Gertrude Stein

You circle around like that restless sound

The erotics of transcription

Carmen McRae

Gertrude Stein wrote at night; Alice Toklas transcribed during the day. In The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Stein has Toklas observe: “As a matter of fact her handwriting has always been illegible and I am very often able to read it when she is not.”

Some Stein scholars  might tell you that several of her manuscripts appear to be written in both Stein’s and Toklas’ handwriting, which has led to even greater contention and consternation about authorship. But I think I might tell you that just writing something down doesn’t make you the text’s author. I also might tell you that I’ve never understood the bother around whether or not Alice meddled with Gertrude’s work. Stein’s is a writing that delights in its reading, and Toklas was her most engaged, and most welcomed, reader.

Not safe for porn

The erotic vs. the pornographic

Not this blue.

Audre Lorde’s essay “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” constitutes pages 53-59 in my edition of Sister Outsider. The paperback is a distinctive blue; it’s the kind of bright, medium blue you see in kindergarten posters or picture books about colors. It’s a color that always gestures: this is “Blue.” This is the color of instruction. I can always immediately locate my Sister Outsider, whether on my bookshelf or among the Jenga-like stacks of books on my floor, because of its blue.

Audre Lorde’s essay “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” constitutes pages 53-59 in my edition of Sister Outsider. The paperback is a distinctive blue; it’s the kind of bright, medium blue you see in kindergarten posters or picture books about colors. It’s a color that always gestures: this is “Blue.” This is the color of instruction. I can always immediately locate my Sister Outsider, whether on my bookshelf or among the Jenga-like stacks of books on my floor, because of its blue.

The fuck-you bow (PoemTalk #90)

Gertrude Stein, 'How She Bowed to Her Brother'

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Maxe Crandall, Julia Bloch, and Sarah Dowling joined Al Filreis to talk about Gertrude Stein’s “How She Bowed to Her Brother.” It was written in late 1931. The text can be found in A Gertrude Stein Reader, edited by Ulla Dydo (564). On PennSound’s Gertrude Stein page, which has been edited and annotated by Dydo, one can hear a recording of Stein performing the first section of the three-section poem.

The thick and the slow of knowledge

On the poet-scholar

Photo courtesy Giulio Menna.

Fidelity to the shapeliness of poetry, in an academy of prose, because knowledge is inseparable, we insist, from the texture and pace of its approach. Knowledge is not front-loaded, though the presiding timeline of production demands it be so. It’s a dawning: ambient, but nonabsorptive, with myriad ports of exit and entry.

Bright arrogance, gallery B

Transduction, transposition, translation

from the notebooks of Jean-Michel Basquiat

It is a truism for the experimental translator that as Google Translate gets better, it actually gets worse.  Witness the demise of the ability to "Turn Your Google Translate Into a Beatbox."  If you follow the instructions now, you only get a perfunctory recitation of consonants, alas.

Recreate that thing!

Not everything Gertrude Stein wrote is worth calling poetry. Stein says so herself in “Poetry and Grammar,” because “for me the problem of poetry was and it began with Tender Buttons to constantly realize the thing anything so that I could recreate that thing.”[1] This pronouncement on Tender Buttons directly contrasts with her account of The Making of Americans in the same lecture and, we presume, to the present participle-filled portraits consuming Stein’s attention pre-1912 — these she would call prose.

Gertrude Stein's gustatory sonics

In his book on Kafka, Gilles Deleuze writes of the difficulty of both eating and speaking — one must choose, it seems, whether to ingest or express. Gertrude Stein, whose soundplay is so tongue-quickening that it always seems pronounced aloud, makes reading both speaking and eating. The “Food” poems of Tender Buttons are full of glorious, sensual mouthfeel.

'100 years of reading and unreading'

The dominant stylistic trait in Tender Buttons is not fragmentation or perspectivism but looping. Stein writes by looping similar or associative words, phrases, riffs, objects, units of meaning, or sonic hooks. She calls it “exact resemblance.” She also loops sense with nonsense, doing and undoing, continuity and discontinuity, sensual interiors with external surrounds, looping the environs into the work. Actually, any kind of binaries can be entwined, just as two identical terms can be spooled. Here is a sentence from “Rooms”: 

'Tender Buttons' at 100

'Is there. That was a question. There was no certainty.'

Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons begins with “A CARAFE, THAT IS A BLIND GLASS,” and with an insistence on the nonmetaphoricity of either object. This first entry famously closes with the line, “The difference is spreading,” and it does, as Stein’s “is” is at denotative work throughout her text.

“A SHAWL” from the section “Objects” reads:

A SHAWL

A shawl is a hat and hurt and a red balloon and an under coat and a sizer a sizer of talks.

Breed that

Tender Buttons is, famously, a text that deals with looking. As Stein details in her Lectures, the book is the result of her decision to “include what is seen with hearing and listening.”[1] The beautiful new edition accentuates this: it is the result of an act of scholarly scrutiny and its facsimile images, showing Stein’s corrections to the first edition, make it possible for everyone to experience the thrill of seeing Stein at work on her text.

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