demersMr. Lucien Bonnet has asked me to write a foreword to his work. I am happy to do so. Having known Mr. Bonnet for something like fifteen years, I am aware of the sincerity of his endeavors to clarify and put on paper his ideas concerning the color black and I can only encourage him to express himself as he has chosen to do. Since I decided to concentrate my efforts on color in 1974, I have been increasingly attracted by the multidisciplinary and deeply human nature of that field. Color cannot be understood except in relation to the person who perceives it. Color exists neither in rays nor in objects. It exists only inside the perceiver, at the moment when he can say: I see red, green and so on.

This is one aspect. Furthermore, as has gradually come to be understood over the last two or three centuries, the rational comprehension of color cannot achieve the necessary depth unless all the sciences are called upon: chemistry, biology, physiology, physics, and mathematics. Thus, once more the human aspect intervenes. Man is both the creator and the necessary vehicle of all sciences. It is doubly true that there is no rational knowledge of color outside of mankind. I have just mentioned the exact and natural sciences, but knowledge of color also requires other branches of humanities and fine arts, and we should add fashion, trade and advertising and, of course, photography, that field which is technical, artistic and commercial at the same time. Actually, color is important in almost all areas of thought and activity.

This humanistic universality of colors which I have endeavored to point out comes out in this work. The way Mr. Bonnet has chosen to express his thoughts about color was to associate sociology and politics with it in a most original manner.

We should note that his thinking is directed toward the color black. For a physicist, at first sight, this is close to heresy, but does it matter? Of course, there is no ray corresponding to black. As far as a physicist is concerned, blackness is the result of the absence of anyrays perceptible to the eye. We are not dealing with black rays like those from an infra red source that make night vision possible and thus were so practical, and so deadly efficient, in the war against Iraq. Nor are we dealing with ultraviolet, the “black light” that produces fluorescence in darkness. Nor are we dealing with the countless types of Hertzian radiation which are totally invisible to our eyes, but which determine the color of our television screens.

In Mr. Bonnet’s book, black is a color in the full sense of the word: it means the color black for what it is and what it represents. Anyone who sells artists’ or house paint will sell you “black”, and there are even several shades of black. Sophisticated colorimetry scales, such as Munsell’s or Ostwald’s, as well as the printer’s scale, have black at one of their ends. So black is a color in its own right.

Black, I wrote, but what kind of black? Do you mean visual perception or do you mean a person? In fact, the word has two common meanings. What would be the answer to the question: “What do you think of blacks?” The man on the street might well ask you whether you mean the somber colors or the people.

And there we are faced with the transition between the narrow, though doubly humanized, aspect of color and that other, profoundly human, aspect of color as it is lived and experienced by any person of color, which of course means the color black.

The transition between and junction of these three humanized aspects of color are what Mr. Bonnet tries to make us aware of, and he succeeds at this. In the end, his work is just as sociological and political as scientific, if not more so. Mr. Bonnet appears tobe the first person to make such an attempt in any concrete way.

Should we state that his attempt is emotionally inspired? Certainly, knowing even a little about the seemingly insoluble problems of the Haitian people. Should we declare that the attempt is, scientifically speaking, profitable considering the fact that a “nice black” was obtained from color proofs by a photographer?

A hardcore physicist would say no. A physiologist would probably be less emphatic, because he knows that “dark areas” in fully lighted landscapes correspond to a different mode of excitation.

More recently, Bachelard has criticized Goethe’s theory, and his criticism led me to understand the reason for the stubborn resistance of today’s physicists (at least the hardcore ones) against that theory. According to Bachelard, Goethe located the colors on a circle, which limited the perspectives of the imagination and reflection concerning the nature of color and light; Goethe’s theory, more over, suggested no extrapolation, no possibility of new discoveries. On the other hand, the linear spectrum, resulting from the breaking down of white light by Newton’s prism, suggested possibilities of exploration on both sides, beyond the red, beyond the violet, and such exploration proved to be fruitful, leading to the discovery of X-rays and Hertzian rays. Just the same, in spite of Bachelard’s opinion, certain physicists and biomathematicians believe that Goethe’s circular structure might potentially be fruitful in the interpretation of the physical world. <

And that is what I wanted to write about Mr. Bonnet’s book. I have not gone into the political aspects of Black culture, since Mr. Bonnet has done that perfectly adequately. To conclude, I will only say: long live freedom of speech, long live freedom of expression and freedom to seek political liberty, long live Haiti and, above all, long live Lucien Bonnet, a congenial fellow, who likes it here in Quebec, and long live his book, which you will find as interesting as I did!


Professor Pierre Demers,
Université de Montréal.