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PRINT Summer 2009

books

Michael Taussig’s What Color Is the Sacred?

IT IS A GERMAN SOLDIER of the early nineteenth century, of all people, who turns out to epitomize this book on color—on color, partly, as “we in the West” see it (or don’t see it), and how this perception is linked to the effects of colonial history on the imagination. As Goethe recounts in his Zur Farbenlehre (Theory of Colors), this soldier, having returned to Hesse from America, painted his face in vivid colors in the style of the “savages” (Wilde) he had come across in the New World. We don’t need to read Michael Taussig’s admission in his final chapter to discover that the author identifies with this “crossover man.” The context in which Goethe mentions this self-fashioned primitive makes it clear which boundaries are at stake: The illustrious German poet states that “men in a state of nature, uncivilized nations and children” have an affinity for “colors in their utmost brightness,”

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