William Gass wrote a book in 1976 called On Being Blue. It is about the color blue, but – as is the case with many other colors and non-colors – blue is not only a color.
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 — 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, or the call for trumps in whist (but who remembers whist or what the death of unplayed games is like?), and correspondingly the flag, Blue Peter, which is our signal for getting under way; a swift pitch, Confederate money, the shaded slopes of clouds and mountains, and so the constantly increasing absentness of Heaven (ins Blaue hinein, the Germans say), consequently the color of everything that’s empty: blue bottles, bank accounts, and compliments, for instance, or, when the sky’s turned turtle, the blue-green bleat of ocean (both the same), and, when in Hell, its neatly landscaped rows of concrete huts and gas-blue flames; social registers, examination booklets, blue bloods, balls, and bonnets, beards, coats, collars, chips, and cheese … the pedantic, indecent and censorious … watered twilight, sour sea: through a scrambling of accidents, blue has become their color, just as it’s stood for fidelity. Blue laws took their hue from the paper they were printed on. Blue noses were named for a potato. E. Haldeman-Julius’ little library, where I first read Ellen Key’s Evolution of Love, vainly hoping for a cock stand, had such covers. In the same series, which sold for a dime in those days, were the love letters of that Portuguese nun, Mariana Alcoforado, an overwrought and burdensome lady, certainly, whose existence I callously forgot until I read of her again in Rilke.