Flying over London and the Vision of the Modern Quest

December 6, 2011

The light of the modern city is a response to a deeply symbolic quest to materialise abundance on earth. It glows with victory, proving every night our escape from the dangers of the darkness, and sets up the altar at which we civilized folk worship our brilliance. Flying over London in the depths of a winter’s night reminded me of how convincingly modern urban civilisation has eclipsed the night.

From the coast of the English Channel to the capital, a web of light radiates across the land. Pulsing veins of flourescent promise carry vehicles and dreams from one place to another, shifting goods along the roads, just as the information we also love to consume travels almost instantaneously along laser tubes and between satellites and computer terminals everywhere in the developed world. Headlights approach and taillights recede, while the engine room of modern wealth drives the cult of individuality and the right to consume as much fuel as we can afford.

But this countryside traffic is nothing compared to London. The centre of civilisation in the 19th century, this megalopolis still stuns the sense of vision from above. Whether it signifies running away from the darkness of ‘prehistory’ or a dash towards a new paradise of eternal light and endless feasting, the incandescent glow of this city at night is amplified beyond any possible material necessity. It signifies a symbolic victory of the highest order. No wonder urban life inspires such fervent loyalty in those that inhabit its luminescence. This is the unconscious altar of modern life, the pyre upon which we throw our sacrifices.

The saturation of light is almost complete, so that the middle of London’s CBD shimmers in an unearthly manner. Surely angels inhabit this place. The grey matter of the buildings seems necessary only as a capsule for this display, a set of hi-tech caves thrust up in sharply defined perpendicular angles, honed to mathematic and engineering perfection, hallowed to our nature. The Thames snakes black ink around the grid, the only marker left that reveals another, older nature, one that flows in curves until it is measured and managed (or ‘chart’red,’ as William Blake wrote in his poem ‘London’).

The centre of London is shot through with enough light to represent a portal to another realm, a place where another, more brilliant plane spills into this one. The city’s heart is illuminated like a heavenly locus, an urban paradise with all the rhetorical force of divine purpose, flooding the material world with the incandescence of the cosmos itself, the materialisation of god’s mind. No wonder we hardly pause to question the authority of the city to rule the way we live on earth.

Here the ancient duality of mind and matter, heaven and earth, god and body is overcome. This glow rivals the visions of the mystics and the promises of the seers. The pilot banks to the right as we approach Heathrow airport and my sightline into this angelic glow is extended for another minute. It seems timeless. The unearthly abundance that is promised in this physical light is promise enough to purchase vast reservoirs of consumer loyalty. The citizens of the city – most of the human population in the 21st century – are blinded to the hypocracies, the lies, the violence and ecological destruction alongside which this emanation of our most powerful modern myth is purchased. We primate moths are drawn to the altar and stamped with its imagery, its narrative of perpetual consumption, ensuring the corporate race for more fuel, more markets, more land and more power continues unabated. The badlands in the shadows are concealed by the mass media, which feeds on the light and is fed by it, spreading the story of dazzling brilliance at any cost.

Such is the quest of hypermodernity realised in the radiation that consumes the earth. The dragon of darkness is slain in a festival of victory and we feast on its body as the oil seeps up from its wounds and is ignited by our inventiveness. But what have we done to build this paradise regained? And what darkness remains the cost?



  1. Throwing out your TV would be a great start.

  2. Yeah we are not getting one for our year in Ireland. It will be an easy break. Then it’s all just about filtering out the junk on the internet… not like this site though!

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