Color

jean shrimpton

Image: Jean Shrimpton by Irving Penn for Vogue, 1966

The designations of experience were ad hoc and we have done ourselves a disservice by allowing them to become customary law. We had at some point to say, for the sake of efficiency, “this experience has mostly to do with the nose and so we will call it smelling”, and “our means of deliberately conveying messages is most often word, and so we will place language in the domain of word and call word’s duty the conveying of messages”—Adam hit the ground running and you can’t blame him for these choices. Presumably he thought he’d have time to refine them later.

The fact is that our designations are inaccurate and their limits criss-cross and dent the real forms of things. Possibly no designation can exist—possibly the lines are only misplaced. At any rate, we are badly dividing a big alive thing when we talk about touch or sight—or sensation, or color—or language, or word. The act of involving information with concept is language; and of involving information with the body; and familiarity is language.

I grew up around Hair. My mother was important in that world. The rolling sound of scissors through hair, like a marble over pleated iron; the smell of dye mixing; the artists with their fingers stained blue to the bed, like they’ve been digging graves bare-handed. The conditions of childhood shape the brain: these facts are elements of my internal grammar.

A chart of the woman’s head, sections labeled. Runway music so loud that it is more impact than what is called sound. Proofs of a model straight-on, 3-quarter, profile; the same woman in three shapes. Hair which is not meant to be worn—it is expressive of strategy and skill and sometimes a gigantic speech of trend (satire or education or omen or force). Red dust on my pillowcase and red in the drain: the color of my hair, not-on-my-head.

I was an adult when I realized that by “synesthesia” is meant my ordinary experience of understanding things which are not, materially speaking, things which can have color as having color or being colorful, and things which are not understood to take form as having dimension. In fiction, synesthesia is psychedelic: I cannot overstate the homeliness of synesthesia in actual experience. It certainly isn’t a hallucination; nor would I call it an artistic trait, at least not in the customary sense of artistry. Letters have colors and numbers have colors and the year and history and my lifetime exist in space and are faintly hued. The fact that the year is orange is not an act of naming on my part any more than it’s an experience from an altered state. There isn’t a relationship between orange and the year which could be called literary (relationship of character, expressive of meaning) or logical (likelihood of sameness, naturally related). In fact I don’t say it is a relationship at all, but rather that the year has qualities, and one of these qualities is Orange.

Synesthesia is an expanded understanding of designation. I think it is true that there are plastic differences between my experience of the world and others’. I think this thing which is called synesthesia is the reason my memory is spatial and sensual. Maybe it is why I am prone to absorption. Maybe it contributes to my religious sense.

Hair artists and talk about “the chair” as a means to describe the career and the practice of the career and to orient the subject and the actor. I hear about the chair more than I hear about the head or body. Hair work is on the body and for the body—this contributes to the mockery of hair artists and “beauticians” and barbers. Popularly, the body is where we have come from and out-of-the-body is where we are going, to a space of completely delineated ideas which no longer have anything to do with growth or loss or my shape or yours. People who work with the body are back there, like our mothers’ wombs—you’ll notice that it’s only with the technologicalization of doctoring that doctors have become admirable. Back in the day, the doctor and the midwife and the beautician and the whore and the cook were all in the same gutter together, tending the thing we aim to leave.

And what if there is no leaving the body? What if the experience of memory and sensation has to do with the encounter we will make with time? What if there is a big land I already stand on, which includes my hair and the color of the alphabet, and my womb, and my hopes?

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