Seeing black

Seeing black

Paul La Farge in the latest Cabinet on the color black:

Black is a lack, a void of light. When you think about it, it’s surprising that we can see black at all.

According to Aristotle:

Even when we are not seeing, it is by sight that we discriminate darkness from light, though not in the same way as we distinguish one colour from another.

The contemporary philosopher Giorgio Agamben:

[T]he fact that we see darkness means that our eyes have not only the potential to see, but also the potential not to see. (If we had only the potential to see, we would never have the experience of not-seeing.) This twofold potential, to do and not to do, is not only a feature of our sight, Agamben argues; it is the essence of our humanity: “The greatness — and also the abyss — of human potentiality is that it is first of all potential not to act, potential for darkness.” Because we are capable of inaction, we know that we have the ability to act, and also the choice of whether to act or not. Black, the color of not seeing, not doing, is in that sense the color of freedom.

No wonder the cool kids wear black.

A friend has a theory that designers wear black (and white) because they’re subconsciously responding to history, which is chronicled in black-and-white photographs. I’ve always liked that: a look for legacy reflected in color, or lack thereof.