. 

 

Basil De C.

 

Let's say, for example, we see the sun rising.  Clearly, our gaze can't reach it without traveling across all the space occupied by sky and air between it and us. Is anyone really capable of grasping that distance? Yet our gaze or our visual ray will certainly never manage to cross the air above the sea if it doesn't first cross the air above the earth, the entire distance from where we stand to the sea's shore.  And if other lands interrupt our line of sight, our sight can't leap across the air stretched out over these far-off lands without first crossing the middle space. Let's now suppose that there's nothing left beyond that but ocean. It occupies an immense expanse, but regardless of its size, the visual ray must cross the air above it and whatever else may lie beyond in order to reach the sun. And although I  may have used the terms "before" and "after," didn't our gaze cross all these spaces instantly?

 

John PH.

 

Light was the first form created from primal matter, and that's why by nature it is infinitely multiplied, spreading uniformly in infinite directions.  But material extension cannot be achieved by a finite multiplication of light because, as Aristotle showed in De Caelo et Mundo, the finite multiplication of an entity could not create quantity.  But an infinite multiplication could. So light, simple in itself, multiplied infinitely, created finite matter (and is still creating it).  Creator of finite time, itself infinite, it endlessly superinfinitizes within the confines of the universe, creating further infinities, which are to infinity what infinity is to the finite.

                       

M. Goodman.

 

I once read a series of objections to the idea that luminous movements are infinite. If I remember correctly, it went something like this:

"a. what the instant is to the point, the point is to the line, which is why, through exchange and permutation, what the instant is to the point, time is to the line.  Passing through a point occupies an instant, and so traveling a line requires time. Therefore light, crossing a segment of space, however short, travels in an interval that is not void of time;

b. light travels faster in a straight line than in an oblique one, but both the fastest and the slowest require time (this argument seems weak to me);

c. no force acts instantaneously, as a greater force would then have to act in less than time;

d. a before and an after in space assumes a before and an after in time;

e. Instantaneity ensures that light lights an infinite number of places at the same time. It would be God."

 

M. Goodman.

 

And I read another argument somewhere that led to the same conclusion:

"light is a transmutation; all transmutation is instantaneous unless it encounters resistance; resistance assumes a contrary; but light has no contrary; it only has loss."

 

 

Dennis PS.

 

The loss of light is darkness; the darkness of a dark body is this darkness.  It is not the Dark of the more-than-luminous shadow.  Light has its own contrary (the photon, that blind approximation of light has its antiparticle, which is itself), black Light, which infinitely exceeds visible light; that is why your philosopher's argument will not do.  Physical dark is non-light.  Dark Light is non-non-light, an entirely different thing.

 

John PH.

 

Rarefaction is not loss. As I said, because light has spread matter by its infinite self-multiplication in all spacio-temporal directions in infinitely multiplied spherical layers, the outer edges (of each infinitude— infinites being heirarchized) are more rarefied than the inner layers, and closer to the primordial point of light. And since the farthest layer is the rarest, it gives the illusion of emptiness.

 

William H.

 

Hell is a palace of strange architecture

Shut in on all sides by the Stygian tributary,

A theatre in which Pluto manifests his cruelty,

Where one feels in death eternity's factor.

The foundation is coal, of sulfur the vault,

Cool shadows run hot, flames rapt icebound,

Here howls and tears never resound

Where terror and rage govern torture.

Here the proud Angel on high was deported,

And the soul languishes for having insulted

That Soul so perfect he brought the soul forth.

But the greatest torment Hell can trace

Is loss of the Master's features,

Since Paradise resides in the hour of seeing his face.

 

 

Basil De C.

 

I'm going to approach the problem differently to bring you to the truth.  Nature loves everything that is useful and good for living things, and strives to create that. Because living things find it useful to see quickly, nature made sure that the visual flow would arrive at sight's object as quickly as possible; now, since the fastest motion is the instantaneous, the visual flow instantly reaches sight's object.

 

Lewis De B.

