What Color Is the Sacred?

by Michael Taussig

Subject categories
ISBNs
  • 0226789993
  • 9780226790053
  • 9780226789996

Over the past thirty years, visionary anthropologist Michael Taussig has crafted a highly distinctive body of work. Playful, enthralling, and whip-smart, his writing makes ingenious connections between ideas, thinkers, and things. An extended meditation on the mysteries of color and the fascination they provoke, What Color Is the Sacred? is the next step on Taussig’s remarkable intellectual path.

Following his interest in magic and surrealism, his earlier work on mimesis, and his recent discussion of heat, gold, and cocaine in My Cocaine Museum,this book uses color to explore further dimensions of what Taussig calls “the bodily unconscious” in an age of global warming. Drawing on classic ethnography as well as the work of Benjamin, Burroughs, and Proust, he takes up the notion that color invites the viewer into images and into the world. Yet, as Taussig makes clear, color has a history—a manifestly colonial history rooted in the West’s discomfort with color, especially bright color, and its associations with the so-called primitive. He begins by noting Goethe’s belief that Europeans are physically averse to vivid color while the uncivilized revel in it, which prompts Taussig to reconsider colonialism as a tension between chromophobes and chromophiliacs. And he ends with the strange story of coal, which, he argues, displaced colonial color by giving birth to synthetic colors, organic chemistry, and IG Farben, the giant chemical corporation behind the Third Reich.

Nietzsche once wrote, “So far, all that has given colour to existence still lacks a history.” With What Color Is the Sacred? Taussig has taken up that challenge with all the radiant intelligence and inspiration we’ve come to expect from him.


  • University of Chicago Press; July 2010
  • ISBN: 9780226789996
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF format
  • Title: What Color Is the Sacred?
  • Author: Michael Taussig
  • Imprint: University of Chicago Press
Subject categories
ISBNs
  • 0226789993
  • 9780226790053
  • 9780226789996

In The Press

“In the course of reflecting on shamanism and the Native cultures of the Americas, and the relationship of symbolism, drugs, and color, and introducing such interesting concepts as ‘preemptively apocalyptic knowledge’ and the bodily unconsciousness, the author offers no less than an ethnology of color. . . . It is also beautifully poetic, thoroughly rational, and an excellent read.”--Choice
— Choice

"Michael Taussig has done it again. As with his previous books, Taussig has produced a unique account that takes readers on a journey—this time into the 'color of history'—that is electrifying, surprising, at times disconcerting and unsettling, but ultimately inspiring."
— American Anthropologist


About The Author

Michael Taussig is professor of anthropology at Columbia University and the author of several books, including Walter Benjamin’s Grave and My Cocaine Museum, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

Subject categories
ISBNs
  • 0226789993
  • 9780226790053
  • 9780226789996