I remember the colour of forget-me-not is light blue

I don’t remember what the rest of the book is about (except for that dig at a passage from William Gass On Being Blue which forces me back to re-reading the book which is now a foggy mass in my memory as faded as the spine of the book).

156. “Why is the sky blue?” — A fair enough question, and one I have learned the answer to several times. Yet every time I try to explain it to someone or remember it to myself, it eludes me. Now I like to remember the question alone, as it remains me that my mind is essentially a sieve, that I am mortal.

Maggie Nelson Bluets

But that passage about the Gass passage, comes back to the fore. It has caught the attention of a number of reviewers including Jocelyn Parr in Brick 96

A critical examination of Nelson’s irreverence reveals how her writing heralds a new kind of order. Just as we’ve not heard enough about the female gaze, we’ve heard too much about the male gaze and all the ways that it disciplines the female body. Nelson establishes the new order by taking down the old one. William Gass, an icon of sexual freedom, writes that readers who want to see under the skirt will only be disappointed:

“What good is my peek at her pubic hair if I must also see the red lines made by her panties, the pimples on her rump, broken veins like the print of a lavender thumb, the stepped-on look of a day’s-end muff ? I’ve that at home.”

In a delicious about-face, Nelson accuses Gass (of all people!) of puritanism: “This is puritanism, not eros,” she says, thereby founding her own moral order (Puritanism is bad! Eros is good!). She defies Gass, the glossy magazines, and anything that would do less than celebrate the female body in all its ways:

For my part I have no interest in catching a glimpse of or offering you an unblemished ass or an airbrushed cunt. I am interested in having three orifices stuffed full of thick, veiny cock in the most unforgiving of poses and light.

Nelson knows that the gaze is a position of power, and she wants women to adopt it. Women should have the right to look at what they want, and they should have the right to be seen as they are. Earlier, I said Nelson’s writing is political. I should have said it is feminist.

Oddly, Nelson declares in the context of distancing herself from Gass “I will not choose between the blue things of the world and the words that say them.”

Well, neither does William Gass. The passage from which Nelson excises the voyeuristic moment is to be found in section IV of On Being Blue. It opens with a thought experiment of being in the possession of Gyges’s ring which imparts invisibility. It spies upon the neighbours unloading groceries; describes at length the depictions in the pattern of blue willow china; in contemplating the non-quarrelling pair there is a digression about being scorched by a blue flame whose burning ends with the remark that “My emotions may be mistaken sometimes, but each is the integration of a very complex and continually changing set of relations only temporarily stabilized this time in a blinding run of tears.” There follow thoughts on the logical layers of emotion before the text turns again to view the woman at the sink preparing salad. Many more paragraphs about the nature of fiction (“The push toward blue in fiction has persisted from the beginning.”) And then we get the passage that generated Nelson’s scrutiny … and its continuation.

I’ve that at home. No. Vishnu is blue in all his depictions. Lord Krishna too. Yes. the blue we bathe in is the blue we breathe. The blue we breathe, I fear, is what we want from life and only find in fiction. For the voyeur, fiction is what’s called going all the way.


Thus between the aesthetically irrelevant demands of the reader and the aesthetically crippling personal worries of the writer, sexuality reaches literature as an idée fixe, an artifically [sic] sweetened distortion or an outright lie, while the literature itself leaks quality like a ruptured pipe.

What is perhaps more intriguing is how the context of the “peek at her pubic” is set up by Gass as impatience with the long stretches of time where nothing happens. (Hyperrealism is here the target.)

Impatient, we can’t wait for nature to take its course. When we take our textual tour through the slums, we want crime, violence, starvation, disease, not hours of just sitting around. We want the world to be the world we read about in the papers: all news. What good is my ring if the couple I am using it to spy on make love in darkness once a month, and then are quick, inept, and silent? Better rob banks. The money is always there. What good is my peek at her pubic hair if […]

If Gass cavils agains the longeurs, Nelson is too quick to promote hard core, hard core simplicity.

And so for day 1561

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