The geography of time zones instructs us that when Paris goes to sleep, Shanghai wakes up. But if you ask a Chinese writer and a French writer to tell you what night is, they won’t talk (much) about sleep. Tang Ke Yang, a young specialist in comparative literature, and Martine Laffon, a philosopher, are too fascinated with the many facets of night to leave its riches to slumberers. The journey that they each propose to us, to the end of the night of their souls – and of their civilizations – is an invitation to see in the dark what we don’t see, to look into the night of the other to better understand him and to better understand ourselves.
They say that night illuminates. Gone is the fear of the child lost in the darkness; a mysterious alchemy emerges by which the night, as if by surprise, reveals something to us about the infinite. Tang Ke Yang and Martine Laffon have each had personal experience with it. One of them discovered in the night a “space of nonchalance in our life horsewhipped by reason”; for the other, nocturnal time reveals “what the eye and the other senses can no longer distinguish, for they have forgotten what they knew so well in the light of day.” Sleepless nights, those (so French) nights of mischief, once-forbidden nights in China when no one could stroll without special permission, nights of intoxication and nights of lucidity, nights of Pascal and Descartes when they did their best thinking, inner nights and trap-nights, nights of lamps, red lanterns and Chinese candles, nights celebrated according to Christian tradition, night of writers and poets. Based on this litany of evocations set forth by the two writers, we can categorically deny the doubt expressed in passing by Martine Laffon: “And what if night were only night?”
Year of publication: 1999