Bluets Info

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Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen
in love with a color . . .

A lyrical, philosophical, and often
explicit exploration of personal suffering and the limitations of
vision and love, as refracted through the color blue. With
Bluets, Maggie Nelson has entered the pantheon of brilliant lyric
essayists.

Maggie Nelson is the author of numerous books
of poetry and nonfiction, including Something Bright, Then Holes
(Soft Skull Press, 2007) and Women, the New York School, and Other
True Abstractions
(University of Iowa Press, 2007). She lives in Los
Angeles and teaches at the California Institute of the
Arts.


Average Ratings and Reviews
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Reviews for Bluets:

5

Apr 27, 2018

If a colour could deliver hope, does it follow that it could also bring despair?

Blue, blå, blauw, bleu, blau, κυανό, azzurro, azul, sinij, modra, blár.. a colour that carries powerful imagery, thoughts and memories

Maggie Nelson is a writer Ive always wanted to know more about and a beautiful review by my good friend Hannah convinced me that the time had finally come. It was a deeply poignant, haunting, almost transcendental reading experience.

In this book, we have the writers musings on the ”If a colour could deliver hope, does it follow that it could also bring despair?”

Blue, blå, blauw, bleu, blau, κυανό, azzurro, azul, sinij, modra, blár….. a colour that carries powerful imagery, thoughts and memories…

Maggie Nelson is a writer I’ve always wanted to know more about and a beautiful review by my good friend Hannah convinced me that the time had finally come. It was a deeply poignant, haunting, almost transcendental reading experience.

In this book, we have the writer’s musings on the colour blue and its various aspects. It is interesting that our societies associate blue with masculinity, imposing it on the infants (even in our progressive era) and with life. The majority of the flags of our countries contain a shade of blue. It is everywhere, the sky, the sea…A significant percentage- myself included- considers blue eyes as being the most attractive. They can be mesmerizing but they can also appear cold, soulless, threatening. Baby blue and indigo blue are utter opposites. The more I come to think of it, the more I believe that no other colour has so many facades and identities. Here, Nelson associates blue with love, loss, suffering and despair.

”And what kind of madness is it anyway, to be in love with something constitutionally incapable of loving you back?”

These are heartfelt confessions on a deep, dark abyss of a love that has been betrayed, a hope that is lost. Blue accompanies loneliness and, at times, a feeling of surrendering fully to the pain that comes when you are unable to anything to prevent disaster. I admit that I was touched by the despair that permeated the short entries of this book and the deep sadness. It almost made me feel uncomfortable as if I were an unknown by-stander watching the moment of utter emotional collapse. However, don’t be discouraged. The writing is so rich and evocative. It is raw and powerful, giving voice to feelings that we have all experienced at least once in our lives. There is a distinctive aura of sensuality in the language and the theme of sexuality and its implications is central and communicated in a very realistic manner.

There are very interesting entries with true gems of information. To give you a tiny example, I was particularly fascinated by the habit of the bowerbird that clutters his domain with blue objects to attract the attention of the female. There are references to cultural icons from Thoreau, to Emerson, Goethe and Stein, to Leonard Cohen and Billie Holiday. There are parallels and narratives related to History, Mythology, stories of saints, sacred places and sinners…

This is a very special book, difficult to label. Is it a memoir? A re-imagined reality? A poetic confession? To me, it felt like poetry from a bleak place, heavy laden with the ache of an unfulfilled hope. I can’t see how can anyone read Bluets and not be haunted by it…And if you find yourselves fascinated with Blue and the mysteries it hides, it is only natural…

”I have been trying for some time to find dignity in my loneliness. I have been finding this hard to do.”

My reviews can also be found on https://theopinionatedreaderblog.word... ...more
3

Jul 15, 2018

A lyrical essay made up of loosely connected prose-poems, Bluets examines love and loss through the lens of the color blue. For much of the book, Nelson reminisces about her relationship with a former partner, as she cares for a friend recently rendered quadriplegic. All the while, she considers what a wide range of cultural icons have had to say about melancholy, grief, and, of course, the titular color. Goethe, Stein, Emerson, Leonard Cohen, and Lucinda Williams are but a few of the many A lyrical essay made up of loosely connected prose-poems, Bluets examines love and loss through the lens of the color blue. For much of the book, Nelson reminisces about her relationship with a former partner, as she cares for a friend recently rendered quadriplegic. All the while, she considers what a wide range of cultural icons have had to say about melancholy, grief, and, of course, the titular color. Goethe, Stein, Emerson, Leonard Cohen, and Lucinda Williams are but a few of the many referenced. Too often, the author cites the work of these disparate figures without making their connections clear or elaborating upon her own thoughts. But Nelson's writing is beautiful and makes Bluets worth reading. ...more
5

Apr 15, 2018

This is the third book by Maggie Nelson I have read and my favourite so far. I admire her craft very much and thought this book near perfect. It is a collection of short thoughts, brief paragraphs that pack a punch, all losely structured around the colour blue.

