Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Bluets | Maggie Nelson

BLUETS by Maggie Nelson is one of the best nonfiction books that I have ever read. I loved it so much I painted it on a giant piece of cardboard.

There are few ways that I consume creative nonfiction on my own; usually, if I'm ever occupied with it, it's via podcasts or video interviews with authors I admire. (I've seen almost every interview with Neil Gaiman that YouTube has to offer.) This semester, however, I enrolled myself in a creative nonfiction class through my school's honors college and my instructor, Daisy Pitkin, has changed my outlook on the entire genre.

Our first book-length text was BLUETS. It's a collection of little paragraph-long vignettes revolving around the color blue. Not all of them are about the color; many are about the feeling of blue, or the memory of blue, or the reflections of blue. It's a book about Nelson's former lover, leftover feelings, and interactions with the color blue throughout the several years it took her to finish the novel. I'm utterly enthralled in this book and it's one of the few books I've ever checked out from a library that I intend to purchase sometime in the near future (others of these borrowed-turned-owned include THE SISTERS GRIMM series by Michael Buckley when I was 11 and a collection of Shakespeare books I decided I should own if I want to be an English teacher).

The vignettes in this book fall under seven categories – collected by myself and my classmates – of "themes" that inspired them. But I'm not sure that "theme" is the right word. Inspiration? Muses? General mild idea? Regardless, each vignette can be categorized as:

1. Personal Narrative
2. Science/Psychology
3. Art/Music/Poetry
4. Philosophy/Literature/Social Theory
5. Faith?Religion/The Divine
6. Outside Oracular Voice/Your personal sage friend or relative
7. Mythology/History

Even if they aren't specifically narrative, most of the vignettes are strengthened by personal anecdote. All of the vignettes that I chose to bookmark for in-class discussion were similarly quippy, didactic or matter-of-fact. I found myself attracted in particular to literary/historical references that I recognized from other schoolwork. I love boldness, pithiness, and the trope of the lecture. 

The book is, in its essence, about suffering. And we can only endure these hard things, these bluets, because we are a species unique in its ability to suffer. If we do not suffer then we are animal, more animal than we started as: say we are now 76% water and 24% animal. Without the suffering we're 76% water, 36% animal. 
(Without suffering, we overflow.)

Below are my favorite bluets. Enjoy. 

"177. 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.

188. How often I've imagined the bubble of body and breath you and I made, even though by now I can hardly remember what you look like, I can hardly see your face.

119. My friend was a genius before her accident, and she remains a genius now. The difference is that these days it is nearly impossible to discount her pronouncements. Something about her condition has bestowed upon her the quality of an oracle, perhaps because now she generally stays in one place, and one must go unto her. Eventually you will have to give up this love, she told me one night while I made us dinner. It has a morbid heart. 

66. Yesterday I picked up a speck of blue I'd been eyeing for weeks on the ground outside my house, and found it to be a poison strip for termites. Noli me tangere, it said, as some blues do. I left it on the ground.

18. A warm afternoon in early spring, New York City. We went to the Chelsea Hotel to fuck. Afterward, from the window of our room, I watched a blue tarp on a roof across the way flap in the wind. You slept, so it was my secret. It was a smear of the quotidian, a bright blue flake amidst all the dank providence. It was the only time I came. It was essentially our lives. It was shaking. 

42. 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: Heártbréak is a spondee. Then I lay my head down on the desk and start to weep. –Why doesn't this help?"

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