1. 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. It began slowly. An appreciation, an affinity. Then, one day, it became more serious. Then (looking into an empty teacup, its bottom stained with thin brown excrement coiled into the shape of a seahorse) it became somehow personal.
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
Rereading as a way to recover a lost state, to return to the cloud of feeling the book first evoked. I suppose that you re-readers must have made this discovery long ago. But, it’s not without its risks. Who hasn’t experienced the book that changes during one’s absence and upon reacquaintance isn’t at all the colour, shape, texture or density that memory would suggest? Or — more insidious, more disconcerting — the book that contains the underlinings and margin notes of an imbecile in one’s own neat hand.
130. We cannot read the darkness. We cannot read it. It is a form of madness, albeit a common one, that we try.
On Friday, not knowing what to do, wanting to feel a certain seriousness and clarity instead of the overwhelm and paralysis that had shadowed me all week, I returned to Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. It hadn’t been that long — fifteen months — and so the disconnect between the book memory and the book I read was minimal. The magic held and I was once again submerged in crystal blue waters, suspended in Nelson’s net of propositions. I wanted the clarity that my own thinking (circling round the same questions again and again) lacked. But she warned me of the seductiveness of clarity, the possibility that it may feign truth without being true.
121. “Clearness is so eminently one of the characteristics of truth, that often it even passes for truth itself,” wrote Joseph Joubert, the French “man of letters” who recorded countless such fragments in notebooks for forty years in preparation for a monumental work of philosophy that he never wrote. I know all about this passing for truth. At times I think it quite possible that it lies, as if a sleight of hand, at the heart of all my writing.
Then too, there is the tactile memory, the physical experience of the reading. I remembered sitting on the sofa in sunlight. I forgot the boy with the ‘deep cough’. (For some books, this is almost as important as the memory of the book: The Great Gatsby sitting on my friend K’s bed in university halls, two years before I would go to university myself; Michael Ondaatje’s Divisidero leaning against a tree in an Italian campsite as T napped in the tent beside me.) I stretched on the sofa. The time between readings collapsed. I read more slowly, as you do when you know where you are going, but don’t want the journey to end.
199. For to wish to forget how much you loved someone — and then, to actually forget — can feel, at times, like the slaughter of a beautiful bird who chose, by nothing short of grace, to make a habitat of your heart. I have heard that this pain can be converted, as it were, by accepting “the fundamental impermanence of all things.” This acceptance bewilders me: sometimes it seems an act of will; at others, of surrender. Often I feel myself to be rocking between them (seasickness).
Bluets is philosophy, poetry, autobiography deftly woven together. Its a mood, a mode of thinking, probing and unsparing. It looks into the darkness but turns to the light. If I need this feeling again, I know where to find it.
239. But now you are talking as if love were a consolation. Simone Weil warned otherwise. “Love is not consolation,” she wrote. “It is light.”
240. All right then, let me try to rephrase. When I was alive, I aimed to be a student not of longing but of light.
Between the Covers interview with Maggie Nelson — last weekend’s running soundtrack.