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112 pages, Paperback
First published October 1, 2009
"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 be that heartbroken woman (and to be un-progressive) despite knowing of its dangers, that makes this book interesting. But also, I felt like her awareness made her overcompensate at times, like the sections on fucking, which seemed to be about empowering herself so that she is not the object of the male who’s rejected her. At the same time, I wonder why in a book about heartbreak, it seems the only tangible image of this relationship that she allows herself to write about is this fucking.
despite what the poets and philosophers and theologians have said, I think beauty neither obscures the truth nor reveals it. Likewise, it leads neither toward justice nor away from it. It is pharmakon. It radiates.
“And were it true, we do not think all philosophy is worth one hour of pain.”
27. But why bother with diagnoses at all, if a diagnosis is but a restatement of the problem?
45. This pains me enormously. She presses me to say why; I can’t answer. Instead I say something about how clinical psychology forces everything we call love into the pathological or the delusional or the biologically explicable, that if what I was feeling wasn’t love then I am forced to admit that I don’t know what love is, or, more simply, that I loved a bad man. How all of these formulations drain the blue right out of love and leave an ugly, pigmentless fish flapping on a cutting board on a kitchen counter.
71. I have been trying, for some time now, to find dignity in my loneliness. I have been finding this hard to do.
72. It is easier, of course, to find dignity in one’s solitude. Loneliness is solitude with a problem. Can blue solve the problem, or can it at least keep me company within it?—No, not exactly. It cannot love me that way; it has no arms. But sometimes I do feel its presence to be a sort of wink—Here you are again, it says, and so am I.
121. “Clearness is so eminently one of the characteristics of truth, that often it even passes for truth itself,” wrote Joseph Joubert, the French “man of letters” who recorded countless such fragments in notebooks for forty years in preparation for a monumental work of philosophy that he never wrote. I know all about this passing for truth. At times I think it quite possible that it lies, as if a sleight of hand, at the heart of all my writing.
134. It calms me to think of blue as the color of death. I have long imagined death’s approach as the swell of a wave—a towering wall of blue. You will drown, the world tells me, has always told me. You will descend into a blue underworld, blue with hungry ghosts, Krishna blue, the blue faces of the ones you loved. They all drowned, too. To take a breath of water: does the thought panic or excite you? If you are in love with red then you slit or shoot. If you are in love with blue you fill your pouch with stones good for sucking and head down to the river. Any river will do.
135. Of course one can have “the blues” and stay alive, at least for a time. “Productive,” even (the perennial consolation!). See, for example, “Lady Sings the Blues”: “She’s got them bad / She feels so sad / Wants the world to know / Just what her blues is all about.” Nonetheless, as Billie Holiday knew, it remains the case that to see blue in deeper and deeper saturation is eventually to move toward darkness.
184. Writing is, in fact, an astonishing equalizer. I could have written half of these propositions drunk or high, for instance, and half sober; I could have written half in agonized tears, and half in a state of clinical detachment. But now that they have been shuffled around countless times—now that they have been made to appear, at long last, running forward as one river—how could either of us tell the difference?
198. In a 1994 interview, about twenty years after he wrote “Famous Blue Raincoat,” Cohen admitted that he could no longer remember the specifics of the love triangle that the song describes. “I always felt that there was an invisible male seducing the woman I was with, now whether this one was incarnate or merely imaginary I don’t remember.” I find this forgetting quite heartening and quite tragic, in turns.
203. I remember, in the eighties, when crack first hit the scene, hearing all kinds of horror stories about how if you smoked it even once, the memory of its unbelievable high would live on in your system forever, and you would thus never again be able to be content without it. I have no idea if this is true, but I will admit that it scared me off the drug. In the years since, I have sometimes found myself wondering if the same principle applies in other realms—if seeing a particularly astonishing shade of blue, for example, or letting a particularly potent person inside you, could alter you irrevocably, just to have seen or felt it. In which case, how does one know when, or how, to refuse? How to recover?
233. That the future is unknowable is, for some, God’s means of suturing us in, or to, the present moment. For others, it is the mark of a malevolence, a sure sign that our entire existence here is best understood as a sort of joke or mistake.
234. For me, it is neither. It is simply the way that it is. Whether this accident be a happy or unhappy one is probably more a matter of mood than anything else; the difficulty is that “our moods do not believe in each other” (Emerson). One can wander about the landscape looking for clues, amassing evidence, but even the highest pile never seems to decide the case.
52. Fifteen days after we are born, we begin to discriminate between colors. For the rest of our lives, barring blunted or blinded sight, we find ourselves face-to-face with all these phenomena at once, and we call the whole shimmering mess “color.” You might even say that it is the business of the eye to make colored forms out of what is essentially shimmering. This is how we “get around” in the world. Some might also call it the source of our suffering.Granted, she isn't contemplating blue itself, but using it as a lens through which she explores and projects on heartbreak, grief, sex, art, philosophy, and living. Many, like Goethe and Gass, have done the same before her, for the idea of colour offers one the space to think and emote. After all,
53. "We mainly suppose the experiential quality to be an intrinsic quality of the physical object”—this is the so-called systematic illusion of color. Perhaps it is also that of love. But I am not willing to go there—not just yet.Bluets is illuminating and passionate, with an epigrammatic, experimental, fragmentary sense of urgency. Whereas the title of this book suggests the flowering prosody of the lyric essay(s) within, nothing truly prepares one for the way Nelson weaves common clichés into wholly original and captivating lace.
164. [...]blue 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 towards justice nor away from it. It is pharmakon. It radiates.