Spring 2015

Colors / Black

Tragedy or farce?

Hayden Williams

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

Hello, Cabinet editors! I’ve never met you, all the back and forth for this column having been conducted by email, but I wish I could see your faces as you read this for the first time. I guess I should say how pleased I was at first to be asked to contribute to your magazine, which I’ve read, from time to time, over the past few years. And I’ve seen some of the previous Colors columns. In fact, I have in my hand issue 36, from Winter 2009. Do you remember that issue? It’s got some excellent things in it. I especially enjoyed the Georg Simmel essay on Grülp, a non-existent color. Simmel being Simmel, he manages to pull it off with bravura.

Also lurking in that issue, close to the front of the magazine, is Paul La Farge’s Colors column, which I equally admired. In fact, I found it extremely memorable, though you apparently did not. You told me that every writer gets their own color, but La Farge has already written about black, for Chrissake! Of course, we’ve all read Kierkegaard on repetition, but that’s not what’s going on here. None of this was intentional on your part. The relevant essay here is Freud on repetition compulsion. I suggest you read it, lying down, on a comfortable couch, preferably with an expensive analyst nearby. It’ll open up many avenues of your mind for you to explore. And they won’t be beautiful Parisian avenues, with nice trees in the middle. They will be more like Avenue C in the late ’70s. Do you remember that?

But enough about you. Let’s talk about me. What did you see in me that made you assign, or try to assign, the color black to me? In your first email you wrote: “The color we will assign you will sit productively to the side of your writerly sensibility.” What the fuck does that mean? Do sensibilities have sides? And how can anything sit productively? I don’t know about you, but the only time I sit productively is on the loo. So, I ask again: why black? Did you detect a wee darkness in me that you felt the assignment would, as you might say, elicit and amplify? I bet you felt very satisfied when you sent me the email telling me “my” color. And to go back to Freud: in all these years, have you ever had one moment when you thought, “Maybe all these color assignments are not about our writers but about ourselves.” Here’s an exercise for you to do in your spare time. Take all the colors you’ve ever assigned and put them in a long line. Then take out your diaries and see if the color you assigned at any one time can be “productively” matched to what was going on in your lives. It’d be good to have that analyst nearby.

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