rushthatspeaks: (Default)
I had to read this book after having read Derek Jarman's Chroma. Chroma is not about the theory of color, but is a set of anecdotes, associations, uses, properties, and appearances of colors-- and having read this I now see why Chroma is structured the way it is. The Wittgenstein is about the logic behind the concept of color, and the idea that Wittgenstein evolves is that color is, except in very narrow scientific circumstances, entirely contextual.

So Chroma is Jarman going through and giving you every little bit of context he can think of about various colors, so that maybe you can see something of what he sees in one. Fair enough.

As for why color is entirely contextual.

This is complex, and it doesn't help that the book is in draft, since as with most Wittgenstein it was posthumously assembled from things picked up off the floor of his room (I mean this literally). So it is a repetitive and unstructured read, with a lot of things described by the editor as having been crossed out thrown in for the sake of completeness, and strange punctuation, and so on.

But as nearly as I can make it out.

There is an obvious difference conceptually between the idea of the color 'gold' and the idea of the color 'yellow', yes? Gold shines or glitters, has a patina. Wittgenstein proceeds to demonstrate that there is a similar kind of conceptual difference between the idea of 'white' and the idea of other color words such as 'yellow'. How is this provable?

By reference to the concept of transparency. You can think of a yellow transparency, like a pane of amber glass. You can think of a green or red transparency.

Now think of a white transparency.

Now that you've finished stubbing your mental toe, you can see that white is conceptually different from yellow. There is some difference in how we think about white and spatial depth from the way we think about yellow and spatial depth. What's the difference?

Well, what's the exact description of the difference between gold and yellow? Without reference to science. I mean the conceptual difference.

I don't know and Ludwig doesn't either. Just, there is one.

Also, how do you tell if something is white in the first place? In one light, a thing may appear white. In another, gray. In another, light pink. Which appearance is correct? There are even different colors of white, because a thing that is entirely white can have tints and highlights. So white fades into other colors. It's debatable when something is 'really' white. And if it's white, you use this one conceptual thing, which I just explained that we don't understand, and if it isn't, you don't. So how do you know whether you are invoking in your mind the concept of white, and in what sense?

There is no actual logic behind the use of color-words, is what Ludwig is trying to tell us here. There is only a set of agreed-upon contextual definitions, and we do not know what lies behind those. What we mean by color-blindness is a physically based inability to learn to apply the contextual color definitions that other people use-- which is why a color-blind actor can act the part of a color-sighted person with utter convincingness, because the color contexts are provided by the script when they are plot-relevant.

As a result, Ludwig suggests that we could create systems of color harmony, as we have musical harmony, which are based entirely on arbitrary rules of context, things like 'only use x shade of red when there is no orange', and that the results would be perfectly nice-looking as long as the rules were internally consistent, no matter what the rules might be.

He also believes that color-sighted people ought to be able to imagine a set of color-concepts that bear the same relation to their own as the concepts that color-sighted people understand bear to color-blind people. You can get a color-blind person to believe that you can reliably tell the difference between a red and a green apple by sight, even if they can't do it. So color-sighted people should be able to come up with color-ideas of the same kind, things that other people could conceivably distinguish. I think thinking about it this way helps me a lot when I think about other cultures' color-words, things like the Japanese aoi or Welsh glas.

Ludwig is also despairing about the human race's general illogicality, irrationality, and inability to come up with anything sensible, but then, when isn't he. And the images are lovely-- some of the things that he says when trying to come up with a white transparency or a grey flame make me want to learn to paint. (Why are all color theorists wrong about grey. Seriously. Wittgenstein thinks grey can't be luminous. What is this I don't even. But the rest of it all seems sound.)

So, a dense but rewarding little book, as expected, and well worth putting up with the fact that not only do you have to read each paragraph sixteen times, several of the paragraphs turn up about that often in the draft. Ah well. If somebody ever assembles a book this good off my bedroom floor, I should only be so lucky.
rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
Day before yesterday's review.

I was in fact looking for Wittgenstein's Remarks on Colour in the card catalog when I happened to see this listed. I had no notion it existed. Then after I jumped up and down grinning for a while, I think I kind of levitated to the relevant section of the stacks, and settled in for one of the most delightful hours I have ever had, consisting of Ludwig Wittgenstein telling me that Sir James George Frazer was a total idiot, for many original and awesome reasons. Oh little book where were you in my mythography classes. We always need more good reasons why Frazer was an idiot! It is an entire sub-field!

Anyway, for those of you who don't care about the history of the ongoing scholarly debates about the anthropology of myth (WHY DON'T YOU), this is also a really good book if you are, let us say, a fantasy writer and you would like to think more about the whys and wherefores of mythology and magic, because in completely debunking Frazer's explanations Wittgenstein also comes up with some good things I don't think anyone's said before.



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March 2017

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