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Black. White., a poem by Bern Porter

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Esopus 12 (Spring 2009)
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Editor’s Note

By Tod Lippy

With the world in the midst of a major economic contraction, and everyone scaling back as a result, it seemed appropriate to impose a limitation on the (already bare-bones) production process of Esopus. We didn’t want to diminish the impact or quality of the final product, though, and the solution we hit upon was to produce an entire issue with only black ink.

In his book An Anthropologist on Mars, the neurologist Oliver Sacks relates the case of “Mr. I,” an artist who, after an automobile accident, suffers an exceedingly rare case of cerebral achromatopsia, or total color blindness. At first he is devastated by the loss. “Everything appear[s] to me as viewing a black and white television screen. My brown dog is dark grey. Tomato juice is black. Color TV is a hodge-podge....” The artist had worked mostly in color, and his toolbox was suddenly empty. The world he now perceived was, as he put it, “molded in lead.”

But limitations are the mother of creation, in art as in everything else. Ultimately Mr. I became accustomed to this new world, producing a successful series of black-and-white paintings. In fact, several years after the accident, he rejected a treatment that could have restored his color perception. As Sacks describes it, “Although Mr. I does not deny his loss, and at some level still mourns it, he has come to feel that his vision has become ‘highly refined,’ ‘privileged,’ that he sees a world of pure form, uncluttered by color. Subtle textures and patterns, normally obscured for the rest of us because of their embedding in color, now stand out for him.”