the contextual life

thoughts without borders

Bluets by Maggie Nelson

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“Loneliness is solitude with a problem”—Maggie Nelson

BluetsAlthough written in numbered propositions, seemingly disconnected, Bluets is not the type of book you can open to any page and begin reading. I know this because it’s what I’d done a number of times in a number of bookstores only to leave empty handed despite trusted friends insisting on its brilliance.

Finally, I sat down to read Maggie Nelson’s book properly and discovered its flow, its rhythm, and was caught up in the attempt to understand the placement of these ruminations on—as one might infer from the title—the color blue.

“Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color. Suppose I were to speak this as though it were a confession; suppose I shredded my napkin as we spoke,” she begins. “And so, I fell in love with a color—in this case, the color blue—as if falling under a spell, a spell I fought to stay under and get out from under, in turns.”

Intense focus, or perhaps obsession, is what drives Bluets. At one point Nelson considers traveling the world in search of blue objects: “ancient indigo and woad production sites, the Chartres Cathedral, the Isle of Skye, the lapis mines of Afghanistan, the Scrovegni Chapel, Morocco, Crete.”

But Nelson does not need to travel to faraway places; she sees blue wherever she goes, and notices its absence when she doesn’t. Interspersed in Bluets are delightful facts about color: the presence of blue in nature (male satin bowerbirds build adorn their bowers with blue objects to lure females); religion (blue became a “holy” color after it was mistaken that ultramarine contained gold and was therefore valuable; and world cultures (the Tuareg, a “tribe of blue people” in the deserts of North Africa who take on the color of their deeply saturated dyed robes).

An ex-lover is remembered by the blue button-down shirt he wore on their final day together; the feet of a friend, now paraplegic, are mentioned because they’ve become “the blue of skim milk” from disuse. Quotes from Mallarmé, Goethe, and da Vinci woven into the fabric of Nelson’s thoughts fill the pages with a weight not conveyed by the book’s slim appearance.

Bluets will deceive aspiring writers. They will see short paragraphs made up of spare sentences and believe they can do it too. But the careful reader will feel the deliberation, they will know the state of the author’s cutting room floor.

In Bluets, Nelson has taken an exercise in single-minded attention and created a meditative masterpiece.

Buy Bluets at your local bookstore
Maggie Nelson chooses six books on color 
An interview with Maggie Nelson at the Poetry Foundation
An interview with Maggie Nelson at BOMB magazine

Written by Gabrielle

April 16, 2013 at 6:55 am

Posted in books, reviews

Tagged with , ,

9 Responses

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  1. It sounds like a very deliberately crafted book. Are there really people who are obsessed with a particular colour? THe concept is very foreign to me, so I probably wouldn’t read it. But great review!


    April 16, 2013 at 7:03 am

  2. There’s also Gass’s “On Being Blue,” which has even inspired it’s own Tumblr:

    Also, incidentally, Cabinet magazine, last I looked, commissions a writer each issue to meditate on a chosen color . . .

    Nice post!


    April 16, 2013 at 7:36 am

  3. Amendment: I was mistaken (it’s true): there’s no Tumblr devoted only to Gass’s book. Dorp. 😦


    April 16, 2013 at 7:40 am

  4. Reblogged this on My Day Out With An Angel.


    April 18, 2013 at 1:21 am

  5. Is there any association of blue with the theory of personalities sorted by color? The thing that I find interesting is that in this theory, “blue” personalities are driven by social harmony and place importance on relationships. It is said that many such personalities are drawn to religion, and that modern religion tends to espouse similar values. Very interesting when the decision that blue was “holy” came about by different means.


    April 22, 2013 at 12:23 am

  6. If I did not have finals and my research projects going on, I would pick up the book in a heartbeat! Your review makes it sound like such a valuable read. I will just have to put it on my list 🙂


    May 1, 2013 at 8:50 pm

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    May 6, 2013 at 3:02 pm

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    May 6, 2013 at 6:20 pm

  9. Hello! This post could not be written any better!
    Reading this post reminds me of my previous room mate!

    He always kept talking about this. I will forward this write-up to him.

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