In a 2007 interview about her writing, Maggie Nelson said that the starting question for her book, Bluets, which is all about the color blue, was this: “can I contain all the information and feeling I have collected over the years about the color blue (my favorite color) and marry it to the form of Wittgensteinian propositions?” The result is a book written as a series of short reflections that cover art, culture, nature and the author’s painful personal life. Bluets predated Rebecca Solnit’s The Blue of Distance, but both books are a testament to the power of creative non-fiction as a method of weaving together the multiple scopes of human feeling and experience.
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.
67. A male satin bowerbird would not have left it there. A male satin bowerbird would have tottered with it in his beak over to his bower, or his “trysting place,” as some field guides put it, which he spends weeks adorning with blue objects in order to lure a female. Not only does the bowerbird collect and arrange blue objects—bus tickets, cicada wings, blue flowers, bottle caps, blue feathers plucked off smaller blue birds that he kills, if he must, to get their plumage—but he also paints his bower with juices from blue fruits, using the frayed end of a twig as a paintbrush. He builds competitively, stealing treasures from other birds, sometimes trashing their bowers entirely.
68. After building his bower, the satin bowerbird makes a stage nearby out of shiny yellow grass, upon which he will sing and dance for passing females. Experienced builders and performers can attract up to thirty-three females to fuck per season if they put on a good enough show, have built up enough good blue in their bower, and have the contrast with the yellow straw down right. Less experienced builders sometimes don’t attract any females at all. Each female mates only once. She incubates the eggs alone.
69. When I see photos of these blue bowers, I feel so much desire that I wonder if I might have been born into the wrong species.
70. Am I trying, with these “propositions,” to build some kind of surely this would be a mistake. For starters, words do not look like the things they designate (Maurice Merleau-Ponty).
71. I have been trying, for some time now, to find dignity in my loneliness. I have been finding this hard to do.
72. It is easier, of course, to find dignity in one’s solitude. Loneliness is solitude with a problem. Can blue solve the problem, or can it at least keep me company within it?—No, not exactly. It cannot love me that way; it has no arms. But sometimes I do feel its presence to be a sort of wink—Here you are again, it says, and so am I.
73. In his Opticks, Newton periodically refers to an invaluable “assistant” who helps him refract the shaft of sunlight streaming in through the aperture Newton had drilled into the wall of his “dark chamber”—an assistant to Newton’s discovery, or revelation, of the spectrum. Over time, however, many have questioned whether this assistant ever really existed. Many now believe him to be, essentially, a “rhetorical fiction.”
74. Who, nowadays, watches the light stream through the walls of her “dark chamber” with the company of a phantasmagoric assistant, or smashes at her eyes to reproduce lost color sensations, or stays up all night watching colored shadows drift across the walls? At times I have done all of these things, but not in service of science, nor of philosophy, not even of poetry.
75. Mostly I have felt myself becoming a servant of sadness. I am still looking for the beauty in that.