Friday, January 25, 2008

What Is Mauve?

Contusions and confusions. Half-mourning and melancholia. Twilight and adolescence, home decorators and homosexuals. Drag queen hair, cheap swag, braggadocio. Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley (that “monstrous orchid,” said Wilde). Orchids, especially Cattleya labiata. All things orchidaceous, including the word “orchidaceous.” Prose just shy of purple. According to Nabokov, time itself.

A young chemist tinkering with coal tar, hoping to find a way to synthesize quinine to treat the malaria felling British soldiers stationed in India, discovers, instead, a color. Mauve, the color of disappointment.

But, “strangely beautiful,” thinks the chemist, and dips some silk in it, finds the color takes. He sends a sample to a Scottish dyer, who sees possibilities. The color lasts like no natural purple. And the ladies seem to like it.

Mauve, the color of opportunity...

...Mauve is the color of suspended choice and uncertain boundaries. One of the few colors permitted to women in half-mourning, the period of transition between black crêpe and the full spectrum, mauve signals the transition from despair to reconciliation. A transition that recapitulates the dye’s own emergence from a beaker of black gunk. The association with death is not just metaphorical. Only a few years after Perkin’s discovery, suspicions arose that mauve, and the other new dyes it led to, could raise real rashes, that the efflux of factories could poison villages. And Pynchon traces an arc in Gravity’s Rainbow from mauve to the dye industry, from the dye industry to IG Farben, from IG Farben to Zyklon B.
More here at Cabinet.

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