 

Right. And creme caramel was created simply to be confused with creme brulée!  Let's be serious: as soon as the Sun appears on the horizon, Earth's upper hemisphere is instantly and completely illuminated.  How does that happen? Just as when you move the end of a long, taut rope, the whole rope moves instantly because all its parts are united, and the first moves the next and so on; so luminous energy moves, since all the bodies in the cosmos immediately touch one another.

 

Lewis De B.

 

And I'd go further than that. Please follow me through this thought experiment. 

No doubt at some time or other, you've found yourself walking over rough ground at night without a torch, so that you had to use a stick to find your way, and you must have noticed that you could feel the various objects that you encountered through the intermediary of the stick and that you could even identify them — trees, rocks, sand, water, grass, mud, whatever. True, these perceptions are a bit confused and dim to those who aren't used to it, but think of people who were born blind and have used this method their whole lives, and you'll find it so perfect and precise that you might almost say they see with their hands, or that their sticks are organs of some sixth sense given them in place of sight. To make the analogy, I ask you to consider that light, among what we call luminous bodies, is nothing more than instant motion, an infinitely quick and infinitely animated action that arrives at your eyes through the intermediary of the air and other transparent bodies, just as the response or resistance of everything that this blind person encounters passes into his hand through the mediation of the stick.

 

M. Goodman.

 

But don't we find ourselves once again, by following an idea quite philosophically distant from that of our friend Dennis Ps, faced with the notion that hidden behind visible light (which is of a finite speed, as everyone knows) is a parameter light that is non-local in essence and able, at the quantum level, to instantaneously affect the farthest reaches of the universe?

 

Basil De C.

 

Give that power back to God.

 

Dennis PS.

 

Let's retrace the steps of the illuminative sequence. Have the intelligence to understand that this is what permits intelligences to see themselves as shared light and to see the theophanic light available to them. Don't confuse the uniqueness of absolute light with the multiplicity of lights, which is only dispersion and darkness.

                       

 

William H.

 

Dissipation, diversity, signs of death, forced plurality.

 

John PH.

 

Light is not the flow of a body, like water, but a wave, like sound.

 

John Ph.

 

That was confirmed by Roger Bacon. On the other hand, Pythagoras saw it as fine particles sent like numerable messages by luminous bodies.

 

 

Lewis De B.

 

Having considered this problem all my life, I have come to the conclusion that no one has yet discovered a way to elucidate the relationship between waves and particles.

 

William H.

 

in the grass

            grains waves

                        of light

     attach                         the earth

               to black       

               and spit them

     in the grass                                    the night          real to the

edges

                         of trees

     beneath the earth

 

M. Goodman

 

Newton attempted to synthesize the granular concept and the undulatory concept. He realized that light came in grains and thought it was conveyed by an undulation, at least while passing through matter, and that this undulation acted upon the grains, causing the corpuscles of light to pass regularly and alternately through "fits of easy transmission" and "fits of easy reflection." Arriving at the surface separating the two zones, the grain of light will pass easily if it's in a fit of easy transmission but will be bounced back if it's in a fit of easy reflection.

 

 

Dennis PS.

 

God desired the finite transmission of visible light.  God has 700,000 veils of light and shadow; if he took them off, the radiance of his Face would reduce all who encountered his gaze to ash. These veils are the ensemble of all perceptible and imperceptible universes, and all these worlds exist inside man, visible to as many eyes.  One sometimes opens them in dreams, and they sometimes fall a bit into memory on their own.

 

Basil De C.

 

Luminous bodies were created in one fell swoop by the divine power and, without any local disturbance, were instantly applied to the air capable of receiving illumination.  And light, the divinely inspired negation of the rule of the non-distributive divisibility of the All, arrived in an instant in every sky.

 

 







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Editor's Note:

The correct title for this volume is Exchanges on Light though the cover image sent out by the publisher, and used here, has the erratum of 'Exchanges of Light.' Exchanges on Light is forthcoming in March, 2008 from La Presse.