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Picturing a World

Movement in color

We can detect movement most easily through sight: we see something change position in relation to other objects. We hear movement: rustling, whooshing, gurgling; Doppler changes in volume and pitch. We feel it as changes in pressure against our skin or bodies: mothwing zephyrs, vibrating tuning forks that buzz in our fingers, the ripple of running water or the overwhelming crush of a wave.

What I had never thought of before is the relation of movement to color. In her essay, “The sea was never blue,” Maria Michela Sassi writes of the word porphureos that it did not refer to a specific hue and was not even restricted to objects that we would call purple: “When the sea is called porphureos, what is described is a mix of brightness and movement, changing according to the light conditions at different hours of the day and with different weather, which was the aspect of the sea that most attracted Greek sensitivity.”

The whole essay is worth reading, but an idea that I find specially stimulating for fiction is the possibility of evoking movement in what we call color: its dance, its glitter, and—to draw on David Abram as well as Sassi—the changeable interplay between object and viewer.

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