More of the Harmoniously Random

Here’s the word-drunk philosopher and novelist William Gass, in one of my favorite quirky and hard-to-classify books, On Being Blue, his single-breathed triumphant aria in celebration of every blue thing under (and in) the sky:

“There’s the blue skin of cold, contusion, sickness, fear… absent air, morbidity, the venereals, blue pox…gloom…

“…whole schools of fish, clumps of trees, flocks of birds, bouquets of flowers:  blue channel cats, the ash, beech, birch, bluegills, breams, and bass, Andalusian fowl, acaras, angels in decorative tanks, the bluebill, bluecap, and blue billy (a petrel of the southern seas), anemone, bindweed, bur, bell, mullet, salmon, trout, cod, daisy, and a blue leaved and flowered mountain plant called the blue beardtongue because of its conspicuous yellow-bearded sterile stamens.”

And again: “The blue lucy is a healing plant. Blue john is skim milk. Blue backs are Confederate bills. Blue bellies are Yankee boys. Mercurial ointment, used for the destruction of parasites, is called blue butter, although that greenish-blue fungus we’ve seen cover bread is named blue-mold instead.”

And: “Blue pencils, blue noses, blue movies, laws, blue legs and stockings, the language of birds, bees, and flowers as sung by longshoremen, that lead-like look the skin has when affected by cold, contusion, sickness, fear… the blue they say that diamonds have, deep holes in the ocean… afflictions of the spirit – dumps, mopes, Mondays – all that’s dismal – low-down gloomy music, Nova Scotians, cyanosis, hair rinse, bluing, bleach; the rare blue dahlia like that blue moon shrewd things happen only once in…”

The brilliance of Gass’s catalog of blues, and the reason it is so pleasurable to read seems to be its ameliorative linking of apparently unrelated items. This is not the same as a random or purely miscellaneous listing of items, though it might aspire to give the impression of randomness.Those of us who find it appealing might find a similar appeal (as we’ve discussed before) in the artfully random arrangements of rocks in Japanese gardens. But there’s more. The things of the earth throw light into the shadows of our isolation. An ecology of matter is an existential gasp: alone and adrift in an indifferent universe, what hope is there? Making connections is our only hope and our only solace.

4 thoughts on “BOUNTIFUL WORLD

  1. John

    Does he do any other color-connected lists/ comparisons?

    I think that it would be cool to make a similar list linking things of like color with the emotion that is attributed to that color. For example: a linkage of things colored red and connected with passion or anger.

    1. Jerry Dennis Post author

      Gass sticks with blue in this book, covering Blues music and melancholy, for instance. But you bring up a question I’ve always wondered about: do people universally equate blue with melancholy, red with anger/passion, green with envy, purple with ornate prose, or are those associations specific to Western culture? Anybody know?

  2. Fleda Brown

    There is a wonderful book of prose poems–whatever they are, as I said–called Bluets, by Maggie Nelson, that concentrates through the entire book on the color blue with great range and skill. 2009 by Wave Books.

  3. Xu Xi

    The poetry of blue — that’s what Gass is all about — he’s drunk on language, on the color, feeling, associations of blue. An old favorite.


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