Week 2, and the answer to the question “Am I blue?” is a resounding yes. In the words of William Gass, “afflictions of the spirit–dumps, mopes, Mondays–all that’s dismal . . .”
I assigned Gass without rereading him. Not the first time, I’ve done this, surely not the last. The book is called On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry. There are several reviews of the book from its 2014 reissue, all in prominent publications: The Guardian, NPR, the New York Review of Books . . .
Not once in the planning of the course, in the review of various materials that we might read or watch, or during various brainstorming sessions did it occur to me that one of the readings of blueness is as pornography, obscenity, indecency.
Sometimes things that come from out of the blue are curveballs. This one was. I should have known better with William Gass. And yet. Reading the assignment over the weekend, and within a page, we have references to blue balls and erections. Not much farther in, a quotation from Henry Miller. . .
Can one blush in blue? Pretty sure that if it were humanly possible without chemical intervention, it would have happened to me on Sunday.
But despite the phallocentrism of the essay, which I don’t think has aged especially well, there were moments of virtuosity in the essay. Gass speaks of the ways that “a random set of meanings has softly gathered around the word the way lint collects. The mind does that. A single word, single thought, a single thing, as Plato taught . . . We catch them and connect” (7). And what am I doing if not that same enterprise, just in public, with an audience or a group of collaborators, co-conspirators . . .
A few other quotations:
“Words have been thought to have magical properties. They can, we are assured by authorities, persuade, snare, frighten, bless. They can stimulate, damn, anger, kill, caress. If signs are not the same as the things that they designate, they are at least an essential segment” (21).
“blue is our talisman, our center of thought” (33).
“A color’s unity is inherent, however, since it is insistently, indivisibly present in what it is. Furthermore, every color is a completed presence in the world, a recognizable being apart from any object” (74).
“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, cover fruit and boxing out of clay . . . . Blue is, therefore, the most suitable color of interior life . . .
“Because blue contracts, retreats, it is the color of transcendence, leading us away in pursuit of the infinite” (75-76).
“Blue, as you enter it, disappears. Red never does that. Every article of air might look like cobalt if we got outside ourselves to see it. The country of the blue is clear” (86).