Summer 2012

Colors / Blond

When the brightness began

Leland de la Durantaye

“Colors” is a column in which a writer responds to a specific color assigned by the editors of Cabinet.

Photo Nick DeWolf.

The color assigned to me was blond. I expected navy blue. I love navy blue. I love most blues, but especially proud, night-warm navy blue. But I have blond. I am not blond, though I was briefly, on the cusp of memory, when I was very small. I don’t think the onset of episodic memory caused my hair to darken, though it would be interesting if it turns out that this is what happened. Interesting and weird. If this happened to everyone, it would explain the stereotype that blonds both have more fun and are not so bright. As we frequently associate intelligence with memory, then the period in our lives when we were utterly carefree and remembered next to nothing but bright images—of the cool water of Lake Superior, the hot breath of a dog, the strong arms of my father, the smell of my mother—would be the blond one. When I was little I was blond, and from that Eden I was expelled, and given in parting a gift—memory. Not of it, not of Eden, but of everything to come.

When a friend of the family (we had a somewhat strange family) explained, or tried to explain, Plato’s theory of ideas to me when I was a child, I remember not understanding most of it, and that the part I did understand seemed really silly. Maybe because I lacked the philosophical temperament, because I lacked a sense of the noumenal. I was actually very interested in philosophy, and one day I came across a passage where Dr. Johnson—a commonsensical fellow—ended, to his satisfaction, a debate with someone who had been presenting reasons for doubting the substantial existence of the material world by kicking a stone and saying, “Sir, I refute you thus!” I may be misremembering, but that is not the point.

Elsewhere, Dr. Johnson spoke of a young man who had been endeavoring to study philosophy, “but cheerfulness kept breaking through.” This was something of my problem; this and the fact that I used to think all wrong about the noumenal. I kept trying to raise the glass ceiling above which I was to locate the ideas, to put them in some remote place in my material world, instead of embracing the idea that ideas are out of this world, that they dwell elsewhere, and are revealed everywhere. Which is also to say: instead of taking seriously the seriously strange and wondrous fact that we can know anything at all, which is all Plato was trying to understand in the first place. I have lots of respect for Plato today, not that he needs it from me, but I wonder if the idea that we used to live in a place of pure experience, of unmediated experience of the essence of all things, but that we left that place and we have, every last one of us, forgotten it, and yet we have, every last one of us, retained a glimmer of it, and that glimmer guides us to seek truth, allows us to recognize the resonance between the many and various and changing things of this world and the true, immutable, unchanging, and inexpressibly beautiful essence of everything. I wonder whether that idea didn’t come from when he was very small and blond and everything was just what it was, and then memory started, and he grew, and he loved Socrates, and he loved Athens, and Athens killed Socrates. And so forth. But that is not the point either.

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