On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry (New York Review Books Classics)
William H. Gass
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On Being Blue is a book about everything blue—sex and sleaze and sadness, among other things—and about everything else. It brings us the world in a word as only William H. Gass, among contemporary American writers, can do.
Of the colors, blue and green have the greatest emotional range. Sad reds and melancholy yellows are difficult to turn up. Among the ancient elements, blue occurs everywhere: in ice and water, in the flame as purely as in the flower, overhead and inside caves, covering fruit and oozing out of clay. Although green enlivens the earth and mixes in the ocean, and we find it, copperish, in fire; green air, green skies, are rare. Gray and brown are widely distributed, but there are no joyful swatches of either, or any of exuberant black, sullen pink, or acquiescent orange. Blue is therefore most suitable as the color of interior life. Whether slick light sharp high bright thin quick sour new and cool or low deep sweet dark soft slow smooth heavy old and warm: blue moves easily among them all, and all profoundly qualify our states of feeling.
thoughtful, loving, calm. • • • Pink and white and the blackbird black of Chéri’s glistening hair are the colors Colette has chosen for Léa’s and his encounter—pink, black, and white, and the copper decoration of the bed—but blue is our talisman, the center of our thought. Yet what blue? which? the blue that settles in the throat before the cough? that rounds from our mouth like a ring of smoke as we announce A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu? Not the blue of place names like Blue Island
‘good morning,’ the wearing of evening clothes, giving of handshakes, painting of smiles, adding the complimentary close. Most of the time we are content to cry out ‘fuck!’ as if pinched, but the function of our wall words in slightly more elaborate curses, such as: may your cock continue life as a Canadian, or may the houseflies winter over in your womb, or may you be inhaled by your own asshole, is more complex. Although each expression is merely uttered (curses without a curse, they
machine. Never mind degrees, deep differences, contrasting sizes. The same blue sock fits every leg. Never mind the noses of those Nova Scotian potatoes, blue noses are the consequence of sexual freeze, or they are noses buried far too long in bawdy books, or rubbed too often harshly up and down on wool-blue thighs. Not alone is love the desire and pursuit of the whole. It is one of the passions of the mind. Furthermore, if among a perfect mélange of meanings there is one which has a more
pour one of each vile kind into the appropriate porches of your ears, for pronouncing and praising print to the ear is what the decently encouraged eye does happily. The third can be considered, in a sense, the very heart of indirection, and thus the essence of the artist’s art—displacement: the passage of the mind with all its blue elastic ditty bags and airline luggage from steamy sexual scenes and sweaty bodies to bedrooms with their bedsteads, nightstands, water-glasses, manuals of
little is this whole scene tinged with blue that a lively newspaper might carry the account. Rape is on the rise, we read, nearly every day. Now Ebenezer Cooke’s servant, Bertrand, an unreliable rogue, is a little distance behind him ‘watching with undisguised avidity.’ If he had written the passage we would have had a lengthy description of the great Moor’s member. Our camera would zoom toward the netted wench until it passed, with him, into her womb. Nor should we find poor Bertram’s interest