Welcome to Cities of Light

September 15, 2010

This blog is designed to share information on the symbolic aspect of the way we live today, in our technologically advanced cities that are lit brilliantly in the night, as seen in the famous NASA photograph. It will explore any aspect of this meditation you care to mention: I will start with the following and see where your comments and suggestions lead us…

Why do we love to live in the light so much? What is the symbolic quest behind this material phenomenon?

What are we prepared to do to keep this luminescence alive and what is the ecological cost of our addiction to light?

How has the global age of international communication and interaction changed the way we think about light, especially compared to the ancient metaphors surrounding this perennial figure of goodness, truth and order?

What are those ancient ideas ~ especially, for me, the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Biblical examples ~ and what do they say about the people who lived (and contested) them? What survives from these examples today?

And how have such ideas been transformed, but still utilised, in the more modern terms of secular scientific rationality, Enlightenment philosophy, Romantic poetics, the symbolism of Modernism and the commercial terms of today’s global market of capital and the commodity fetish?

As a really radical comparison, though, what about comparing the way light is considered in an indigenous society such as an Australian Aboriginal example, which is both ancient and contemporary at once?

Or for a powerfully evocative eastern mysticism such as Zen, which composes paradox in such compact yet endlessly suggestive manners?

Join me on this ride into the heart of one of the great symbols of human history, both timelessly immemorial and persistently present in modern life, available to the discourses of religious and scientific thinking, to the mystic visionary and the atheist neurological researcher, the indigenous and thoroughly postmodern people living on earth today, to the best and most generous and the most dangerous and deceptive impulses of the human race…

Please feel free to comment and suggest, to follow links and send new ones through the ether, to keep an open mind but to always engage your critical faculties as well. This site follows the research that has gone into my MA, on the creative uses of myth in the modern world, and my more recent PhD, on the way the symbol of light is used and what this says about how we treat the earth (and, by extensions, ourselves, in our bodies). There are books and video interviews to follow, as well as analyses of current uses of the symbol of light (feel free to send in examples!), book and film reviews and other related musings. I hope you are intellectually stimulated and become favourably disposed to the idea of receiving as RSS feed of updates to the world of Cities of Light.

Yours amongst the community of souls gathered around our technologically advanced campfires in the night, Geoff Berry.



  1. Julius Caesar Act 1 scene 3. Let’s roll.

    • Strange weather. Nature sends its portents. Who rules? What dross, that Caesar should be illuminated.

  2. Thanks Geoff – there are some interesting thoughts popping around in my head right, some obvious perhaps, some more subtle. Here’s a few thoughts: light and dark – polarities or dualistic constructions, (light as higher vs dark as lower), racism, light (spirit) and dark (soul), the dark forest (“beware all ye who enter”), being afraid of the dark, artificial light and constructed rhythms of existence vs natural light and dark …. and light vs dark chocolate!! Cheers, Peter

    • Hi Peter,
      The great thing about thinking about the light/dark relationship is that it works at the most painfully obvious and subtle levels as well. Definitely something i am working on is dissolving the opposition between the two and their symbolic associations (ie the old light=good=order=male=heaven versus dark=bad=chaos=feminine=earth dichotomy). As i go further down this track i want to find (and create) more examples of light being at home with the darkness, not in opposition but in complementarity. This idealism is tied, for me, with better relations between human culture and earthly nature.
      There’s certainly somehting exciting about the darkness of the soul and what ‘enlightenment’ can be attained there…
      Cheers, Geoff.

  3. Reminds me of… The Monument of Light. May be unrelated, but it’s a 3D monument of light where participants place a dot, and it’s shown via the Silverlight 1mg program on a website…


    …and darn good marketing for Halo!

    • Ha yeah well i am no expert on gaming but i would say it is a place where modern myth is being made and remade constantly. The idea that light and darkness should be part of that living mythology seems perfectly natural to me. What great fun it would be to explore a whole lot of gaming for a while and call it research! Imagine getting paid to play Space Invaders… oh wait, they’ve updated that game now haven’t they?!

  4. “Tyger tyger burning bright
    in the forests of the night …”

    Blake’s poem (and the metaphorics that informs it) might be interesting in this context. Read on its own, the famous opening line seems to refer to the blaze of colour with which the tiger lights up the dark forest. But the imagery of the poem taken as a whole (hammer, chain, furnace, anvil) suggests a more unnatural luminescence: that which was beginning to light up the night skies of England around the time Blake wrote the poem. Was the tiger forged into being by a luceferic, industrial-age demiurge, or was it created by an older God, one who lets light be rather than using it to “twist” and meld? Did he who made the lamb make thee?

    • Yup, he certainly left ample evidence that he was troubled by those ‘dark Satanic mills.’ And there’s the rub; if we want to inhabit the body (of the earth, of the self) and enjoy some sense of transcendence at the same time, we need some recognition of the sacred in the immanent or physical world. Does that make us free, at one with a god of light and matter, or trapped, in a body of limits that must be transformed so that we can escape the darkness of the demiurge’s false world order…
      And also there is the common mythological association between the smith and the shaman; the one capable of transforming metals, which then leads us (perchance) to Jung’s fascination with alchemy as a metaphor for spiritual individuation… the gold at the end of the iron age?
      Food for thought! Thanks Rob.

  5. Geoff – I enjoyed your talk at last Sat’s CC and CC conference. As a former urban planner, I now spend much of my time looking into the area of ‘Nature and Cities’. A paper I published in 2009 was entitled, ‘Nature’s home or growth engine: Whereto the city’ and gives you the flavour of my most immediate interests. ‘Light’, how we use it, etc., stands out as one important dimension of how we confront my paper’s question. More strength to your inspiring work and I hope I can catch up with further papers/aspects of what you’re looking into.

    • Hi Len, thanks for the supportive comments. Your work sounds pretty interesting to me. I’ll certainly endeavour to stay in touch and keep reporting on my findings and creative responses as i go through this next phase of my post-doc in Ireland. Cheers, Geoff.

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