by Maggie Nelson

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781933517407
Publisher: Wave Books
Publication date: 10/01/2009
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 112
Sales rank: 46,695
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Maggie Nelson is an American poet, art critic, lyric essayist, and nonfiction author of books such as The Argonauts, which won the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism, The Art of Cruelty, which was a 2011 Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times, and Jane: A Murder, which was a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir. Nelson has taught at the Graduate Writing Program of the New School, Wesleyan University, the School of Art and Design at Pratt Institute, and CalArts. She is currently a professor of English at the University of Southern California.

Read an Excerpt

1. Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color. Suppose I were to speak this as though it were a confession; suppose I shredded my napkin as we spoke. It began slowly. An appreciation, an affinity. Then,
one day, it became more serious. Then
(looking into an empty teacup, its bottom stained with thin brown excrement coiled into the shape of a sea horse) it became somehow personal.

2. And so I fell in love with a color—in this case, the color blue—as if falling under a spell, a spell I fought to stay under and get out from under, in turns.

3. Well, and what of it? A voluntary delusion, you might say. That each blue object could be a kind of burning bush, a secret code meant for a single agent, an X on a map too diffuse ever to be unfolded in entirety but that contains the knowable universe. How could all the shreds of blue garbage bags stuck in brambles, or the bright blue tarps flapping over every shanty and fish stand in the world, be, in essence, the fingerprints of God? I will try to explain this.

4. I admit that I may have been lonely. I know that loneliness can produce bolts of hot pain, a pain which, if it stays hot enough for long enough, can begin to simulate, or to provoke—take your pick—an apprehension of the divine.
(This ought to arouse our suspicions.)

5. But first, let us consider a sort of case in reverse. In
1867, after a long bout of solitude, the French poet Stéphane
Mallarmé wrote to his friend Henri Cazalis:
“These last months have been terrifying. My Thought has thought itself through and reached a Pure Idea. What the rest of me has su‡ered during that long agony, is in-
describable.” Mallarmé described this agony as a battle that took place on God’s “boney wing.” “I struggled with that creature of ancient and evil plumage—God—whom
I fortunately defeated and threw to earth,” he told Cazalis with exhausted satisfaction. Eventually Mallarmé began replacing “le ciel” with “l’Azur” in his poems, in an effort to rinse references to the sky of religious connotations.
“Fortunately,” he wrote Cazalis, “I am quite dead now.”

6. The half-circle of blinding turquoise ocean is this love’s primal scene. That this blue exists makes my life a remarkable one, just to have seen it. To have seen such beautiful things. To find oneself placed in their midst.
Choiceless. I returned there yesterday and stood again upon the mountain.

7. But what kind of love is it, really? Don’t fool yourself and call it sublimity. Admit that you have stood in front of a little pile of powdered ultramarine pigment in a glass cup at a museum and felt a stinging desire. But to do what? Liberate it? Purchase it? Ingest it? There is so little blue food in nature—in fact blue in the wild tends to mark food to avoid (mold, poisonous berries)—that culinary advisers generally recommend against blue light,
blue paint, and blue plates when and where serving food.
But while the color may sap appetite in the most literal sense, it feeds it in others. You might want to reach out and disturb the pile of pigment, for example, first staining your fingers with it, then staining the world. You might want to dilute it and swim in it, you might want to rouge your nipples with it, you might want to paint a virgin’s robe with it. But still you wouldn’t be accessing the blue of it. Not exactly.

8. Do not, however, make the mistake of thinking that all desire is yearning. “We love to contemplate blue, not because it advances to us, but because it draws us after it,”
wrote Goethe, and perhaps he is right. But I am not interested in longing to live in a world in which I already live. I don’t want to yearn for blue things, and God forbid for any “blueness.”Above all, I want to stop missing you.

9. So please do not write to tell me about any more beautiful blue things. To be fair, this book will not tell you about any, either. It will not say, Isn’t X beautiful? Such demands are murderous to beauty.

10. The most I want to do is show you the end of my index finger. Its muteness.

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Bluets 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
JimmyChanga on LibraryThing 10 months ago
It¿s kind of cliche to say that you don¿t choose the people you love. But I¿ve been thinking about this recently, maybe because Maggie Nelson starts off the book with this point, that she didn¿t choose to fall in love with blue (yes the color). The book continually repeats cliches like this without shame, but then takes it in a slightly odd direction (like being in love with a color) that ends up (because of its strangeness and forthrightness) being oddly effective in terms of getting us to reevaluate those statements."Truth. To surround it with figures and colors, so that it can be seen," wrote Joubert calmly professing a heresy.More specifically, I¿ve been thinking about family, and how most of the dreams that I can remember involve my parents. It¿s a no brainer that one must love one¿s parents, but why? Is it because we are stuck with them? I started thinking whether I loved my parents and of course I do. I¿m 33 years old, and still most of my dreams are about them, but it is not a simple love, it is wrapped up in conflicts and tension and knowledge. Love isn¿t equated with knowledge often, perhaps because the latter is seen as cold hard facts, but an intimate knowledge is one sign of love, like the native plant specialist who can not only name the different plants on our walk this weekend, but also talk about each one¿s temperaments and characteristics. Knowledge becomes internalized. Through it, the people we love live inside of us, and it is no longer a question of choice.This is a simple story, but it spooks me, insofar as it reminds me that the eye is simply a recorder, with or without our will. Perhaps the same could be said of the heart.That you don¿t choose your family is a cliche, but also that there are fewer and fewer things that we don¿t choose. I made a list: our families (including the decisions they make for us when we are still children), our bodies (including our genes, our gender/race, our talents, our predispositions), our generations (we can¿t choose to be peers with Shakespeare for example). That¿s about it. We're no longer stuck in our hometowns; we can move anywhere we want. Marriages aren't arranged anymore. The concept of a 'family business' is quickly becoming antiquated. And religion is also mostly a choice, unless you're in a scary cult. Even our characteristics, our qualities, if you borrow Musil¿s phrasing, often seem interchangeable depending on the need, so that anyone can be anyone at any time.Do not be overly troubled by this fact.But I wonder if all the choices have crippled our ability to love, if indeed to love is to be surrounded by choicelessness, by a color even, to be bathed in it without choice but only acceptance of the dark along with the light shades. For instance, she talks about her friend who was recovering from an accident that left her disabled:She says, if anyone knows this pain besides me, it is you (and J, her lover). This is generous, for to be close to her pain has always felt like a privilege to me, even though pain could be defined as that which we typically aim to avoid. Perhaps this is because she remains so generous within hers, and because she has never held any hierarchy of grief, either before her accident or after, which seems to me nothing less than a form of enlightenment.I really enjoyed these parts about the disabled friend, but the parts about getting over a breakup with a lover were less moving to me, even though she was sometimes able to move beyond the cliche of the broken heart--while reading it, I always felt the particular effort she put in navigating this dangerous territory. You can really see her awareness of this when she talks about the lyrics to Joni Mitchell's song "River":I¿m so hard to handle, I¿m selfish and I¿m sad. Progress! I thought. Then came the song¿s next line: Now I¿ve gone and lost the best baby that I ever had.But maybe precisely because she is unafraid to go there, and to