15 stones too many!

In my ongoing quest for blue I’ve today reached William Gass’ On Being Blue. A Philosophical Inquiry (1975).

To my surprise, Gass starts off by quoting a text passage which I believe to be among the best pieces of literature ever written – The sucking-stones sequence, here is Molloy:

I took advantage of being at the seaside to lay in a store of sucking stones. They were pebbles but I call them stones. . . . I distributed them equally between my four pockets, and sucked them turn and turn about. This raised a problem which I first solved in the following way. I had say sixteen stones, four in each of my four pockets these being the two pockets of my trousers and the two pockets of my greatcoat. Taking a stone from the right pocket of my greatcoat, and putting it in my mouth, I replaced it in the right pocket of my greatcoat by a stone from the right pocket of my trousers, which I replaced by a stone from the left pocket of my trousers, which I replaced by a stone from the left pocket of my greatcoat, which I replaced by the stone which was in my mouth, as soon as I had finished sucking it. Thus there were still four stones in each of my four pockets, but not quite the same stones. . . . But this solution did not satisfy me fully. For it did not escape me that, by an extraordinary hazard, the four stones circulating thus might always be the same four. In which case, far from sucking the sixteen stones turn and turn about, I was really only sucking four, always the same, turn and turn about.


I felt the weight of the stones dragging me now to one side, now to the other. So it was something more than a principle I abandoned, when I abandoned the equal distribution, it was a bodily need. But to suck the stones in the way I have described, not haphazard, but with method, was also I think a bodily need. Here then were two incompatible bodily needs, at loggerheads. Such things happen. But deep down I didn’t give a tinker’s curse about being off my balance, dragged to the right hand or the left, backwards and forwards. And deep down it was all the same to me whether I sucked a different stone each time or always the same stone, until the end of time. For they all tasted exactly the same. And if I had 
collected sixteen, it was not in order to ballast myself in such and 
such a way, or to suck them turn about, but simply to have a little 
store, so as never to be without. But deep down I didn’t give a 
fiddler’s curse about being without, when they were all gone they 
would be all gone, I wouldn’t be any the worse off, or hardly any. 
And the solution to which I rallied in the end was to throw away all 
the stones but one, which I kept now in one pocket, now in another, 
and which of course I soon lost, or threw away, or gave away, or 
swallowed …

– Samuel Beckett, Molloy (1951)

How Gass is going to connect these delicious sucking-stones to the color blue is yet to see …

Here is what has been said about On Being Blue:

This small but memorable treatise, written “for all who live in the country of the blue,” examines the color as state of mind, as Platonic Ideal, as a notoriously erotic hue, and as a color of our interior life. In a brilliant, extended meditation, Gass mulls over blue in literature and art, dance, music, and the popular press. No shade or variation escapes his engaged and engaging prose or his vertiginous asides. This is a witty, lyrical, highly original, and beautifully written book that demands to be read and redefines the meaning of a “philosophical inquiry.”


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