A forlorn Bob Dylan sings into the microphone with a sad sense of surrender on the song “Not Dark Yet,” the first single off his 1997 album Time Out of Mind. Dylan sounds like he’s been weathered down after years of fighting the (supposedly) good fight; it’s not dark yet, but the weary singer can see the writing etched on the wall. Dylan’s plight is not unique, however, as this despondency is just an all-too-common symptom of the modern secular age.
In James Smith’s companion piece to the noted philosopher Charles Taylor’s masterwork A Secular Age, the idea of the buffered self is explored in detail. This so-called buffered self is “insulated and isolated from its interiority.” (Smith 30) It contrasts the medieval notion of the porous self, which was vulnerable to outside (supernatural) forces. An unfortunate consequence of shielding one’s self from outside influences, however, is that “the modern buffered self is also sealed off from significance, left to ruminate in a stew of its own ennui.” (Smith 64) Man is alone in himself; he is plagued by a sense of cosmic isolation.
During the song, Dylan refers to this idea of a buffered self, claiming that his soul has turned to steel1; he has lost his sense of humanity2. The things that once proved beautiful for the folk singer are now associated with pain3, so much so that Dylan feels like he has been numbed by his time on this temporal plane4. The world has been disenchanted for Dylan. He is starting to grow tired from treading water in the sea of secularity; soon he will fall victim to its power and sink beneath its waves.
“Not Dark Yet”
Shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day It’s too hot to sleep, time is running away Feel like my soul has turned into steel1 I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal There’s not even room enough to be anywhere It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there
Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain2 Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain3 She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind She put down in writing what was in her mind I just don’t see why I should even care It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there
Well, I’ve been to London and I’ve been to gay Paree I’ve followed the river and I got to the sea I’ve been down on the bottom of a world full of lies I ain’t looking for nothing in anyone’s eyes Sometimes my burden seems more than I can bear It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there
I was born here and I’ll die here against my will I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb4 I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there