Monday, October 24, 2011
Thunderstorm turns out the lights in part of Madison and dark social metaphors ensue
There are some who are in darkness
And the others are in light
And you see the ones in brightness
Those in darkness drop from sight
When the thunderstorm swept in and the power went out, our electronic devices wailed and beeped their various death throes, everything went dark and there was stunned silence. We groped for candles and suddenly were back in the 19th century. T and M seemed happy just to enjoy the warm glow and wait for the lights to come back on. I was more restless and wanted to drive out and survey the extent of the outage. It was so dark outside you couldn't see another person ten feet away. Driving was disorienting with no streetlights or traffic signals, and the inky black, wet streets sucking up the beams from the headlights. I soon established that we were an island of darkness, surrounded by the people of the city blithely and brightly going about their business. In fact, the power was just out of reach—lights shone brightly just a block away. On Monroe Street, shown here looking east, the dividing line was Woodrow Street, to the west of which darkness reigned. It was infuriating.
"It's like a metaphor for our society," said T. "The people living in the light have no idea how others are doing, how hard it is to get by in the dark." When T said that, I was reminded of the seldom-heard last lines of Brecht's "Ballad of Mack the Knife" ("Die Moritat von Mackie Messer"). They weren't in the original version of the ballad in his and Kurt Weill's The Threepenney Opera, but he inserted them into the G.W. Pabst film, which was much more savagely bleak than the stage version. I only saw the movie once, years ago, but have never forgotten the passage, which T reminds me is itself a dark echo of William Blake.
Here in Madison, our lights came back on after a couple hours. No big deal. As a society, however, we could do so much more to bring light to all those who live in darkness.