The Light in August, but in New York

As I've wandered through the streets this past week, I've taken note of the softer light that bathes the city. For photographers, light is central to the art, and so these waning days of the summer inspire a study of the declination of the sun. At the end of a long walk yesterday, one that served little purpose other than getting me out of my apartment, I found myself on the front steps of the New York Public Library, the big one on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street with the lions out front. Just off to the right of the main entrance, I spotted these two empty chairs. The light seemed to animate them as if they were engaged in conversation.

The title of William Faulkner's novel, Light in August (1932), like all good titles, means several things. The Faulkners were sitting on the porch one afternoon, the story goes, when Mrs. Faukner made a comment about the special qualities of the light in August in the south. Hearing this, Mr. Faulkner decided to change the title of the novel he was working on from Dark House to Light in August. "Light" connotes a sense of hope that breaks free from the heavy burdens of history, and in this novel of racial strife, miscegenation and madness, "light" can mean many things. "Light" is a slang term for pregnancy, and the story ends with one of the central characters, Lena Grove, giving birth.

That's a heavy trip to lay on the sun during a summer month, don't you think? Maybe I've inherited the trait from my Mississippi-born father, but I do make meaning of the light in August, even in New York, the city that some of my oldest (and even smartest) southern friends refer to as "that place where it gets real cold." The light in New York August represents the slow mood swing into the demands of school and work in September. The city picks up the pace, and we pull our black clothes back out of the closet. Among the "swells," it means leaving the Hamptons ('twas Newport a hundred years ago.) But, as with the southern Faulkner, the light in August represents hope. My feelings about August have not changed in many years. Eighth grade will be so much better than seventh grade, because frankly, nothing could be worse.

Aug 19, 2008 Sunrise 6:10 AM Sunset 7:47 PM
Aug 20, 2008 Sunrise 6:11 AM Sunset 7:46 PM
Aug 21, 2008 Sunrise 6:12 AM Sunset 7:44 PM
Aug 22, 2008 Sunrise 6:13 AM Sunset 7:43 PM
Aug 23, 2008 Sunrise 6:14 AM Sunset 7:41 PM
Aug 24, 2008 Sunrise 6:15 AM Sunset 7:40 PM

Images: "A conversation between two chairs at the New York Public Library" and "Light in a New York August." Walking Off the Big Apple.

More images at Flickr WOTBA.


Donnatellavision said...

I've been noticing the light, too -- fall is nearly upon us early this year, it seems. The tall buildings of NYC accentuate its presence -- and tonight (in Cambridge) is chilly!

Teri Tynes said...

Hey, good friend, donnatellavision, Last night it was in the upper 50s here. The weather is so fine, it makes me want to skip down the street.

jec said...

"light" isn't a slang term for pregnancy, but for having given birth. So the title refers not only to August light, but to the birth in August. It's probably an agricultural term--Faulkner could have heard this usage. Lena was "light in August" because she had delivered her baby.