by contemplativeinquiry

“We identify our shadow … with that visible shape we see projected on the pavement or the whitewashed wall. Since what we glimpse there is a being without depth, we naturally assume that shadows themselves are basically flat – and if we are asked, by a curious child, about the life of shadows we are apt to reply that their lives exist only in two dimensions.

“Suppose, however, that on the same afternoon a bumblebee is making its way from a clutch of clover blossoms on one side of the road to another cluster of blooms in an overgrown weedlot across the street, and that as it does so the bee happens to pass between me and the flat shape that my body casts upon the pavement. The sunlit bee buzzes toward me, streaking like an erratic, drunken comet against the asphalt sky, and then it crosses an unseen boundary in the air: instantly its glow dims, the sun is no longer upon it – it has moved into a precisely bounded zone of darkness that floats between my opaque flesh and that vaguely humanoid silhouette laid out upon the pavement – until a moment later the bee buzzes out the opposite side of that zone and emerges back into the day’s radiance.

“Although it was zipping along several feet above the street, the bumblebee had passed into and out of my real shadow. Its visible trajectory – gleaming, then muted, then gleaming again – shows that my actual shadow is an enigma more substantial than that flat shape on the paved ground. That silhouette is only my shadow’s outermost surface. The actual shadow does not reside primarily on the ground; it is a voluminous being of thickness and depth, a mostly unseen presence that dwells in the air between my body and that ground. The dusky shape on the asphalt touches me only at my feet, and hence seems largely separate from me, even independent from me – a kind of doppelganger. The apparent gap between myself and that flat swath of darkness is what prompts me, now and then to accept its invitation to dance, the two of us then strutting and ducking in an improvised pas de deux wherein it’s never very clear which one of us is leading and which is following. It is now obvious, however, that that shape slinking along on the pavement is merely the outermost edge of a thick volume of shade, an umbral depth that extends from the pavement right up to my knees, torso, and head – a shadow touching me not just at my feet, but at every point of my person.”

David Abram Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology New York: Vintage Books, 2011