Tuesday, January 19, 2010


This evening I read Maggie Nelson's book Bluets by the fire, all the way through. It's a beautiful little book, only 95 pages, lyric nonfiction, an exploration of the color blue, sight and perception, memory, and heartbreak. I don't know if these excerpts will convey how lovely the whole of it is, but flipping back through, here are a couple of parts I re-read even the first time:
36. Goethe describes blue as a lively color, but one devoid of gladness. "It may be said to disturb rather than enliven." Is to be in love with blue, then, to be in love with a disturbance? Or is the love itself the disturbance? And what kind of madness is it anyway, to be in love with something constitutionally incapable of loving you back?

37. Are you sure--one would like to ask--that it cannot love you back?

38. For no one really knows what color is, where it is, even whether it is. (Can it die? Does it have a heart?) Think of a honeybee, for instance, flying into the folds of a poppy: it sees a gaping violet mouth, where we see an orange flower and assume that it's orange, that we're normal.
And later:
193. I will admit, however, upon considering the matter further, that writing does do something to one's memory--that at times it can have the effect of an album of childhood photographs, in which each image replaces the memory it aimed to preserve. Perhaps this is why I am avoiding writing about too many specific blue things--I don't want to displace my memories of them, nor embalm them, nor exalt them. In fact, I think I would like it best if my writing could empty me further of them, so that I might become a better vessel for new blue things.

... 195. Does an album of written thoughts perform a similar displacement, or replacement, of the "original" thoughts themselves? (Please don't start protesting here that there are no thoughts outside of language, which is like telling someone that her colored dreams are, in fact, colorless.)...

I looked down to find that I was dressed all in blue--sweater, jeans, scarf, even socks. My favorite blue is the blue of winter light, specifically in the evening, specifically with snow, and the blue I've seen in Norway, both in the winter when the sun barely rises and in the summer when it hardly sets. My least favorite blue is the wedgewood-ish blue of the kitchen in a Victorian shotgun apartment I once lived in; all the way back, it was the saddest room in the house. Never paint a kitchen blue. (This one came that way.)

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