Outside Knowing: Accessing Alterity in the Nocturnal Urban Landscape

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Downey, Clair
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Michel Foucault qualified the writing of Maurice Blanchot as ‘thought from the outside’. The reference is to absence or, the ability of what we cannot know to shed light on what we seek. In the context of the present- day, European city, connections to existing cultural frameworks make it difficult to identify agents and processes of change. And yet, these same ‘blind spots’ hold the potential to generate new knowledge. The current paper searches for the unknown in the semi-obscurity of the urban night. This does not imply that nocturnal landscapes are absent, on the contrary, they are territories of distinct appropriations, contestation and reflective agency. Rather, the nightscape offers an alternate regard on the diurnal city, a view that in darkness, requires even greater focus. Exploring Blanchot’s concept of the ‘other’ night as defined in “Le Dehors, La Nuit,” from L’Espace Littéraire (1955), provides a means of elucidating limits of alterity within nocturnal darkness. And yet, in search of an actionable alterity, the current research asks if there is not a third, ‘anticipatory’ night, one that situates itself between what Blanchot calls the ‘first’, or knowable night, the realm of sleep and everyday(night) life, and the unattainability of the ‘other.’ It is in this night that moments of possibility are accessed and articulated. Relevance comes as European cities grow darker to reduce energy consumption and light pollution. At the same time, greater populations are investing the night, imposing questions of how the night city is appropriated, where actions may take place and who may participate in these actions. This proposal fits within a larger, interdisciplinary doctoral research project: “Utopian Nights, Navigating No Place in Nocturnal Urban Landscapes.” A project which, through the practice of nightwalking, seeks to generate possibility within specific atmospheres of the nocturnal European city.
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