Bluets by Maggie Nelson

Bluets

Bluets
BY Maggie Nelson
(Wave Books, 2009)

1. In May, in England, it is gray as often as it is blue. This year it was heavy gray. The thermometer stayed below 60° Fahrenheit. I was in the throes of a doctoral dissertation. If you had told me there were other things out there, beyond the weight and darkness of spring, I would not have believed. Enter, into this gray, Maggie Nelson’s book Bluets.

2. Bluets comprises 240 short poems or pieces of prose (the book is designated “essay/literature” in the back matter, but the writing could be a long poem or an essay in 240 pieces). As Lyn Hejinian writes, quoting Wittgenstein, “in the end, it is as philosophy — as the making and seeing of connections… that poetry participates in knowing what we can and can’t know about the world and how to live in it.” Whether essay or poem, philosophy or poetry, Bluets participates in the organization of the world and attempts to render it, if not known, at least bearable in the face of unpredictable loss.

3. Early in Bluets, Nelson writes “Above all, I want to stop missing you” (§8). Accumulation arises as a substitute for other kinds of obsession.

4. One thing Bluets taught me was to trust the form. I learned this as I read it — trusting the form to tell me things that the narrative avoided (about obsession and lack and neglect, but also about love and commitment and the pleasure of learning and even about truth). I am learning this again, as I write about the book. Trusting accumulation to carry meaning.

5. Bluets, I could say, is about blue. I would be both right and wrong. I am tempted to say it is about blue, but I want to convince you that you want to read this book, and I worry that there are those for whom blue is not an understandable way of being and who might be put off by a book about blue. In the words of the book, then, not blue, but hope, vision, philosophy, death, faith, sex, love, pharmakon, light. In the words of the book, that is, blue, meaning: hope, vision, philosophy, death, faith, sex, love, pharmakon, light.

In Bluets, blue is a process of accretion and a way to make sense of loss — an assemblage of connections, coincidences, references, notes that never pin blue down, but evoke and constellate it.

6. Blue in a public, scientific, and historical sense, but also blue in the most personal sense; blue in the sense of can you see this? The things I see, feel, know — are those the things you see, feel, know? Does what I believe exist? The subject turning to the listener to affirm her own existence. The observer wondering whether her observations are — or ever can be — matched by anyone else’s. The outer world of blue — the presence of cyanometers and cyanosis and indigo turning blue in the air outside the dye vat and the writing of Goethe, Wittgenstein, Derrida. The inner world where “I would rather have had you by my side than all the blue in the world” (§238). Blue an instigation to collection (to accretion, in Nelson’s words).

7. We enter the book via Pascal (“we do not think all philosophy is worth one hour of pain”) and obsession and loneliness and Mallarmé’s struggles with God. The early sections, in particular, are a consideration of desire, and especially of desire for those things which will either do us no good or will harm us (“blue in the wild tends to mark food to avoid,” §7). In Nelson’s hands, things which are desired despite their danger are blue. Early in the book she tells us that this desire is not a choice, that we “don’t get to choose what or whom we love” (§13). Love for blue is as ungraspable as blue itself.

8. Nelson writes about blue that it “has no mind. It is not wise, nor does it promise any wisdom. It is beautiful, and despite what the poets and philosophers and theologians have said, I think beauty neither obscures truth nor reveals it. Likewise, it leads neither toward justice nor away from it. It is pharmakon. It radiates” (§164).

9. The question of what blue is is the center of Bluets. Blue becomes method and subject, a way of understanding the world and that which Nelson attempts to understand. In Bluets, blue is a process of accretion and a way to make sense of loss — an assemblage of connections, coincidences, references, notes that never pin blue down, but evoke and constellate it. Blue stands for the lack which brings about the writing of this work, but it is also the thing that flls that emptiness. Blue is both the lost relationship and the new correspondence to the world found by the writer, in the writing. Blue is also simply blue — a color, a feeling, something perpetually escaping the grasp of those who write about it, Nelson included.

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