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August 17, 2011

When I say that the grass is green, the sky is blue, snow is white, etc. people nod their heads. Even just saying the word green conjures up a color in my mind that is the color of grass. The problem, which you’ve probably already thought about, is that green is not the color of grass—green is the color of green. Grass has a color but we don’t know its name so we call it green and we associate green with the true, unnamed color of grass. Blue is the color of blue, but we tag it—link it to the true, unnamed color of the sky, and when we think of the sky, we think of the tag: blue. It’s nothing new, just the usual Saussure stuff. But thinking about it again may disturb you, again, because conclusions are speculative and speculation is usually disturbing.

Your green is my red and my yellow is your blue, etc. In name or in actual form—either way provides us with a looping argument—blue is blue—the color of the sky is the color of the sky—there is no objectivity for us to ground our claims in—the sky is blue, etc.

Also: a red apple. It’s red, whatever that means. But not always. We turn off the lights and the room is completely dark. The apple is no longer red. In a literal sense the apple has turned black. It’s not a red apple in a black room—the apple has changed color and has become a black apple. The chemical composition of the apple is the same—if it were brought into the light, it would absorb orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet wavelenths. It would reject red—these wavelengths would bounce off its surface and make contact with our eye and somewhere in the process our brain would translate that wavelength into a perception of what we call red. But the apple, when it’s not busy absorbing certain particle-waves, rejecting and reflecting others, is the color black. So is everything else.

Light makes things do work, and that work produces energy. Even a glimmer in a reflection—the side mirror of your car reflecting the glimmering road sign which is reflecting the sun, is producing energy. It’s a form of order which allows us to see. Light is a step away from anarchy—from “Sable-vested Night, eldest of things,” enthroned with Chaos in Satan’s journey from Pandemonium to Earth.

But light also brings about the questions. Sight is often our downfall, as many blind people might tell you. We are extremely, ridiculously, naively sure of our visual perceptions, which above all other perceptions we rely on the most, which above all other perceptions is the most easily defrauded. Think of the atrocities of history and discover how many would have never occurred if we had been blind. On his honeymoon Matthew Arnold said, “Ah, love, let us be true/ To one another!” Very Victorian, we say, but I can only nod at his conclusion, as I see him there, staring disconsolately at the fossils of Dover Beach, which stared back, defying Biblical accounts of the Creation. Maybe he came to the heart of the matter at that moment. Maybe he became a Christian as soon as he stopped choking on the vast amount of information he thought he knew.

Of course, blindness would only have prevented a portion of errors. Even more could have been prevented if we’d just never existed at all. Or if Adam and Eve hadn’t chosen to eat that fruit, which must have tasted like what? Maybe an apple, according to common, arbitrary consent. The apple—the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They may have questioned their perception of the apple and its ability to change color at nightfall, or with the rising of the sun. Something was attractive—something drew them, besides the serpent, to whom we give too much credit. Their conception of red. Their conception of the taste of the fruit. A past, present, and future, yawning infinitely in all directions in every dimension—whether the apple be black and bitter or red and sweet. Something about the constant craving for more light. And their love was infrared and ultraviolet—finally something blind—which existed because they chose it over the darkness.

© Trent R. Leinenbach, Ashen Apples, 2011

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