Posted by: Robin | November 2, 2009

Color . . . Or, Not

According  to my latest Astronomy of the Day photo, astronomers have calculated the color of the universe, if all the colors of the universe were averaged out (tell me they have more important things to do, please.) The color is a very pale beige ivory that they have playfully dubbed sky ivory, univeige and cosmic latte. For some reason this strikes me as absurdly appropriate because my life has felt univeige for several months now, but maybe I am not as out of step as I thought.

Recently I have been reading March by Geraldine Brooks, a book that parallels Louisa may Alcott’s Little Women, but is told from the father’s view point during his time away serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. I recommend the book, though I think she makes some artistic choices that are inconsistent with Alcott’s semi-autobiographcal characters, but for the purposes of this blog, reading the novel inspired me to dig up my grad school research on the Transcendentalists and Bronson (the father) and Louisa May Alcott. What is not as well known is that Alcott wrote several Gothic thriller novellas under pseudonyms because they paid well.  In the intro to some of these collected tales Madeleine Stern quotes a a comment of Miss Alcott’s to explain why she would not allow her real name to be used for these stories. It’s inclusion will be self-explanatory:

. . . I indulge in gorgeous fancies and wish that I dared inscribe them upon my pages and set them before the public  . . . How should I dare to interfere with the proper grayness of Old Concord? The dear old town has never known a startling hue since the redcoats were here. Far be it from me to inject an inharmonious color into the neutral tint. And my favorite characters! Suppose they went cavorting at their own sweet will, to the infinite horror of dear Mr. [Ralph Waldo] Emerson, who never imagined a Concord person as walking off a plumb line stretched between two pearly clouds in the empyrean. To have had Mr. Emerson for an intellectual god all one’s life is to be invested with a chain armor of propriety . . . .” (Stearn xxvi, Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott. New York 1984)

As a former art major I know the paradox of white light being made up of all the colors of the spectrum and that to mix black, or as close as an artist can get if she doesn’t have black paint, is to mix all the colors of the spectrum together (it’s more a shade of dark brown, but you catch the gist.) I would have thought with all that dark empty space would have overwhelmed the other colors, but it is more light than dark. Bland as the color may be, and a bit of a letdown for one fascinated with the heavens as I am, maybe it is hopeful that the dark could not overwhelm the light, as chapter 1 of the Gospel of John tells us. And for all the gray constraints of Old Concord for the inner-Louisa who wanted to paint in lurid colors from time to time, Old Concord and Mr. Emerson are still deserving of affection and humor rather than resentment. Maybe after a handful of decades of life if all the bright colors have for a while blurred together into a univeige for a while, it is just in the nature of life and the universe, and there too is there something to learn.


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