A little while back, when I was working on one of my many doomed projects, I went into a cave. Not just a little cave, either, but an enormous emptiness in the ground, the trace of a watercourse that gnawed its way across half the state of Kentucky a few thousand years ago. We—this was my friend Wayne and I—went a long way in, then we sat down and turned off our lights. The darkness was like nothing I’d ever seen. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face; after a while I could barely believe that my hand was there, in front of my face, waving. That darkness is what I think about when I think of black. I was going to write, the color black, but as every child knows black isn’t a color. Black is a lack, a void of light. When you think about it, it’s surprising that we can see black at all: our eyes are engineered to receive light; in its absence, you’d think we simply wouldn’t see, any more than we taste when our mouths are empty. Black velvet, charcoal black, Ad Reinhart’s black paintings, black-clad Goth kids with black fingernails: how do we see them?
more from Paul La Farge at Cabinet here.