Winter 2012–2013

Colors / Rose

Lisa Robertson

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


By way of experiment, I ordered rose-tinted lenses. These are my findings.

I had anticipated their arrival with some excitement, imagining myself neo-Goetheian; I was certain that with the help of these frivolous prostheses the long eighteenth century would sanguinely reach forward to include me. They were custom-cut, lightweight plastic discs that hooked inside the frame of my regular spectacles. They were quite economical, and arrived in a soft chamois pouch. Their tint was a true synthetic rose, quite aniline. I had expected that when I wore them the viewed world would glow a little—I’d be basking in the light of Claude. (I had forgotten that the Claude glass was black, so insistently had I been fantasizing the psychotropic powers of the lenses.) Yet after a full week of wearing them all my waking time, I remained surly and withdrawn as ever. As medicine, they were very weak. As utopias, they were ill-fitted. Regularly, one of the two would spontaneously spring from my face to the ground. Often I was bent to my knees searching for a rose-tinted lens in ruts, gutters, beneath tables, and elsewhere. Once retrieved, it was less perfect. Looking through rose was increasingly laborious as my little toys got smeared and scratched. I practiced a rosy strabismus.

When I wore them in the country, nature wasn’t helped any. Greenery dulled and flattened. The dirt looked cold. The most brilliant blue sky was knocked down a note and a half towards mauve. Generally this queer mauvish sky at any time of day was just alright, not amazing. Even the mauve moon. Yellowness was getting filtered out. Light lost its heat, which seemed sad, since these were the final, blazing days of August and early September, days when traditionally I would sit on a stoop and look straight into the afternoon sun for minutes at a time to try to store up a hot dose. Now I thought with some confusion about the temperature of color very often, and next I began to lose the conceptual ability to distinguish warm from cool. I constantly wondered about light, now stuff-like. It seemed more and more like something I wanted to taste. Then light and color lost their separateness. Weren’t they the same? I was out picking the fruit of late summer while walking with my dog, and the blackberries and prune plums did glow a bit like purple diodes. I raised and lowered my spectacles frequently for the pleasure of the fluctuation, which became more interesting as a process than was the cool rosiness itself.

It’s true that whatever was already rose-tinted entered a freshened, oxygenated dimension. Her big sensible cotton underpants scintillated. Windowsill geraniums screamed Plath. And when the sunrise sky would be tinted like a flaring, iridescent wedding-gift teacup with the event of the dawn pooled at its deepest part, I didn’t mind, and then I fetched those teacups out of the depths of the post-marital cupboard.

But it was when I went to the city that I discovered that the new lenses also erased spleen. The moody dial of the humors clicked into a plumped-up position. Each person that passed seemed gently inflamed with a precise gorgeousness. Any face, above its dark costume, whether ragged or well-cut, became its own ideal; any person transmuted to her more sanguine twin. So I was not given a Baudelairean city. I was just basking in the full sense of the robust, attractive health of strangers. My rosy gaze was consistently distributed, and my amazement was sustained. I resented less the fishing of the lenses from city gutters. Each time I arose, my nerves and glands and companions were happier.

Reading through these lenses was a related pleasure. By an odd draw of luck they had arrived in the same mail as my order of Nietzsche. The blush pages of The Gay Science were easy on the eyes; reading this most abstruse text could go on and on without tiring:

Being new, nameless, hard to understand, we premature births of an as yet unproven future need for a new goal also a new means—namely, a new health, stronger, more seasoned, tougher, more audacious, and gayer than any previous health. Whoever has a soul that craves to have experienced the whole range of values and desiderata to date, and to have sailed around all the coasts of this ideal “mediterranean”; whoever wants to know from the adventures of his own most authentic experience how a discoverer and conqueror of the ideal feels, and also an artist, a saint, a legislator, a sage, a scholar, a pious man, a soothsayer, and one who stands divinely apart in the old style—needs one thing above everything else: the great health—that one does not merely have but also acquires continually, and must acquire because one gives it up again and again, and must give it up.

I thought about this Great Health, and then I revised my interpretation of the sanguine city. What if the rosiness did not actually have to do with desire in the standard sense of the advertisers? Imagine a good experience of the body that isn’t necessarily or merely sexual or erotic, that isn’t limited by skin. Blood, lymph, oxygen course vividly through each, and strangers enjoy their animal proximity. There’s a feeling of supple strength for its own pleasure. It’s a little like the feeling of being strong enough to stack two cords of firewood without hurting much, only without the wood. Our rosy inner organs seem to sparkle—the kidneys lift and flare a little; beneath the sternum the long vagus nerve decompresses and throbs like an intelligent tentacle; the bodywide, clear connective goo called the fascia becomes a warm communicative medium. Bones feel less heavy. There is an even distribution of intensity. The Great Health isn’t solipsistic but it is thorough. The open pores of the skin receive and diversify images. Think of chords, or durations. The air and the architecture; the very concepts of the conceptualists; the minima of the minimalists: these seem lit with the potential of a carnal becoming. We would feel permitted to radiate from our bodies again, our lined, scarred, sagging, fabulous, oddly attired, slightly hilarious bodies. The Great Health confected with the help of the new spectacles would, if it were a scent, have a base note of decay, as do all the greatest perfumes. And it would be this insistent stratum of mortality and pathos that would found my lightest, most evanescent attachments. Rosily I will squander myself.

Lisa Robertson teaches at Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam, and lives in France. Her most recent book is Nilling: Prose Essays on Noise, Pornography, The Codex, Melancholy, Lucretius, Folds, Cities and Related Aporias (BookThug, 2012). With Matthew Stadler she edited and annotated Revolution: A Reader (Publication Studio/ Paraguay Press, 2012).