On Being Blue – William H. Gass

On Being Blue

Blue lips
Blue veins
Blue, the color of the planet from far, far away..

( verse from the single- Blue Lips)

At the risk of sounding corny to the extent of being doltish; the moment I boarded on Gass’s cerulean expedition, a mystifying songstress, a certain Ms. Regina Spektor was awaiting for my arrival. In the course of her repeatedly looped melodious rendition, what Ms. Spektor was trying to elucidate to my conflicted mind was the enchantment of the colour:- Blue. The symbolic “blue lips” signifying the onset of death gazing into the contrasting pulse of “blue veins” through which the throbbing life flows. The antique colour magnifies as it covers the entire Earth, the planet that harbors the origins of life and the invisibility of death. Earth is blue, the planet on which all life-form exists. In an interview to ‘The Paris Review’ (July 1976), Gass had famously said:- “A word is like a schoolgirl’s room—a complete mess—so the great thing is to make out a way of seeing it all as ordered, as right, as inferred and following.”Thus, all I needed was the brilliancy of Gass, the melodies of Ms. Spektor and the grandeur of the word: – Blue; to find some order in the riotous clutter of a schoolgirl’s room.

The words sing to the miraculous transformations of the blue pigment, its magnificence illuminating through the monochromatic arrays of feelings, shape, form and art. The beauty of “blue pencils, blue noses, blue movie……” embedded in the idiosyncrasies of the allegorical blue and its blueness. “A random set of meanings has softly gathered around the word the way lint collects. The mind does that. A single word a single thought, a single thing,” , just as Plato taught ; condensing the virtue of the blue pigment into a psychosomatic and philosophical idiom, forming an artistic chorus between the domains of “seeing blue” and “being blue”.


“An author is responsible for everything that appears in his books……… claims that reality requires his depiction of the sexual, in addition to having a misguided aesthetic, he is a liar, since we shall surely see how few of his precious passages are devoted to chewing cabbage, hand-washing, sneezing, sitting on the stool, or, if you prefer, filling out forms, washing floors, cheering teams…..”

Gass emphasizes on the magnitude of language and the responsibilities yet to be paid by the readers and the authors. What is the exact notion of sexuality and where does the sex in literature assume its place? Humans are a bunch of prudes who prefer to read an erotica veiled under an umbrella of elitist ignorance and outright denigration because of the hypocritical values society places on sex, the sexual taboos and the lawful sanctimonious label that sex carries restricting the varied sexual fantasies to seek fulfillment through rogue imaginations or erotic “dirty” fictions. Fiction gives the desired autonomy to the reader what reality hampers, thus it becomes crucial on the part of the author to have substantial acumen of the sparse sexual vocabulary and desist from going overboard in augmenting the sexuality and not “continue to drain through the cunt till we reach a metaphor”. When nuances of love and fornication are written, it should be penned to induce seduction, the love of language in a lover’s amorous acts. The reader is an inquisitive creature who likes to peek through the narrowed corners of literary sentences with a pinch of suspense and so the language of a lover should not be embellished by varied metaphorical christening of animal parts for an act of penile erection. A kiss is much more seductive when laced with unparalleled sensuality than when accompanied by “weak knees” or other agonizing bodily joints. The seduction of indecency comes through the rawness of decency and unruffled compassion. Gass draws comparisons through the works of Beckett, Flaubert, Henry Miller, Rilke, Colette, De Sade, et.al; to assert the need of true sexuality as more of a literary aesthetic than some perky pornographic ordeal of horse-like wild insertion coming before an erection. And as they say, “Boys have dick and men have cock or penis”. Writing is an art and like the luminosity of the “blueness” from the various shades of the pigment, renders an unearthly experience to art; writers should not subject their words to humdrum commonality; words have their own language and solicitous properties that mirror through idiosyncratic sentences which underlines literary wisdom. Sentences that would make the reader croon as it carries the dormant imagination to the finest places and shield the virtue of fictional characters defending its stance in meticulously carved wistful paragraphs. Sentences those written by of Henry James where the artist and the language interlock into a dreamy luster. Sex in literature ought to be liberated from the opaqueness of ludicrous vocabulary that interrupts the sensuality of sex and restore the events of coitus to proper artistic proportions rather than a lousy corollary to masturbation.

