Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight
A Journey in Search of Moonlight
by James Attlee
University Of Chicago Press
$26.00 List Price
In our zeal for artificial light, we have forgotten the consolation of darkness—we have whitewashed the night, erased the Milky Way, and forsaken the moon. When British author James Attlee envisioned a book about moonlight, his inspiration "was not the moon at all but an absence of moon," he writes. In twenty-five short essays, Nocturne charts Attlee's quest to rediscover the moon, not only through travel—he visits Europe, America, and Japan—but also through mysticism, literature, and art. Our lunar companion, "the silent satellite that controls the tides, linked in the human mind for centuries with love, melancholy and madness," has shouldered eons of our hopes and fears. We have worshipped moonbeams for their healing touch and recoiled from their licentious powers. Mussolini refused to sleep with moonlight on his face.
Attlee accepts the challenge of treating light itself as a descriptive subject as tangible and specific as any landscape. We follow the moon through every mood and incarnation, from a new moon, "its comma making a pause in the evening sky," to a crescent moon "as thin and sharp as a fingernail," to a complete orb, embraced by green and turquoise rings, emitting "the kind of light one might see through the wall of a crevasse in a glacier, or glinting on an iceberg." The task demands an imagination that thrives on the transformation of the prosaic. Describing the familiar phenomenon of earthshine, when the shadowed portion of the moon is dimly illuminated by the earth's reflected light, Attlee writes: "The new moon is 'carrying the old moon in its arms'. It