Writing twilight

April 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

I have a favourite time of day, but I couldn’t tell you when it is. It’s the point when daylight has faded so that everything has a kind of matt dullness, but it’s not ‘dark’. The sun might be behind the horizon, but there’s plenty of leftover light tingeing the sky. Streetlights are flickering on, but seem out of place, or mistimed. You can’t fix this moment to a point on the clock.

The photographs of Gregory Crewdson capture this spectacularly:

Image

Gregory Crewdson
Untitled from the series ‘Beneath the Roses’
2004
Digital chromogenic print
Width 2236 mm x height 1148 mm
Private Collection, courtesy White Cube
© Gregory Crewdson

Image

Gregory Crewdson
Untitled from the series ‘Beneath the Roses’
2004
Digital chromogenic print
Width 2236 mm x 1148 mm
Private Collection, courtesy White Cube
© Gregory Crewdson

 

There is an erosion of the categories of ‘light’ and ‘dark’ here, which becomes an erosion of the categories of ‘dream’ and ‘reality’: the scenes depicted are drab and suburban, and yet also otherwordly.

For me, the work of the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño achieves the same effect in prose. Everyday objects are granted an unsettling, dream-like luminosity. And el atardecer, dusk or twilight, that point somewhere between afternoon and evening, is a time (a place?) his characters frequently inhabit. One of his stories is called ‘Últimos atardeceres en la tierra’. It gets called ‘Last Evenings on Earth’ in English, which lacks some ambiguity.

I’m reading his mammoth, posthumous novel 2666 at the moment. There are plenty of moments in it which evoke the otherworldliness of twilight: in its light, the city of Santa Teresa becomes a ‘ciudad fantasma’ (‘ghost city’), and colours become like ‘mariposas gigantescas danzando mientras la noche avanzaba como un cojo por el oeste’ (‘giant dancing butterflies as night limped forward in the west’). It is not an entirely comforting time, either: the dusk sky is described as ‘una flor carnívora’ (‘a carnivorous flower’).

It is Bolaño’s skill in painting that half-light in words, in evoking the utter strangeness of those fleeting moments, that makes reading even a 1,000-page novel by him a pleasure.

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