In his book The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses, Juhani Pallasmaa argues that our culture privileges the senses of vision and hearing as the most sociable, while the sense of smell, touch and taste are deemed archaic “with a merely private function, and they are usually suppressed by the code of culture.” Without integrating all the senses, we will never be able to be in the world completely, with a full sense of belonging, intimacy and integration. A passage that stood out for me was dedicated to the significance of the shadow, which puts all senses on an equal footing:
“How much more mysterious and inviting is the street of an old town with its alternating realms of darkness and light than are the brightly and evenly lit streets of today! … In order to think clearly, the sharpness of vision has to be suppressed, for thoughts travel with an absent-minded and unfocused gaze. … The human eye is most perfectly tuned for twilight rather than bright daylight.
… the extraordinarily powerful sense of focus and presence in the paintings of Caravaggio and Rembrandt arises from the depth of shadow in which the protagonist is embedded like a precious object on a dark velvet background that absorbs light. The shadow gives shape and light to the object in light. … The art of chiaroscuro is a skill of the master architect too. In great architectural spaces, there is a constant, deep breathing of shadow and light; shadow inhales and illumination exhales light.”
Today around noon, while running through empty fields and along a forest, I saw a beautiful weather spectacle. Half of the sky was brightly illumined by the sun, the other was still submerged in fog. Wisps of smoky fog were dancing on the fields. The February sun was not its usual bright self, but more dim and hazy. The whole scenery plunged me into the depths of contemplation. In such moments, as the author of the above quoted book would undoubtedly agree, all the senses form a unity; they seem to coalesce and gently touch one another. I had a sense of being airborne, as if something was carrying me through the landscape. I had a brief moment of an utmost sharpness of thoughts and vision, with the body being the intricate part of it. While contemplating the deeply dark façade of the forest, I saw how wholeness does not let light stand above darkness, or the mind above the body. Jun’ichiro Tanizaki wrote in his book “In Praise of Shadows”
“A phosphorescent jewel gives off its glow and color in the dark and loses its beauty in the light of day. Were it not for the shadows, there would be no beauty.”
Were it not for full sensual participation in the world, there would be no beautiful thoughts, either.