Maggie Nelson, as always, unapologetically places herself in the center of her art; I adore that. This is an introspective book centered around the loss of a partner and grief and depression and the injury of a close friend and, yes, the This is the third book by Maggie Nelson I have read and my favourite so far. I admire her craft very much and thought this book near perfect. It is a collection of short thoughts, brief paragraphs that pack a punch, all losely structured around the colour blue.

Maggie Nelson, as always, unapologetically places herself in the center of her art; I adore that. This is an introspective book centered around the loss of a partner and grief and depression and the injury of a close friend and, yes, the colour blue. She talks about many things, in fragmented but poignant form. There are not many writers that I know of who can pull this disjointed form off, but Maggie Nelson can and her thoughts shine with an urgency that I could not escape.

She has a brilliant way with words. Her writing is both theoretical (drawing on Wittgenstein and Goethe and Warhol and many writers more) and visceral (her descriptions of sex are graphic and honest) in a way that I find mesmerizing and very difficult to describe. She mixes these two parts of her writing so effortlessly that it seems easy and like her sentences just flow out of her without further editing (and I am sure this is far from the truth). A near perfect book.

First sentence: "Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color." ...more
0

Apr 10, 2017

I'm very moved by this book and shall reread it from time to time.
3

Aug 17, 2014

A numbered meditation on longing, love, obsession, connection at once spiritual, associative, interpersonal, and physical. Superficially about a color. Wondered what she would've written about "Blue Is the Warmest Color," but then again she's given up on the cinema. The sort of sensibility that prefers "cinema" to film or movie or, certainly, flick. Sexually explicit at regular intervals to keep you on your toes among the obligatory Goethe and Wittgenstein quotation. Acknowledges and dismisses A numbered meditation on longing, love, obsession, connection at once spiritual, associative, interpersonal, and physical. Superficially about a color. Wondered what she would've written about "Blue Is the Warmest Color," but then again she's given up on the cinema. The sort of sensibility that prefers "cinema" to film or movie or, certainly, flick. Sexually explicit at regular intervals to keep you on your toes among the obligatory Goethe and Wittgenstein quotation. Acknowledges and dismisses Gass's On Being Blue, which I enjoyed more since his always alliterative language is flat-out fun. This one's borderline humorless. Few lightning bolts of insight (great Emerson quotation: "From the mountain you see the mountain"). Expected more personal revelation -- certainly more than just her past relationship with some dude she misses. Was she never a kid who opened her eyes underwater? No mention of the veins on the legs of grandparents or family dogs going blind. The product of a privileged aesthete, I thought toward the end. But being a privileged aesthete myself I admired the restraint and assemblage (hey Joseph Cornell), but did so coolly, like the color crossed with thin clouds. Read under a clear morning mid-August sky, feet upon a blue outdoor rug of a sort of woven plastic, the cinderblocks enclosing our backyard garden's greens and yellows painted a glossy royal blue. The sort of book that makes you want to write something like it, even if I only sort of liked this. I wonder if she loves the blue people of Avatar. ...more
4

Mar 24, 2011

Its kind of cliche to say that you dont choose the people you love. But Ive been thinking about this recently, maybe because Maggie Nelson starts off the book with this point, that she didnt 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 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 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.

What I most enjoyed about this book was the interweaving of these personal narratives (with all its strengths and flaws) and the poetic ambiguity of blue (what is a color anyway, if not pure ambiguity?) with the collage of anecdotes and thoughts that make up an aimless wandering pattern of mind.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. ...more
3

Dec 21, 2011

a lot of elegant writing on a sentence level, a lot of interesting observations, a lot of great quotes from famous writers and philosophers, and some neat facts about the color blue... but man, just so unrelentingly sad, maddeningly reticent (for a memoir), and HUMORLESS... like being trapped in a sad box for 90 pages... just you and the color blue and the word "fucking"...
5

