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white/skog/forêt

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Today was my favorite kind of day, weather- and otherwise. I spent the day on Rue Vieille du Temple and bought myself a much-needed coat, the Manteau Punk Femme from A.P.C., along with a bouquet of red flowers Ranunculi (thank you Flower Boy) and a jacinthe bulb, which should smell lovely in a few weeks. Right now the two look like this:

There is something about white winter flowers, and especially the kind that come from bulbs, that has always struck me as weirdly paradoxical. When a bulb sprouts white flowers in winter, a color one associates with the lifeless season; with snow, suddenly appears as life. This in turn reminds me of things I wrote in a high school English paper about the color white in Moby Dick. If black is a color that retains heat, white bothers to do nothing of the sort; it reflects it. The thing about white that creeps out Ishmael so much is that it can be seen as a bare expanse offering itself up to be colored, or as one the maintained purity of which pooh-poohs any such effort. There thus exists a certain power-play between us and white: should we see it as an offering, or as a rejection; as invitingly virginal, or smugly impenetrable? I remember citing a particular passage of Melville’s extensively in my little paper, because its discussion of the eerie blankess of white left its mark indelibly, and ironically, on my conscious.

“Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color; and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows- a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink?”

So after the florist’s I headed down the street, looking a lot at the sky and appreciating the kind of overcast that it was: the kind where the sky is blanketed with a flat sheet of grey clouds, which end abruptly at some distant point so that the sun peeks out from miles and miles away and covers everything with a lovely combination of golden and grey, of warm and cool, light.

Next I stumbled upon l’Institut Suédois and went in for a look around. It’s currently showing an exposition of photographs, Skog/Forêt, taken over a period of several years at the site of a forest fire in a Swedish national park. In the photos, the changing of seasons (at the risk of sounding like Gene Hackman in The Birdcage) acts as a quiet sort of set for the regrowth of the land.

While inside looking at the photographs, I could see outside through the French doors into a small grassy yard on which perhaps fifty white, torso-shaped, plastic-baglike objects had been connected to a system of air pumps. The pumps pushed air into the torsos, and then pulled it out – at first a little air, so that all the torsos rose just a little, and then sank again, then rose more, then sank again, and finally enough air to fill them all completely so that they all rose off of the ground in unison, plastic bag arms a-waving. The whole thing gave the impression that the torsos were breathing, and ultimately I got the same feeling watching these white objects take life that I get from looking at a jacinthe bulb at this time of year.

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Written by bellaheureuse

December 6, 2009 at 12:54 am

2 Responses

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  1. ooh those Ranunculus are beauties

    Flower Boy

    December 6, 2009 at 6:26 pm

  2. […] confrontation with light and its erasure of any opportunity not to see. It is easy to think of the obscene horror that is Herman Melville’s white whale as a symbol for the terror of that which lies beyond […]


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