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“Invisible Colors”

IN HIS SHORT ESSAY “The Storyteller,” written in 1936, Walter Benjamin reflects on the impoverishment of soldiers returning from World War I, observing that they have “grown silent—not richer, but poorer in communicable experience.” At the root of this impoverishment, he says, is Chokerlebnis: the reduction of experience to naked information, wherein media (“every glance at a newspaper”) has the power to shock. Today we might quickly grasp Benjamin’s meaning by recalling, for example, the Vietnam War image of the young man with a pistol to his head, which reduced our experience of that conflict to little more than a photographic image bite—thereby pointing a pistol at our heads as well.

There is, however, a potential role for art in our engagement with such conditions, and this possibility in our contemporary context was the underlying subject of a noteworthy exhibition curated by Karina

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