1,267 Things Only People Who See The White Dress Will Understand
A political programme for direct action
Look at this picture. Does the dress appear to be white and gold, or blue and black? Choose carefully. It is a choice.
If you see it as blue and black, and only blue and black, you should stop reading at once - although, in fact, it doesn't matter; none of what follows will make any sense to you. You are, essentially, an idiot. You have no imaginative potential, and no sense of the possible. When you dream, it's all in dreary shades of blue and black. You wear loafers. You boil all your food. You wait for the walk sign at a crossing, even when there are no cars on the road. Your life is a feeble imitation of life, and everyone around you secretly (and rightfully) despises you. It is our mission to overthrow you. But even so, it would almost be possible to pity you, if you weren't so utterly hideous.
I am writing this on BuzzFeed - firstly, because this site kickstarted the global panic over the dress, and it's only appropriate that the final judgement should be here, even if it means adding to the traffic of something that disgusts me. Secondly, because it disgusts me, and I want you to be disgusted too. The white dress, as a visual phenomenon and a political programme, is inextricable from a certain disgust. A kind of vertiginous horror, a sense of the seething multiplicity of things, the gut-curdling awareness of the infinite distance between subject and object - this is the world we inhabit. We dwell in this chasm in the same way an animal inhabits its burrow: tightly, without ornament. Nausea is our place of refuge.
When the dress first appeared, there didn't seem much to differentiate the two views, other than that almost everyone seemed convinced that their colour-interpretation was correct, and everyone else was either deluded or maliciously feigning to see something that is clearly not there. It almost seemed like a skub, some kind of smug atheist parable about how people will exploit meaningless divisions the better to attack one another. Not hard to imagine the chaos. Angry bands clashing with iron bars and rocks, roving the streets hoisting placards on which the photo is hue-shifted to display the correct colours. A prisoner, kneeling in the dirt, uttering one final sob: "I'm sorry, but it just is, it's blue and black" - before being shot in the back of the head. At that time the only tenable position was a neither/nor: to say that colour is something inhering in the viewer rather than the object, and that any contention over what colour the dress itself 'is' (and it must be remembered that what we're dealing with here is not even a dress but a picture of a dress) is essentially nonsensical. No longer.
Arbitrary divisions are never really arbitrary. They always conceal some latent philosophical content. None more so than the dress. One initial fable told that those who see blue and black must have recently suffered through some painful or traumatic experience, and that once they start to feel better they'll see it as white and gold again. Speaking purely for myself, I'm sad the whole time, and always crying, and the dress is white and gold, so this is most likely untrue. One could invent others. White and gold are traditionally associated with Heaven and the divine, and black and blue with the ungodly depths of the ocean; we could therefore locate the original division between the two groups of dress-viewers in the separation of the waters in the first chapter of Genesis. Politically, the associations are more muddled: black stands for anarchism, blue for conservatism (but social democracy in the United States), gold for monarchy, white for reactionary anticommunism. None of these are particularly tempting; in the end, they all resolve into a dress that is essentially fascist. This is, of course, because the entire schema proceeds from the structure of thought that assumes a blue dress.
The white dress is not a sense-perception. The white dress is not a network of associations. The white dress is your moral duty.
The real difference between the white and blue dress only really became apparent when, one after another, the self-appointed guardians of scientific reason aligned themselves with the Blue armies. In general, two pieces of evidence were produced. Firstly, digitally edited versions of the dress photo in which the white-balance had been shifted to show the dress as being blue. Secondly, other images, including some from a "catalogue" put out by the "manufacturers", in which the dress appears to be unambiguously blue. It was at this point that the White position ceased to be an epistemological claim and became an ethical and political imperative.
The White position is essentially a synthesis of the earlier Kantian argument for a colourless dress with the "scientific" evidence for an essential blue-ness. As Adorno notes, it is only in the dialectical unity of opposing terms that their real nonidentity becomes apparent: as such, it was only with the transcendental uplifting of the Blue Dress to a position of timeless scientific Truth that the White Dress gained its opposite character of absolute correctness. What the triumphant partisans of the Blue dress have forgotten is that sense-data still inheres in the subject rather than the object, that what's under discussion is an image, that the dress itself is still no more essentially blue than it ever was. For us, the straggled, bedraggled underground of the White movement, it is all we can do to watch the victors on parade and whisper to ourselves a furtive eppur si è bianco.
On their side the Blue armies have all the tyrannical monsters of instrumentalised Enlightenment: scientists, computer nerds, retailers, manufacturers. None of them seem to have noticed the inherent hideousness in solving a philosophical problem by means of a capitalist industry. Who cares what the factory owners think? When the workers produce these dresses in their thousands, in what colour does their oppression present itself?
The blue dress stands for the identity of things to themselves and to their names; for an orderly, fixed universe in which everything precisely matches the catalogue. Everything must only be what it is, even if that quiddity is built on a lie. The blue dress means idiocy, profitability, the compulsion to work, and loneliness - utter, unrelenting loneliness. You stare at the blue dress, it stares at you, it is what it is, you are what you are, both of you are trapped. In the world of the blue dress, nothing can ever change. But there is another way.
I spoke earlier of nausea. And for those of us who see the white dress, there is plenty of nausea. A dress the colour of swollen, infected flesh, of maggots, of death. But its whiteness is also the whiteness of a blank canvas, the first term in a chain that stretches to infinity. Blue will never be anything other than blue; white can become anything. The white dress is a symbol of the capacity of the world to appear in innumerable forms. Things and people can interact in ways that are productive and free, not bound by the restrictions of vulgar materiality. The white dress points to something beyond ourselves; something we can't quite touch, but without whose existence life would be nothing but meaningless toil. There's no need to circumvent the point: the white dress is God.
We are bound together by a faith that charges against the misery of the world and obliterates it. We know the truth. Say it: The white dress exists.