Saturday, May 28, 2011

ON SEEING RED


“Well, look at that!”
“Yes, it’s a fine red.”
”What do you mean by ‘fine’?”
“I mean that the red is rich; eye-catching; brilliant; rosy; exuberant; that it makes me feel glowing – something like that.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so?”
“I don’t know. I just used ‘fine’ as a conversational summary of these things I suppose. It was merely an attempt to suggest some quality that was special in my experience.”
“‘Fine’ is hardly a useful word. It has more to do with the weather or slenderness in general conversation than being exuberant or rosy.”
“Yes, perhaps whether something is nicely different or not: that’s all I was alluding to. That’s how I was using it. It’s just that it is difficult to express the complexity of feelings involved in an experience.”
“Oh, I don’t know. You just can’t create a new meaning for a word and hope that it will make some sense.”
“I wasn’t being smart. Just chatting, that’s all. I liked it – its rediness.”
“Is that a new word too? I go to the doctor and tell him that I feel sick, for example, or that I feel some pain, and he attends to me. It’s not rocket science. You don’t have to be a Nobel laureate to communicate an experience. It’s just commonsense.”
“When I went to the doctor with a pain I was asked to say more about it.”
“What?”
”Well, the nurse wanted me to give it a number.”
”Did you give her a number?”
”Well, yes. She asked me to rate the pain from one to ten, with ten being the worst pain I have ever experienced.”
“That seems one way to define it. Quite systematic as a concept – clever.”
“But I couldn’t do it.”
“What do you mean, ‘couldn’t’ – wouldn’t?”
“I found it a very difficult task - impossible. When I reflected on my previous experiences of pain, I discovered that they involved a lot more than some simple understanding of a degree of being hurt or sore.”
“Surely pain is pain, with one hurting more than another, obviously at different times. You should be able to remember the worst of these; to recall and categorise such extreme experiences.”
“No. I started to think about my past: when I cut my finger; when I had a pain in the stomach; when I had an infected fingernail; when I had toothache. These were some of the worst experiences of pain that I could quickly recall while standing there being glared at by the nurse who wanted to complete her form. How was I going to say something that might be useful for a diagnosis as a number?”
“Yes. It sounds that things like that might be some of the worst pains to experience. Even been burnt? So what was the problem?”
”Each pain had different locations in the body; different experiences were involved; different feelings, different contexts and different ages. They were all sensed differently and remembered distinctively too. All of these variations swelled up into my mind when I tried to recall the degree of pain involved, and I was confused. How could numbers relate to these events? How were the ten increments going to be interpreted? And how did I know that I was not more concerned with, say, a head pain than a more intensive stomach pain when I rated something? Experience is never singular.”
“Gosh, I reckon I’d know which was the worst. It’s a pretty easy thing to do with your colleagues. Some are real, well let’s say ‘struggles.’”
“It is really not that easy. The cut involved a warm, instant, ‘sharp’ sliver of a pain that made blood flow. It was strange: I felt it some time after the incident that was further traumatised by the appearance of the blood. The stomach pain was experienced as a broad, slowly-penetrating ache in the body that reverberated through the solar plexus with little variation, just being there constantly. The infected finger was a persistent, heavy and ponderous throbbing pain that seemed to be in synch with the heartbeat. I could expect the next surge and prepare myself for it. The toothache ripped through one side of my face, to end with an ache in my eye and ear with a slow rhythmic pulse that peaked with an ever-higher pitch of pain each time. Each pain had its own unique characteristics. So I was confused.”
“They were all pains. Were you just being difficult? What did you do?”
“They are all pains, yes, but this categorisation is just about as useful to me as my ‘fine’ was for you. I did not even consider the pain of a broken heart. Finally I said ‘five’ to average everything out - to give no commitment either to good or bad; worse or better. That filled the box in and the nurse was happy. She was getting cross with me. She thought I was wasting her time, being belligerent.”
“She never asked for more information about your predicament?”
”Only more numbers – time, ‘GPS’ place, age, and the like. Her health management interests saw ‘five’ was the solution for intensity. The world seems to be happy just to have things quantified, and boxes ticked, no matter how emotionally complex matters are. It just needs numbers, even though you might be very ill. Feelings are meaningless. Explaining these emotions is worse than useless. I’d give the concept of this numerical rating a zero for effectiveness.”
“Get with it, it’s a digital world! You’ve just used it in your assessment.”
“It really makes me see red.”
“That’s fine for you.”
“No.”
“Well, let’s drink to that – just to cheer you up.”
“Cheers, ready – one, two, three . . . . steady,  . . .”

‘You get cranky about numbers.”
“Yes. Numbers are gaining in significance for architects in a silly way too. Just look at what ‘green’ studies are doing. Everyone is getting starry-eyed about them - about adding up allotted numbers to prove a ‘green’ outcome. It’s like environmental colouring by numbers.”
“Pain is an odd interest for an architect?”
“Experience has a lot to do with things architectural. Pain is useful to highlight the rich complexity of experience that is common to us all. Talking about ‘aesthetic experience’ turns too many heads away - too elitist. Body pain is known to everyone. The body is involved in architecture as more than an object moving in space – to be accommodated in place. Feelings and many subtle matters come into it, but these are difficult to talk about; difficult to quantify and to analyse, like pain itself. Emotions are even rejected by the profession as an ad hoc, personal indulgence: by ‘dull gents’ one might add.”
“I don’t know. I didn’t need an architect to build my house. Just commonsense.”
“That probably explains everything.”
“What?”
“Never mind. A top up? . . . I’ll just keep seeing red.”
“What do you mean by ‘red’?”
. . . . . .

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