Burning the midnight oil.
I always liked the sound of that phrase. I really don't
know whether it refers to machinery or oil lamps, or
perhaps both, but I've always taken it in the sense of
an oil lamp. I picture some old scholar or young student
up very late, pouring over books, writing out notes on
paper pages which always seem ascatter, the oil lamp
glowing and, beyond that and around, darkness.
The light from those old 19th century oil lamps was
fairly good — almost as good as a small electric desk
Certainly better than candles. In Stanley Kubrick's
Barry Lyndon we get to see what the 18th century
world looked like illuminated by candles, thanks to
a very fast Zeiss lens that for that day was unique,
a lens that enabled Kubrick to shoot without any
But when I think of working by candlelight, what
always pops into my head first is Herman Melville's
story Bartleby the Scrivener. Back when I was in high
school some teacher or other had us read that story.
I found it a fascinating work.
In any case I wonder how many people must have gone
blind or at least suffered from impaired eyesight
across the centuries from reading or working by
Candles, oil lamps, gas lamps, electric lamps, LED
lamps…I wonder what the next step in the evolution
I can imagine some structure like the old Crystal Palace
in London, with thin rows of blue colored LED lights
embedded into the cross beams holding the glass, causing
the entire structure to glow. Of course they might already
have a building like that for all I know — I don't get
Last night I woke up at about 2:00 a.m. and couldn't
go back to sleep. So I leaned over and grabbed my
Blackberry and went to an online site with works
by Wittgenstein. And I read a little bit. I didn't
need to turn on a light. The light from the screen
itself provided the illumination to read.
Very nice, actually, just laying there in the dark,
reading, almost as when kids grab a flashlight and
read under the covers after they were long-since
supposed to be asleep.
It wouldn't be a priority, but I'm becoming more
and more attracted to the idea of ebook readers
such as Kindle and Nook. Of course supposedly I
can use the Nook software on the Blackberry to
read books. But it doesn't really work on my
particular model of phone for some reason.
While I might think of Bartleby thinking of candles, when
I think of gas or kerosene lamps I think back to my young
days when I would go camping. Coleman gas lamps were back
then pretty much the de rigueur lamps for that type of thing.
I remember well my uncle pumping up the lamp, sticking the
long wooden match in — and then the mantels would ignite
with a crisp shhhwooommmp!
I'm almost tempted to buy a Coleman lamp just to hear that
wonderful unique sound again.
And then there's Tokyo. Now there's some midnight
oil for you.