A Splash of Colour

A Splash of Colour

A burnt orange month with mellow sienna shades of fruitfulness.

La rentrée is over. Classes are settling down and we are all starting to learn each other’s names.

Students who follow the second-year undergraduate distance learning class in creative writing at Paul-Valéry University have been introducing themselves via the first MOODLE forum by discussing their reading habits. One of the reasons that distance learning is so enriching is that it enables different people from different walks of life, with different needs to continue or return to studying. And it’s certainly one of the reasons I enjoy teaching it so much. I’m ever amazed at the determination of some learners who rise at dawn to do their studying before they get on with their daily lives.

Having thought about writing colours over the last couple of months, I’ve been trying to introduce more colour into the classroom.  Whereas in previous years I have simply asked students to write texts inspired by the music I have them listen to (see Sounding Board), this week they were required to write down a colour and a location, as well as a couple of adjectives that each piece of music suggested to them, BEFORE choosing one of the pieces as inspiration for a longer text. It was fascinating to see how many students associated the same colours with the same pieces of music but then went onto write completely different texts from them.

Equally fascinating, students associating completely different colours to the same piece of music.

Which led me to the question of synaesthesia and Arthur Rimbaud’s poem Voyelles immediately springing to mind with its black A, white E, red I, green U and blue O. I would recommend to you: the Canadian experimental poet Christian Bök’s translation:

‘E, the whitewash of mists and tents,
glaives of icebergs, albino kings, frostbit fennels;
I, the bruises, the blood spat from lips of damsels
who must laugh in scorn or shame, both intoxicants’

Many writers of course rely on mixing the senses to come up with creative images. Eley Williams in her short story Synaesthete, Would like to meet has a narrator for whom ‘reading the letter B is a green flare of light’, an ampersand ‘a guttering black’, whilst number 3 is orange and number 10 smells of buttery toast.  Her sensory overload explains why she falls in love when she meets someone who has no colour or odour but on the contrary is : ‘A soundless, tasteless, brilliant blank’.

And another idea for an exercise started to germ. Playing around with collocations and colours:

A flash of green, of temper, of memory.
Of illumination.
A splash of milk or of paint.
 Of colour.
Black ice, black thoughts, blackjack, a black heart,
Black humour.
A streak of gold, of luck, of lightning
and insanity.

In The White Book South Korean writer Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith), begins by making a list of white objects, beginning with Swaddling bands and ending with Shroud. She includes ‘Laughing whitely’ and the reader learns (on p. 87) that this is:

 ‘…Laughter that is faint, cheerless, its cleanness easily shattered. And the face that forms it.
You laughed whitely, you know.’
 In this instance ‘you’ would (probably) be someone who managed to force a laugh quietly enduring some internal struggle.
He laughed whitely.’
 Here ‘he’ would (probably) be someone struggling to part from something inside himself.’

In French one may commonly ‘rire jaune’, which is often translated as ‘give a forced laugh’. Whilst black laughter might sound unremarkable to the English native speaker’s ear (by association with the more common collocation, black humour), what would be the effect of yellow laughter? The laughter of a person with stained teeth? The laughter of a coward?  Slightly dull and pale, nostalgic for childish joys? Or a sunny, delicious, burble of a laugh?

This month’s photo is by Fig_tart on Instagram

2 Replies to “A Splash of Colour”

  1. First of all, it was the title of your article that intrigue me. Thank you for this short story. We understand the splash of colour. Could we say that it’s a rainbow ?

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