Jazmina Barrera Velázquez

English translation by Dave Oliphant

Soy como el hombre que vendió su sombra, o mejor, como la sombra del hombre que la vendió.

Fernando Pessoa

Every day we attest to that obscure, silent, and faithful double that ac- companies us. And that links us to the universe. Even at noon, the hour without shadows, we darken the planet a little bit, perfectly aligned with the sun and earth. Because we are stuck to our shadow, since al- ways some tip of us touches it. For that reason Peter Pan must sew his shadow to his figure, so as not to lose it, which is curious if we consider that flying is the only instance–aside from our brief leaps–in which we would see ourselves physically separated from our shadows, and as Peter Pan knows, would even teach us how to fly.

This “other” that resembles us, but is faceless, that is like us, but has the capacity to widen, to become thin, or to grow depending on the light (the novel, Top of the World, translated in the Spanish version as The Country of the Long Shadows, owes its title to the northern terrains, the lands of the Eskimos, where for months the sun hardly shows itself to the earth and people cast very long shadows, extending themselves toward infinity), is the perfect metaphor for a Manichean culture that finds a “good” and an “evil” in almost every- thing, a side of light and another of shadow, or even more recently, one conscious side and another, unconscious. Just as the earth has a moment of day and another of night, we humans always have, except for just at midday, our side of daylight and our shadow of night:

And I will show you something different from either

Your shadow at morning striding behind you

Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

T. S. Eliot says, referring to our shadow, that in the morning it follows us like a little lap dog and in the afternoon, threatens to outrun us.

Let us consider now the shadows at night. What happens to this side of us in the blackness? Does it dissolve in its element? In Salman Rushdie’s novel, Haroum and the Sea of Stories, there exists a country so dark that the shadows can move around on their own, since the shadows in the darkness do not have to take the same form all the time. So the shadows in Rushdie’s story have their own personalities and can even fight with their owners, yet never be separated from them. Only the villain of the story has committed this atrocity and, little by little, has become more somber until he’s the same as his shadow, which now moves freely about as his double.

The word awe [asombro in Spanish] is one of many that derives from shadow [sombra in Spanish], as do penumbra, sombrero, som- brilla [half-shadow, hat, and sunshade], y sombrío [somber, shady, shaded]. A-sombrarse in Spanish means, in its original definition, to be frightened by the appearance of a shadow. In section XI of Wallace Stevens’ poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” a man confuses the shadow of his carriage with blackbirds:

He rode over Connecticut

In a glass coach.

Once, a fear pierced him,

In that he mistook

The shadow of his equipage

For blackbirds.1

The shadow personifies an immaterial presence. For example, the spirit (in certain groups, it is believed that when someone dies he can leave his shadow, that is, his spirit, in the place where he died). It is the shadow that causes a feeling of fright, like a presentiment, like an augury. Immediately, however, we question ourselves as to the ac- tual meaning of the word awe [asombro], which describes the sudden sensation of the strange or the surprising, that does not necessarily come from anything harmful. Fright is an ambiguous feeling that de- rives from the mysterious, the wondrous or the odd, whether positive or negative, something similar to the sublime. For that reason, Jung recognizes the possibility that the shadow is converted into “the heal- ing serpent of the mysteries.” Surely it is because of this that fantastic stories have made the shadow into a character that while mysterious and eccentric, is not necessarily evil. The best stories are shaped be- neath the shadows.

1 In English “shadow” comes from Old English sceadwian: “to be protected as a bird that covers itself with its wings.

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