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On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry Reissue Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0879232375
ISBN-10: 0879232374
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In this, one of the strangest books about writing and language you're likely ever to read, fiction writer and philosophy professor Gass spins off into an improvisational inquiry into the nature of words and consciousness, using as his departure point the concept of the color blue--the idea of blue, the state of blue, the uses of blue...the bluenesses of blue. It's kind of hard to sum up, and if it sounds weird, it is--but it's also wonderful.

Review

"'Blue' is poetically reconfigured as a shifting state to which the beholder perpetually attunes." —New Statesman

"[On Being Blue] is a talismanic, self-contained kind of book that seems more giving, more delicious each time one returns." —Brian Dillon, The Guardian

"The mark of a good essay is its ability to span worlds — illuminate complex ideas with a careful, personal touch. In On Being Blue there is life and death, pleasure, sadness, sex, personhood, theology — worlds of words." —Jaun Vidal, NPR

“A book no person who loves writing and the sound writing makes should be without.” —The New Republic

“Gass is a philosopher-voluptuary, someone who romances language with a roué’s cunning, and isn’t afraid to play with words and ideas for sheer sport." —Diane Ackerman

On Being Blue is a luminous work, a tour de force on blue, that word (and color) reverberant with what is called experience. On Being Blue celebrates both language and that which it represents and carefully draws our attention to that difficult middle ground on which the writer finds himself in lifelong struggle to join the two without sullying or smearing the clarities of either.” —Gilbert Sorrentino

“This is a tour de force...a virtuoso performance of great imaginative force.” —Los Angeles Times
 
“An enchanting book.” —John Bayley, The New York Times Book Review
 
“A blue-black, slightly brackish beauty of a book, a philosophical essay written, for the most part, with the lilt of a Renaissance epithalamium.” —Larry McMurtry, The Washington Post Book World --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: David R Godine Pub; Reissue edition (June 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0879232374
  • ISBN-13: 978-0879232375
  • Product Dimensions: 0.2 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #739,685 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Okay, so I'm going to cheat. I know William H. Gass.

He held an endowed chair at Washington University in St. Louis while I was a graduate student there. I was once his teaching assistant. Quite an experience. That was also on the order of 33 years ago. We were both younger then.

He had already written "On Being Blue", but it was too expensive for a poor graduate student to justify buying.

Gass knows that being a Philosopher requires both a working brain and a working language that translates his thoughts into thoughts that the reader can share. The process sometimes works, and the process sometimes does not work. That is as much attributable to the reader as to the writer, and it is not a "bad" thing to not get what a writer intends - as long as you think about something that is somehow related to the words the writer used to express the thoughts he or she thought they were expressing with those words.

It's a hit or miss proposition, sometimes.

You have to read Gass experientially, in a way. It's not like reading Stephen King, or Tom Clancy or Joan Didion. But then, Gass is not King, Clancy or Didion. C'est la vie. You will walk away from the book with an enriched mind, not to mention vocabulary, if you give it half a chance. If you give it a whole chance, you'll even enjoy it.
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Format: Paperback
Sadly often difficult to find; thankfully recently reprinted, On Being Blue stands as a must read for anyone who loves language--writer or reader. Gass' prose instructs as it entertains and enlightens. This gem of a book purports to be about a single word. Blue. Yet it manages, in a very few pages, to speak cogently of how all words gather meaning "like lint in a deep pocket," of the blueness (eroticism) in writing and of writing
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On being blue is the subject of this philosophical inquiry by William Gass, but I read it primarily because of his wonderful cumulative sentences. The very first sentence will illustrate the structure of a cumulative sentence with the base clause "blue has become their color" near last, as well as leap into the subject of being blue. My marginalia reminds me that I was flying on Delta, whose deep blue of its triangular logo can well be called Delta Blue, perhaps the only blue missed in Gass's encyclopedic coverage of things, feelings, and metaphors blue.

[page 3, 4] "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 rotten rum or gin they call blue ruin and the blue devils of its delirium; Russian cats and oysters, a withheld or imprisoned breath, the blue they say that diamonds have, deep holes in the ocean and the blazers which English athletes earn that gentlemen may wear; afflictions of the spirit -- dumps, mopes, Mondays -- all that's dismal -- lowdown gloomy music, Nova Scotians, cyanosis, hair rinse, bluing, bleach; the rare blue dahlia like that blue moon shrewd things happen only once in, or the call for trumps in whist (but who remembers whist or what the death of unplayed games is like?
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Format: Paperback
William Gass presents a discussion on the word Blue, but in the process makes an argument that language is actually less complex in some ways, and more in others than we often realize. In his prose he shows us the many facets of language, and how writing not only is a relational tool, but an instructional one as well. His treatise on a word and its many meanings becomes a story about the nature of writing itself. Professor Gass' philosophical side shows in this work, a good read about composition
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What is this thing called ON BEING BLUE?

It's not an argument or at least not like any argument you've heard before. It's a larky performance by a monologist. It's a meandering rant, a riff in the jazz tradition. It's an improvisation that dances an elliptical orbit around blue and blues. It's precocious even for a professor. It's the unspooling of the passions of a mind -- a mind and a set of passions at once childish, adolescent, and assuredly adult. It's from the pen of a man to whom aesthetic experience comes easy. It's prose that's sometimes bell clear and other times twisted into contortionist poses. It pauses every page to strike a new pose. It's about the making of words and the making of sentences. It's about confronting the fact that even the best are betrayed by inadequate language. It's, in the face of this, the forging of errant beauties ranging from metaphor ("into and out of sight the way trout, I'm sure, still disappear among the iridescences ... suddenly to emerge again in the clear, swift streams") to slabs of Joycean yelps. It's a plethora of quotations from authors forgotten and authors eternal. It's maybe too enamored of its own alliterative formulations ("that lead-like look"; "blues we'd love to have loom large and linger long around us"). It's love for sale. No, it's sex. It's the five common methods by which sex gains an entrance into literature. It's a gleeful, George Carlin-spirited look at dirty words. It's Gass harrumphing at failed writing: "the sexual, in most works, disrupts the form; there is an almost immediate dishevelment, the proportion of events is lost." (Quick, some editor somewhere please commission Gass to review Nicholson Baker's "House of Holes: A Book of Raunch").
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