Nov 20, 2014

this morning i saw a beautiful sunrise like lava bursting through rock and my friend sent me a picture of some blood at a crime scene on a london pavement she nearly stepped in and i read 'bluets'. none of these are connected but of course they're all related, much like the propositions in the book. one on its own is a tree, a star, but together they all make up a vast landscape that encompasses every possible facet of the human experience. reading 'bluets' was like breaking into a swimming pool this morning i saw a beautiful sunrise like lava bursting through rock and my friend sent me a picture of some blood at a crime scene on a london pavement she nearly stepped in and i read 'bluets'. none of these are connected but of course they're all related, much like the propositions in the book. one on its own is a tree, a star, but together they all make up a vast landscape that encompasses every possible facet of the human experience. reading 'bluets' was like breaking into a swimming pool at midnight, very aware that this is someone else's water you're submerged in. is this writing? having a feeling and struggling for the words to describe it, instead of attempting to craft a feeling with words pre-loaded with emotion? reading 'bluets' was like slipping into the swimming pool, being engulfed in nelson's pain and not-pain, feeling it on the nape of your neck, the backs of your knees, pressing on your eyelids- reading 'bluets' was like quietly sliding into the water, the words- not welcoming you but not pushing you away- an indifference rather than an apathy, allowing you to quietly join nelson without intruding, letting her narrative drift to the bottom of the pool. the water of her novel is pain and not-pain, emotion and not-emotion- it was like standing underwater, forgetting the presence of the water save for a slight coolness when still, but the moment a hand is moved a slight yet alien pressure reminds you that this is not your world. it wouldn't be quite accurate to describe her writing as raw- the wounds are there but there's a distance, a layer of skin to cover it up, the thinnest and most translucent protection there is- or rather, not protecting- existing. if i try to describe 'bluets' to someone i'll end up making it sound bleak and hopeless but i don't think that's it at all- i can imagine her writing it late at night and early in the morning, watching the skies circling from light blue to dark, over and over, calm- or rather, neutral- meditative with no goal of enlightenment in mind, sat in front of a shrine to blue, eyes closed and pen moving. nelson's state of being doesn't seem to be one of sadness or the absence of sadness- it is the presence of something else. 'bluets' is there. it exists. it's unlike anything i've ever read before and i need some peace and quiet and alone time to sit and think about it. ...more
4

Jun 10, 2015

Bluets is like no other book Ive readits comprised of a number of extremely short essays, some so short they may actually qualify as poems instead. The book purports to be a meditation on the color blue, but after reading for a while you understand what its really aboutor perhaps what its also about, besides the blue. Bluets is brief enough that multiple readings are feasible, and lovely enough that theyre also desirable. Bluets is like no other book I’ve read—it’s comprised of a number of extremely short essays, some so short they may actually qualify as poems instead. The book purports to be a meditation on the color blue, but after reading for a while you understand what it’s really about—or perhaps what it’s also about, besides the blue. Bluets is brief enough that multiple readings are feasible, and lovely enough that they’re also desirable. ...more
4

Jan 05, 2019

Ive been meaning to read Maggie Nelson for a while now, and thanks to this gift from a dear friend I finally did. Nelsons writings, by reputation, defy categorization: thats certainly true here, the easiest label to give it being creative nonfiction." Her numbered entries are not poems and dont add up to equal a story, though there are stories within. Her musings and meditations become mini-essays. Taken altogether, it is controlled, precise writing.

Her inspirations are not only her obsessive I’ve been meaning to read Maggie Nelson for a while now, and thanks to this gift from a dear friend I finally did. Nelson’s writings, by reputation, defy categorization: that’s certainly true here, the easiest label to give it being “creative nonfiction." Her numbered ‘entries’ are not poems and don’t add up to equal a story, though there are stories within. Her musings and meditations become mini-essays. Taken altogether, it is controlled, precise writing.