“I might have said “fuck a fox”, however, the modulation of “uck” into “ox” is too sophisticated for swearing and a fox has in every way, the nobler entry. “ Fuck a trucker” is equally sound (though it tails off doggily), but the command calls for courage and so scarcely carries the same disdain.”

In order to enrich the “impoverished vocabulary and for the blueness in books to thrive at its best, Gass approaches the subject of ‘literary consciousness’. According to Gass words are “one-way mirrors” and thus if used haphazardly can induce “textual privacy” constraining the reins of a language and depriving the reader of noninterventionist console Gass thinks that words transform through meditative etymology and ontological process to form their own set of language.. Gass illustrates this panorama by enlightening a paradigm of ‘Rice Grain’. When one thinks of the word ‘rice’, one perceives a meagre seed/grain which is cooked for supper. However, on occasions when the grains are symbolically used as a fertility blessing in marriages, a pious offering to God and for good luck during harvest season; the economical and plenteous rice metamorphosed into a multidimensional word that has a language of its own through its diversified usage. The prose section which I immensely enjoyed was Gass’s elucidation on “swearing” and its dramatic utterance as a part of speech. Gass’s clarifications on shouting “fuck you” equating to the frequency of ‘Ave Maria’ recitations hit too close to home. I unequivocally agree with the genius of Gass when he further elaborates that the terminology “fuck you” said during speckled temperamental episodes does not literally mean to indulge in intercourse. The word “fuck” is emancipated from its commonality expression of coitus as it alters through various phases of human dispositions. Similar transmutation properties are bestowed on the word ‘penis’ as it began its infancy journey from being a “pee pee” to an adult penile terminology. The language of words allows us to differentiate between what is said and what is actually implemented. The expression “feeling blue” is far away thought from the probability of physicality of the tinted pigment. “Fiction becomes visual by becoming verbal”; Gass supports this assertion by the magic of movies. Comparing the exaggerated acting exhibits of a silent film to the audible script filming, Gass elucidated the fundamental nature of ‘words’ and magnificence of language that along with banishing the quintessential muteness in a silent film has opened up a window exposing the residing vulnerabilities of feeble scripts and “hamming” gestures of the actors. The ‘blue’ of an emotion is no longer hidden underneath the black-white muteness, but has been precipitately uncovered by the consciousness of voyeuristic language.

“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.”

When one speaks about having a “blue personality”, it veers towards a range of emotions from gloomy, friendly to honourable. Blue is an emotional colour that lives in close quarters of the heart. It finds a prominent place in literature for the very same reasons. Blue is ubiquitous; from the cell of a protoplasm to the blueprint of rigor mortis. The refraction of the blue pigments finds a eminence in the cerulean shades of the sky, the indigo of the oceanic icy waters, the passionate pages of a book, the honour badge of a soldier, the patriotic titular significance for the soluble dye, the sapphire shines through the Christ’s mantles, radiates through the surreal skin of Lord Vishnu, the blueness of a whore illuminates the lonely nights, the morbidity of disease and starvation , the sonnets from a poet’s heart rolled-down in deception and hope and shielding the burning candle flame. Being green dissipates quickly in terrains of envy, red gets scorched in its brutality, but blue penetrates through the darkest of blacks and resonates through the wholesomeness of the whites. Being blue is what the world has always known.

As impressed as I stand here, dazzled by Gass’s outstanding ability of transcending the world of language and vocabulary though the magical celebration of one solitary colour: – Blue ; I reckon it would be rather appropriate if I let Ms. Regina Spektor have the last words on this obscured renowned gem.


Blue, the most human color
Blue, the most human color

(Blue Lips..)

**A Kandinsky – “Blue Painting” where the equanimity of emblematic blue approaches the spirituality of art by moving itself into a personification of infinite shades.

4/5****

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