Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Darkness, Travel and Landscape: India by Fire- and Starlight, C1820-C1860

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Darkness, Travel and Landscape: India by Fire- and Starlight, C1820-C1860

Article excerpt

Abstract. Scholars have written and theorised landscape mainly by the light of day. Not only does such a perspective bypass a significant portion of human experience, it conflicts with some past diurnal routines of dwelling and mobility, such as mid-nineteenth century colonial travel in India. This article studies the interpretations of two English travellers--Emma Roberts and Charles Acland--under conditions of darkness and illumination: by campfire, torchlight and starlight. Specifically, it merges insights from a growing nightscape literature with the scenic sensibilities these travellers imported to India, such as the picturesque and notions of India as oriental and tropical. It argues that darkness and illumination amplified these travellers' aesthetic impressions by fostering collective experience, optically altering colours and furnishing imaginative leeway.

Keywords: darkness, illumination, travel, landscape, India, tropicality


Scholars have studied landscape mainly under daylight circumstances. Social scientists and historians have advanced landscape as cultural morphology (Blache, 1928; Sauer, 1925), vernacular entity (Jackson, 1984), experience (Tuan, 1979a, 1979b), life-word (Ingold, 1993, 2000; Seamon, 1979), aesthetic framework (Andrews, 1984), ideological expression (Cosgrove, 1984; Daniels, 1993), icon (Cosgrove and Daniels, 1988), text (Duncan, 1990), colonising discourse (Mitchell, 2002), normative practice (Matless, 1998) and fusion of self and world (Rose and Wylie, 2006; Wylie, 2002, 2006). In each case, from the gamut of theoretical and empirical perspectives, landscape exists under the perceptual and cultural conditions of daytime. In his Landscape, John Wylie (2007) chronicles the evolution of conceptual approaches to this cornerstone of human geography: cultural inscription, 'ways of seeing', phenomenological encounter and so on. He does not once mention diurnal differences. While this oversight is understandable, it omits roughly half of each 24-hour cycle and thus a significant portion of human experience. Moreover, because of the perceptual effects and cultural associations of night, darkness and illumination, this trend also bypasses a potent suite of encounters and interpretations (e.g. Jakle, 2001; Koslofsky, 2011).

Over the past half-decade, a raft of work on 'nightscapes' has emerged, mainly based on contemporary Western urban experience (Edensor, 2013a, 2013b; Self, 2007), festivals (Edensor and Millington, 2009; Morris, 2011), regeneration schemes (Ebbensgaard, 2014; Jiwa et al., 2009; Roberts, 2006) and tourism (Wolf and Croft, 2008), and often approached theoretically via notions of embodied practice, performance and affect (Ebbensgaard, 2014; Edensor, 2012). Collectively, this growing body of work shows how darkness and illumination transform and intensify the aesthetic impression of landscape. At the same time, it remains restricted to European and American--mainly urban--contexts, in the present day, and favours body-practice-affect over social-text-meaning.

Historians of India, extending cultural geographic and postcolonial paradigms, have primarily analysed European interpretations of Indian landscapes by day. Similarly, the study of tropicality--European representational traditions of tropical nature--emphasises day, sky, coast and weather (e.g. Arnold, 1996; Driver and Martins, 2005; Smith, 1985). This daytime perspective, largely a result of Western 'ways of seeing' and art-historical heritage, neglects the diurnal norms and practicalities of travel in the tropics. In this article, I seek to understand how European travellers responded--phenomenologically and interpretively--to nighttime India by merging the insights of recent works on nightscapes with the culturally specific aesthetic sensibilities of the mid-nineteenth century. Specifically, I trace four ways in which night amplified travellers' aesthetic impressions: enhanced attention, collectivity, optical illusions and imaginative leeway. …

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