Her inspirations are not only her obsessive love of the color blue; but her obsessive love for a former lover; and her love and care of a friend who became paraplegic due to a horrific accident. I didn’t relate to all she had to say—I didn’t need to—but there were moments, especially with her busting of clichés, that struck me as truth, or at least ‘my’ truth. I also learned some new words, such as the title with its multiple meanings. ...more
4

Aug 27, 2017

Thanks to Maggie Nelson I see the world through blue-coloured glasses now.
Review to come.
5

Jul 10, 2019

I've wanted to read more of Nelson's books since I first encountered her breakout 'The Argonauts' a few years ago. Her approach to contemplating certain ideas and their personal impact is so striking and thought-provoking. I picked up this book (first published ten years ago) because she gave a fascinating talk at the Southbank Centre in London. 'Bluets' considers her powerful attraction to the colour blue, its manifestations in ordinary objects and art as well as its symbolism in paintings, I've wanted to read more of Nelson's books since I first encountered her breakout 'The Argonauts' a few years ago. Her approach to contemplating certain ideas and their personal impact is so striking and thought-provoking. I picked up this book (first published ten years ago) because she gave a fascinating talk at the Southbank Centre in London. 'Bluets' considers her powerful attraction to the colour blue, its manifestations in ordinary objects and art as well as its symbolism in paintings, songs and writing. She originally intended its subject to remain within these boundaries and join in a literary tradition which considers colour. But when writing it she also included references to the break down of a love affair and her close friendship with a woman who has become a quadriplegic. Her musings weave through the analytical and personal to present a striking way of thinking about our perceptions, emotions and language.

Read my full review of Bluets by Maggie Nelson on LonesomeReader ...more
5

Aug 29, 2014

I think it's safe to say the most famous study of color-as-reflection-of-individual-as-reflection-of-society-as-reflection-of-color study was Gass' On Being Blue, which Nelson cites here and seems to have a mixed-to-negative relationship with. For me, On Being Blue is a beautiful little book. Gass' eloquence can't be denied, nor can his intelligence and personable voice that doesn't always come through in his fiction. But it's no Bluets. This is everything good about the Gass study plus more; I think it's safe to say the most famous study of color-as-reflection-of-individual-as-reflection-of-society-as-reflection-of-color study was Gass' On Being Blue, which Nelson cites here and seems to have a mixed-to-negative relationship with. For me, On Being Blue is a beautiful little book. Gass' eloquence can't be denied, nor can his intelligence and personable voice that doesn't always come through in his fiction. But it's no Bluets. This is everything good about the Gass study plus more; here, Nelson is honest, impressionistic but not vague, and makes a ton of fragmented and associative leaps which might not make logical sense to anyone but her yet are so evocative I don't care. She proposes she fell in love with blue, probes it through art, sex, disability, death, nostalgia and a dozen other things, and comes to no definitive answers but instead does something much better - transfers her experience over to us happy readers, invites us to take our own crazy and half-mad and but so, so rewarding journeys of inquiry. There's so much life here the pages can't contain it all. ...more
4

Sep 20, 2016

I like Bluets a lot. The book is a collection of lyrical essays that I think could also be called prose poems, but they are a range of things: inquiry into other color works, mundane observations, about blue things, peppered with sex memories. Blue is about blue, the color, and the various emotional states we associate it with, but it is also about grief, the loss of a relationship, an analogical way of expressing that obsession and that amputated passion.

As a meditation about blue, she also I like Bluets a lot. The book is a collection of lyrical essays that I think could also be called prose poems, but they are a range of things: inquiry into other color works, mundane observations, about blue things, peppered with sex memories. Blue is about blue, the color, and the various emotional states we associate it with, but it is also about grief, the loss of a relationship, an analogical way of expressing that obsession and that amputated passion.

As a meditation about blue, she also somehow draws on (she says) “principal correspondents” (who might be friends she has written to?), and her reading of “principal suppliers,” (the philosopher Wittgenstein and the poet Goethe), music, movies, nature.

In other words, let’s think about blue instead of who left. Fill up that loss with blue. But that’s too simple, because, yes, blue has supplanted the lover, but is really the same thing. There’s a bunch of sometimes graphic sex in this experimental break-up piece to break up the philosophy, just in case you begin to think she is getting too much into aesthetic theory. The body and its loss of connection with another body (okay, the lust for the person who left) is never far from this collection of meditations, just to wake you up and remind you that for Nelson, sex and blue may just be the same thing, in some poetic/lyrical sense.

Experimental form. Lyrical essays.

Things I like that she mentions: Warhol’s Blue movie. Joni Mitchell’s Blue.

William Gass’s On Being Blue. (this one is central)

Joseph Cornell, Leonard Cohen.

It’s in some ways like Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red!

Some excerpts:

For 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 toward justice nor away from it. It is pharmakon. It radiates.


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.

For to wish to forget how much you loved someone--and then, to actually forget--can feel, at times, like the slaughter of a beautiful bird who chose, by nothing short of grace, to make a habitat of your heart. I have heard that this pain can be converted, as it were, by accepting “the fundamental impermanence of all things.” This acceptance bewilders me: sometimes it seems an act of will; at others, of surrender. Often I feel myself to be rocking between them (seasickness).

