The Symbolic Quest Behind Today’s Cities of Light— and its Unintended Ecological Consequences


  • Geoff Berry Phoenix Institute



light, symbol, ecological crisis, fuel fetish, directed attention, overconsumption, transcendence


The symbol of light has commonly represented human desires for goodness, order, truth, perpetual abundance, and the transcendence of earthly limits. Modern practices of artificial light cultivation remain associated with a symbolic promise to banish darkness and its corollaries— lack, death, ignorance, disease, and chaos. In today’s global and increasingly urbanized world this association is most notably emblematized in the modern city, which is lit up at night in a technologically brilliant display that ironically also conveys the deepening ecological disaster of anthropogenic climate change. Responding to German philosopher Hans Blumenberg’s essay ‘Light as a Metaphor for Truth’, this article seeks to uncover the ways that technological figurations of light transform an ancient association with freedom into dangerous practices of fuel fetish and over-consumption. Increased awareness of such habits of overconsumption could help to decrease urban light pollution and the ecological danger that it signifies.

Author Biography

Geoff Berry, Phoenix Institute

Visiting Scholar, Intercultural Utopias and Ecology Ralahine Centre for Utopian Studies, University of Limerick 2012.


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How to Cite

Berry, G. (2013). The Symbolic Quest Behind Today’s Cities of Light— and its Unintended Ecological Consequences. Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, 7(1), 7–26.