Sabine Doran

Faculty Spring 2024: Sabine Doran

Dyeing for the Revolution: Towards an Ethics of Coloring

Associate Professor of German and Jewish Studies

My project takes its cue from the color revolutions, as they rise in the name of the most divergent dyeing agents (sunflowers, velvet, indigo) but decidedly not in red, not in the color of blood, which has colored the great revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries – on the right and the left. Dyeing for the Revolution traces a critique of modernity’s “red mythology,” a term Gil Anidjar coins in Blood: A Critique of Christianity (2016), supplementing Derrida’s deconstruction of “white mythologies.” While the French film director Jean-Luc Godard famously stated in the 1960s, “It’s red, not blood,” defending excessive visualizations of blood in his most political films, the politics of red has become obsolete in more recent demonstrations of artistic protests against racial capitalism and social injustice in the works of artists such as Kara Walker, William Kentridge, Claire Denis, and John Akomfrah. In their chromatic politics, I claim to identify a shift from a politics of red (inscribed with “blood violence” or, as in Walter Benjamin’s Critique of Violence, with imaginations of a “bloodless” violence) towards an ethics of coloring. In that vein, Dyeing for the Revolution explores artistic engagements with material archives and their vexed relation to racial and genocidal violence. The project examines the return to the before of color and to acts of colorings within an ethics of hospitality and mourning. Historically, the dyeing of fabrics and foods was used to mourn the dead and to invite the stranger. “Exscribing” inscriptions of color is thus the impetus behind what I call an astigmaesthetics in the works of film and media artists who are invested in the crossings of color lines, while also performing crossovers between canvas and screen, sonic, digital, and material techniques of coloring. The book is divided into two parts, with the first part (“Marooning the Color Wheel: The Sugar Babies Call”) focusing on coloring as a performance of hospitable gestures, and the second (“InfraReds and CyanBlues: A Coal Tar Kabbalah”) on the haunting of traces of shame. Learn more about Dr. Doran.