I want you to know, if you ever read this, there was a time when I would rather have had you by my side than any one of these words; I would rather have had you by my side than all the blue in the world.

Sitting in my office before teaching a class on prosody, trying not to think about you, about my having lost you. But how can it be? How can it be? Was I too blue for you. Was I too blue. I look down at my lecture notes: Heartbreak is a spondee. Then I lay my head down on the desk and start to weep. --Why doesn't this help?

So, I sometimes liked it, I loved it, I was sometimes bored by it’s scholarly feel at times, I was sometimes fascinated by all the facts about blue, I was moved by it, and I want to write Greenets right now. Sometimes I think that can be the best thing about a book, that it makes you want to write, and read more, and do your own set of inquiries and passionate meditations.
...more
3

Jul 19, 2016

This book terrifies me, because it's so nicely written and interestingly formed and also so completely vapid. My fear comes from my absolute certainty that over the next 20 years I'm going to have to put up with dozens of books just like this, insofar as they'll be all 'experimental' (i.e., about fucking) and 'experimental' (i.e., self-obsessed), and 'experimental' (i.e., full of literary existentialism), and 'experimental' (i.e., quasi-educated), but not at all 'experimental' (i.e., This book terrifies me, because it's so nicely written and interestingly formed and also so completely vapid. My fear comes from my absolute certainty that over the next 20 years I'm going to have to put up with dozens of books just like this, insofar as they'll be all 'experimental' (i.e., about fucking) and 'experimental' (i.e., self-obsessed), and 'experimental' (i.e., full of literary existentialism), and 'experimental' (i.e., quasi-educated), but not at all 'experimental' (i.e., interestingly formed and nicely written). Because the history of literature teaches me that authors are very quick to pick up on the content of well-formed books, without really taking the time to worry about, you know, art. It happened with Richardson and Fielding, it happened with Austen, it happened, dear f-ing God did it happen, with the modernists and their absurd/lonely/sad thing.

And now, I'm deeply afraid, it will happen with Bluets. Those in the know tell me Nelson's Argonauts is dreadful tripe, so maybe it's already happened to Nelson herself. I can only hope the virus can be contained.

Second thought: In case this isn't clear, this is a kind of fore-handed criticism review: there's nothing even remotely 'interesting' about what Nelson says about the world, or herself, but it's all said almost perfectly, leaving aside the already influential stupidity of numbering paragraphs, because, you know, Wittgenstein and shit.

Third thought: Any time you see a novelist or poet using Wittgenstein, please know, whatever they think he meant is precisely not what Wittgenstein meant. ...more
3

Jan 26, 2020

Beautiful prose, beautiful insights that I highlighted to put into my commonplace book, but a majority of the collection I wasnt completely invested in. Beautiful prose, beautiful insights that I highlighted to put into my commonplace book, but a majority of the collection I wasn’t completely invested in. ...more
3

Jun 19, 2017

Bluets is a fragmentary record of Nelsons arbitrary obsession with the color blue. Its composed of 240 short numbered essays of about a paragraph each; some are just one or two sentences. At one point Nelson refers to these as propositions, but really they are more like metaphorical musings. Blue takes on so many meanings: with the connotation of depressed, it applies to her loneliness and sense of loss after the breakdown of a relationship (she continues addressing her former partner as you Bluets is a fragmentary record of Nelson’s arbitrary obsession with the color blue. It’s composed of 240 short numbered essays of about a paragraph each; some are just one or two sentences. At one point Nelson refers to these as “propositions,” but really they are more like metaphorical musings. Blue takes on so many meanings: with the connotation of “depressed”, it applies to her loneliness and sense of loss after the breakdown of a relationship (she continues addressing her former partner as “you” here) and a friend’s serious accident:
Loneliness is solitude with a problem. Can blue solve the problem, or can it at least keep me company within it?

Mostly I have felt myself becoming a servant of sadness. I am still looking for the beauty in that.
Then there’s blues music (Billie Holiday), seedy sex (“blue movies”), Joan Mitchell’s 1973 abstract painting Les Bluets, Novalis’ blue flower (which gives the title to a Penelope Fitzgerald novel), and so on. Nelson likens herself to a male bowerbird lining her nest with blue – sometimes literally, as with the collection of “blue amulets” that she keeps on a windowsill so sunlight can pass through the glass and illuminate the stones. I recalled that Sarah Perry lists Bluets as one inspiration for The Essex Serpent, in which the character Stella is fascinated with the color blue and keeps a similar trove of trinkets.

