Tuesday, February 3, 2015

"It's Not Dark Yet, but It's Getting There"

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 drain2Behind 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

1 comment:

  1. I also found "Not Dark Yet" to be very reminiscent of the feelings that Smith describes in his book. The recurring line of "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there" describes the sense of being overwhelmed by the secular world perfectly. It would not be hard to imagine that this song could have been written as a response to the feelings described by Smith if the song had not been written a decade before Taylor's masterwork. The fact that it was written so much earlier than Taylor's work is certainly interesting given the overall mood and message of the song. It certainly shows how pervasive this feeling of disenchantment is in the contemporary world when it can easily be heard in numerous songs by artists of various genres. Reading Smith's book has certainly prompted me to want to more closely examine the feeling of disenchantment in music.