"Isaac Babel's Palette," 3 Quarks Daily, May 9, 2016.
I often cited Babel when I’d strike adjectives and participles of manuscripts I edited, but it wasn’t until I started reading Babel as a writer that I came to consider his choices. If he could write twenty-two drafts of a single story, we might ask why so many of those adjectives he deploys are color. There are red rays of moonlight, red hands and faces, red velvet, red sweat, pink corsets, pink foam on the mouth of a rabid dog, blue fingernails, blue silk, blue mornings, blue granite, blue nights, the blue tongue of a flame, green fires, the green calm of graves, green turbans, yellow eyes, yellow fingers, a yellow halo of frost. The throbbing mix in Babel’s prose combines violence, sexuality, and art, much of it telegraphed through the fleshy suggestion of color. Just as Pan Apolek paints the faces of peasants and sinners in holy scenes on the church walls, Babel paints unflinching portraits of the Cossacks he rides with and the peasants they plunder. His curiosity is boundless.
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