Bluets is a difficult work to characterize, but it seems closest in style to Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation, which is also built on loosely linked aphorisms. The problem with books like these is that individual lines may stand out as profound but don’t contribute to an overall story line or argument. Moreover, Nelson’s forthrightness about sex, which edges towards crassness and feels out of place in this dreamily academic text, took me some getting used to.

Two more favorite lines:
I walked around Brooklyn and noticed that the faded periwinkle of the abandoned Mobil gas station on the corner was suddenly blooming.

If I were today on my deathbed, I would name my love of the color blue and making love with you as two of the sweetest sensations I knew on this earth.
Originally published with images on my blog, Bookish Beck. ...more
4

Feb 11, 2017

Bluets contains both severe self-doubt and self-aggrandisement. A courageous move on the part of the author, given how frequently people(at least I) experience both poles but fail to recognize that those traits are in the same entity. Maggie Nelson quotes Goethe when talking about how all the understanding of a personal condition doesn't help relieve the ache that comes from it. She writes about all of her suffering, fucking, reading, writing, talking and thinking.
Then I lay my head down on the Bluets contains both severe self-doubt and self-aggrandisement. A courageous move on the part of the author, given how frequently people(at least I) experience both poles but fail to recognize that those traits are in the same entity. Maggie Nelson quotes Goethe when talking about how all the understanding of a personal condition doesn't help relieve the ache that comes from it. She writes about all of her suffering, fucking, reading, writing, talking and thinking.
Then I lay my head down on the desk and start to weep.—Why doesn’t this help?
Crying in solitude till the tears run out, till you're too tired to be sad, doesn't really solve anything in the long run, but provides some relief, just as a pain killer does. It gives you the capacity to function in a state that helps you think about your condition better and maybe fix it. It isn't a very rational decision. It could well be what Maggie Nelson calls clinging to samsara with a vengeance. Perhaps one could find one's way out of the misery, but will that be worth it? In the moment, it can feel like one can get back the gratification of the past by fixating on it.
But why bother with diagnoses at all, if a diagnosis is but a restatement of the problem?
In the context of policy making, problem definition helps differentiate between symptom and underlying cause. This is the necessary foundation towards solving a problem if, it is in one's power to solve the problem or at least see a few steps forward towards a solution. Yet, if it isn't in one's capacity then all of the words are a painfully exercise in discovering one's own powerlessness. To feel like you have a say in the matters of the heart requires the object of your affection to participate.
Perhaps it is becoming clearer why I felt no romance when you told me that you carried my last letter with you, everywhere you went, for months on end, unopened. This may have served some purpose for you, but whatever it was, surely it bore little resemblance to mine. I never aimed to give you a talisman, an empty vessel to flood with whatever longing, dread, or sorrow happened to be the day’s mood. I wrote it because I had something to say to you.
Could she have written down all of these words and had no input from the blue prince and still found the answers that she eventually did. I don't know, but I think not. Bluets is honest in its characterisation of heartache and reminds us that relief from it isn't a straight path.

--
February 12, 2017 ...more
1

May 04, 2013

Expectation equals disappointment. I know, I know. I should not have had expectations. What work would not break under such weight? Aside from anything written by Karl Ove Mouthguard? I was excited by the cover, whose cosmic blue seemed lifted from my sparkly blue bedroom walls. I was excited by the form, which upon scanning in the basement of the bookstore in Princeton, NJ reminded me of The Gay Science. I was excited!

I console myself with the fact that Maggie Nelson, PhD, was thirty when she Expectation equals disappointment. I know, I know. I should not have had expectations. What work would not break under such weight? Aside from anything written by Karl Ove Mouthguard? I was excited by the cover, whose cosmic blue seemed lifted from my sparkly blue bedroom walls. I was excited by the form, which upon scanning in the basement of the bookstore in Princeton, NJ reminded me of The Gay Science. I was excited!

I console myself with the fact that Maggie Nelson, PhD, was thirty when she started writing this. Meaning at the age when the hangover of Saturn's return is in full throttle. Meaning at the age when masturbating your victimhood status is untoward but not as untoward as if you were still doing it at forty. And, yet!

