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Chromographia

American Literature and the Modernization of Color

2018
Author:

Nicholas Gaskill

Chromographia

The first major literary and cultural history of color in America, 1880–1930

In Chromographia, Nicholas Gaskill tells the story of how color became modern and how literature, by engaging with modern color, became modernist. The only study of modern color in U.S. literature, Chromographia presents a new reading of perception in literature and a theory of experience that uses color to move beyond the usual divisions of modern thought.

What happened when chemists invented mauve? When The Wonderful Wizard of Oz taught us childhood meant colorfulness? When Stephen Crane painted courage red? In Nicholas Gaskill’s brilliant, beautiful, and mind-expanding book, we learn the myriad ways in which being modern in America meant no less than an encounter with color itself. And that meant thinking anew about mind and body, language and world, the challenges of the avant-garde and the pleasures of popular culture. Chromographia is that rare and iridescent thing: a philosophically searching contribution to literary-cultural history.

Jennifer Fleissner, Indiana University, Bloomington

Chromographia tells the story of how color became modern and how literature, by engaging with modern color, became modernist. From the vivid pictures in children’s books to the bold hues of abstract painting, from psychological theories of perception to the synthetic dyes that brightened commercial goods, color concerned both the material stuff of modernity and its theoretical and artistic formulations. Chromographia spans these diverse practices to reveal the widespread effects on U.S. literature and culture of the chromatic revolution that unfolded at the turn of the twentieth century.

In analyzing color experience through the lens of U.S. writers (including Charlotte Perkins Gilman, L. Frank Baum, Stephen Crane, Charles Chesnutt, Gertrude Stein, Nella Larsen, and William Carlos Williams), Chromographia argues that modern aesthetic techniques are inseparable from the theories and technologies that drove modern color. Nicholas Gaskill shows how literature registered the social worlds within which chromatic technologies emerged, and also experimented with the ideas about perception, language, and the sensory environment that accompanied their proliferation.

Chromographia is the only study of modern color in U.S. literature. It presents a new reading of perception in literature and a theory of experience that uses color to move beyond the usual divisions of modern thought.

Chromographia

Nicholas Gaskill is assistant professor of English at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. He is coeditor of The Lure of Whitehead (Minnesota, 2014).

Chromographia

What happened when chemists invented mauve? When The Wonderful Wizard of Oz taught us childhood meant colorfulness? When Stephen Crane painted courage red? In Nicholas Gaskill’s brilliant, beautiful, and mind-expanding book, we learn the myriad ways in which being modern in America meant no less than an encounter with color itself. And that meant thinking anew about mind and body, language and world, the challenges of the avant-garde and the pleasures of popular culture. Chromographia is that rare and iridescent thing: a philosophically searching contribution to literary-cultural history.

Jennifer Fleissner, Indiana University, Bloomington

Between the 1880s and the 1930s the world changed color. Nicholas Gaskill’s multilayered study of the period shows how a number of factors—an emerging relational understanding of chromatic experience, the commercial production of synthetic dyes, and theories of vision derived from evolutionary biology—together gave color a new visibility and brilliance and transformed it into a vitally important subject for literary and artistic modernism. If the cultural study of color—let’s call it Chromotology—was a recognized discipline, then this would be one if its principal texts.

David Batchelor, author of Chromophobia

Chromographia is a study of color perception just as brilliant as all the saturated hues that the new chromatic technologies and synthetic dyes of the nineteenth century brought out like never before. Nicholas Gaskill explores the meaning of this modern, multicolored world from the perspective of the writers, philosophers, psychologists, and educators who, in trying to cultivate a feeling for color, believe that language has the power to augment our sensory encounter with the world and to make life more vivid. This is a dazzling book that puts us in immediate relation with the vibrancy of these decades as we learn about the dynamic forms that color takes, its importance to aesthetic experience, and its intensifying, clarifying role in modern thought.

Elisa Tamarkin, University of California, Berkeley

Chromographia

Introduction: How Color Became Modern
1. The Place of Perception: Local Color’s Colors
2. Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Progressive Arts of Pure Color
3. The Production and Consumption of a Child’s View of Color
4. Lurid Realism: Stephen Crane, Gertrude Stein, and the Synthesis of Modernism
5. On Feeling Colorful and Colored in the Harlem Renaissance
Epilogue: Albers after the Color Sense
Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index