Saturday, May 26, 2007

Wittgenstein, Jarman and Colour Blindness

Tonight we watched Wittgenstein directed by Derek Jarman in 1993. It was like watching a play - lots of ideas thrown out of the screen one after the other. No great stage set - just a darkened room and then something like a bed, or a blackboard and a set of deckchairs or a hospital bed.

According to the producer, Tariq Ali, the low budget enhanced the creativity of the film. I think it also enhances the creativity of the viewer. There is so little there that each individual mind is free to invent and the experience is richer for this. It is like the sort of writing I love - the starkest skeleton. But it is something each person watching can clothe exactly as they please.

Wittgenstien was interested in language and how it describes the world around us. How can we know what is really outside our heads? How can we know that the world that each of us manufactures is anything like reality?

Hodmandod Senior is colour blind. This is fascinating to me. It is something I discovered soon after we were married - for the first 24 years of his life he had no idea that saw fewer colours than most of the rest of humanity. I keep testing him. Even now, 24 years later. 'What colour is that car?' I ask, pointing to one that to me seems obviously green. 'Silvery,' he says, 'kind of grey.'

In this one way the worlds we see are obviously different. And then of course there are our different positions and the different things we notice. He'll notice a bird trapped in the supermarket, flitting from aisle to aisle; while I'll notice the logo on a child's T shirt. Even though we walk side by side the world we experience is completely different.

In this film on Wittgenstein I think, at one stage, he talks about language inventing our worlds. But I think language is only the start. It too is a skeleton waiting to be dressed. Some of us use the bright colours of this film; others prefer more subtle shades and nuances.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jarman's last film was called "Blue", just a blue screen with dialogue, as by then AIDS had rendered him blind and (it is said) he wanted the rest of us to experience what it is like.

I enjoyed reading your post, as ever your individual and poignant perspective has a haunting quality.

Scientific journals should not use red/green colours in their figures, because some large proportion, I think it is 3 per cent, of males are colour blind and can't see the difference in, say, two lines on a graph or two parts of a crystal structure, if coloured red/green. Quite a hard thing to achieve in practice, though. I have posted quite a bit on the Nautilus blog about this, and linked to a very good Japanese website which guides scientists in best preparation of figures to be most clear to colour-blind readers.

Sun May 27, 10:26:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, I'd heard about that film - but had no idea that was the reason he'd done it like that.

Thanks Maxine - Yes HS is often having trouble in this regard - it is surprising how frequently red (or worse, pink) and pale green are chosen. It can be quite a handicap.

The other day he had to use a colour test to analyse some samples and had to ask a colleague which one was the pinkest.

And I well remember a geologist at university having terrible trouble identifying minerals in practical classes.

I think a useful aid would be to have a pair of glasses that gives us an idea of how the colourblind world would look.

Sun May 27, 10:48:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now you have made me think of two or three Stevens poems--

She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there was never a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

Mon May 28, 12:27:00 am  
Blogger Jan said...

IS it a given thing, do you think, that in ALL fields,in life generally, "low budget" ( alias poverty/deprivation/neediness/lack of time etc... enhances "creativity" ( alias imagination/ self-fulfilment/creative "success") ??
I think it's something of a loaded question..BANG.

Mon May 28, 10:19:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marly: such beautiful lines - thank you. But I'm afraid I don't know the poet. What's his or her first name, please?

Jan: Yes - an impoverished life is also the richest one too - it turns out in the end. The longer I am here on this world the more I realise this is true.

Mon May 28, 01:23:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i believe Marly is quoting Wallace Stevens' 'The Idea of Order at Key West'. i memorised it years ago but have since forgotten most of it.

i had no idea there was a film about Wittgenstein, what an idea! He would have raised a dour eyebrow at that, i suspect.

By the way, you spelt him 'Wittgenstien' in paragraph 3, though i dare say he's beyond caring about such things now.

Sun Jun 03, 12:09:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Elberry - and thank you for pointing out my typing slip! These things are always creeping in, I fear...should I go back and alter it? It hardly seems worthwhile - part of the characteristic of a blog, I feel.

Sun Jun 03, 12:19:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wittgenstein would have gone back & altered it - but he's dead. Also he was mad.

Sun Jun 03, 04:20:00 pm  

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