This book glistens with the coquettish purr of a woman writhing for male attention. Nelson uses language to court the male gaze and by book's end, I've almost forgiven her for it. I've almost forgiven her for it because it's clear she isn't quite that bright. She is bright enough, for sure. Perhaps even 85th percentile. But her pearl necklace of quotations (yes, consider yourself warned: she quotes Wittgenstein and Derrida and other thinkers for whom most of us relieve our hard ons before we're seniors) makes clear that not only is her intelligence derivative, it is stunted, it is still sitting in a sophomore year discussion section being amazed at her TA because so-and-so thinker has totally blown her mind.

Oh, how excruciating it is to read an entire book by someone who thinks she is smart trying to write things that are smart.

Maggie Nelson, you needn't diminish yourself by littering your work with the words of others. Maggie Nelson, you needn't diminish yourself by trying to flirt with your reader in hopes they'll want to fuck you. Maggie Nelson, your pursuit of the trophy for biggest victim not only makes you seem small, but also unoriginal (See Sophie Calle who in 2003, at the age of fifty, vomited Exquisite Pain into the world.). Maggie Nelson, I might have liked this work when I was in my twenties and still a mess, but now all I can think is, if my daughter ever likes this book, oh, please help me. Maggie Nelson, I think what I detest most about Bluets is that it seems written by a person I may have once been.

[ Also at: http://librarienne.com/maggie-nelson-... ] ...more
5

Sep 12, 2010

In short lyrical paragraphs blurring the boundary between essay and poem, Nelson inhabits a color, using it as a landscape of inquiry. The result is both fascinatingly informative and deeply moving.
1

Aug 16, 2016

It is not often that I come across a book I absolutely loathe - a book that makes me shake with impotent rage at its complete intellectual and aesthetic uselessness. Well, this is one of them - a book that glorifies depression and lack of social adaptability, a book whose author is apparently so in love with herself that she considers any and every piece of delirious bogus her mind produces worth publishing. Here's a quote: "I am writing all this down in blue ink, so as to remember that all It is not often that I come across a book I absolutely loathe - a book that makes me shake with impotent rage at its complete intellectual and aesthetic uselessness. Well, this is one of them - a book that glorifies depression and lack of social adaptability, a book whose author is apparently so in love with herself that she considers any and every piece of delirious bogus her mind produces worth publishing. Here's a quote: "I am writing all this down in blue ink, so as to remember that all words, not just some, are written in water." Sure, you can pretend this is deep, and write another book on the color blue, and post it as a cryptic Facebook status, but is there any meaning in these words? I mean real meaning, or at least some beauty? I know this book has a higher rating than most of what I've read, including Brothers Karamazov and other books strong enough to change one's life, yet I see no other reason this book even exists, except for the author to self-indulge in how special she is, in love with the color blue and too deep for the masses. This very much reminds me of the naked King - the book is so praised that pointing out its lack of substance is almost suicidal. Did I mention how much I hated it? ...more
3

Apr 16, 2018

2.5 rounded up (tentatively)

I enjoyed parts of this, and Maggie Nelson's writing was as great as it always is... but it felt like something was missing, like it was a fragmented collection that didn't quite come together.
3

Jun 22, 2018

Bluets had a lot of the same sharp wit and similar pithy observations that I enjoyed in The Argonauts but I think this one was just a bit too abstract for my tastes. I also didnt do myself any favors by reading this in short bursts over the span of two weeks when I think Nelsons writing best lends itself to a more immersive reading experience. Still enjoyed it, still looking forward to checking out her other works. Bluets had a lot of the same sharp wit and similar pithy observations that I enjoyed in The Argonauts but I think this one was just a bit too abstract for my tastes. I also didn’t do myself any favors by reading this in short bursts over the span of two weeks when I think Nelson’s writing best lends itself to a more immersive reading experience. Still enjoyed it, still looking forward to checking out her other works. ...more
4

Mar 16, 2018

1. blue

/blōō/

Adjective.a. Of a color intermediate between green and violet, as of the sky or sea on a sunny day. The clear blue sky"
b. informal. (of a person or mood) melancholy, sad, or depressed. Mom was feeling a bit blue2. Bluets is Maggie Nelsons 2009 hybridization of lyrical essays, aka 240 meditations upon the color blue. Such a simple concept and yet have you reflected on the color in all its variations, collected it as an herbalist collects plants, investigated the color on such a 1. blue

/blōō/

Adjective.a. Of a color intermediate between green and violet, as of the sky or sea on a sunny day. “The clear blue sky"
b. informal. (of a person or mood) melancholy, sad, or depressed. “Mom was feeling a bit blue”2. Bluets is Maggie Nelson’s 2009 hybridization of lyrical essays, aka 240 meditations upon the color blue. Such a simple concept and yet have you reflected on the color in all its variations, collected it as an herbalist collects plants, investigated the color on such a deeply personal level that the act of making love becomes its own hue? I haven’t.

3. Nelson plays with sentences and paragraphs on the pages of this slim volume the way a painter passes her brush across the canvas: sometimes with exceptional care and others with indigo immoderation. She shows her brushstrokes on occasion by expressing what the process of this act of collecting and meditating on the color blue has been for her:
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?
(p74)4. Spanish Painter Pablo Picasso had a Blue Period (1901-1904) during which time his paintings were almost entirely monochromatic (variations upon the color blue). He allegedly did this in response to the death of a close friend, perhaps as a way to heal. Colors can heal. Nelson appears to have written this for the same purpose – to heal from relationships (heartbreak, growth, love, desire, friendship), to heal from within, to embrace the color that frequently symbolizes sadness, depression, the blues. It’s a tranquil color; it embraces the writer and the reader, soothes us.

5. In fragmentary, poetical turns of phrases, bursts of thoughts which change with the direction of the wind (is wind blue?), Nelson leaves me wondering what the color blue tastes like? How might it smell? Will it make a sound when I put it to my ear like a seashell? How does the color blue feel in my hand – is it soft and cool, or hard and textured? I would like to put it in a jar, set it on the windowpane, and consider it.

6. I imagine a bedroom floor (blue carpet?) covered with scraplets of paper scattered about on which Nelson wrote these “propositions”, as she calls them, with blue ink. These are thoughts which could effectively be written on the back of postcards (Pablo Picasso, The Old Guitarist; Henri Matisse, Blue Nude II; Hans Richter, Blauer Mann) but never sent. Secret glimpses into her blue mind.

7. Blue might be what haunts Nelson, her darkness, if we continue considering this idea that writers return to a theme or a topic time and again in their writing. Blue in the variations of the color for her might be comparable to a search for identity, search for home, search for family. She returns to investigate it until she is healed. The decision to write in fragmentary reflections could be an experiment in healing without allowing the wounds to open completely. Just enough for them to breathe.
130. We cannot read the darkness. We cannot read it. It is a form of madness, albeit a common one, that we try.
(p51)PS, this is short and you can read it in one sitting. Sit, read, contemplate. Embrace all the blues of your world. ...more
5

Sep 24, 2012

I started Bluets on the train the other week, or at least that's how I remember it. Where was I going that taking the train was the best option? I don't know, but that's when I tend to reach for the Kindle, as at home I have the luxury of carrying a book from room to room, leaving it in this stack or the other, picking up again and taking it into the bath, setting it down for the night after reading under the covers in my cool room.

But Bluets was on the Kindle, and so it was read in passing, a I started Bluets on the train the other week, or at least that's how I remember it. Where was I going that taking the train was the best option? I don't know, but that's when I tend to reach for the Kindle, as at home I have the luxury of carrying a book from room to room, leaving it in this stack or the other, picking up again and taking it into the bath, setting it down for the night after reading under the covers in my cool room.

But Bluets was on the Kindle, and so it was read in passing, a few sections on the train to wherever it was, then forty-five minutes on a misty commute to work, and finally on Amtrak headed home from Champaign, another weekend spent between home and home. And I finished it with a gasp for breath, hot tears in my eyes, as the Nicolas Jaar mix unfolded in my ears and the miles slipped by in the darkness.

I don't know how to write about this book. I don't even know where to begin. As I think about it, I keep coming back to the idea of a tone poem, a single extended meditation on a single theme - in this case, the idea of blue. Blue of lapis lazuli, of sadness, of pornography. A love affair with a color, an exploration of the sensation of perceiving color, of the experience of feeling, of the feeling of loss, of the loss of a love.

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. n 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?

I don't know how to express how deeply parts of this book resonated with me. I have pages and pages of highlights and bookmarks, of passages that caught my breath, that I will no doubt return to when my heart is aching and I need to remember that what I'm feeling isn't unique in the world, that others have experienced and thought and felt these same things, and have moreover been able to put them into words more eloquent than anything I could hope to write.

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 that 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.

I can't promise you'll like this book. I make no such offers. Perhaps you should start here first.
...more

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