The index of 'Tender Buttons'
As Tan Lin says, Tender Buttons is an index:
As Gertrude Stein recognized in Tender Buttons, which constitutes the first literary work of non-fiction to function like a blind index or (colorless) idea that has been typographically reset, the index is a poetical text and a fictional text it sits next to, like a caption in reverse, or a dining room table adjacent to an idea of sexuality, or the temperature of the room in which someone else’s writing took place.
Its entries are intensive, archival, objectless (despite being entirely to do with objects), and itinerant. One reads an entry and asks: what kind of paratext is a poem? Tender Buttons indexes a set of texts: dinners, smalltalks, treats, abstractions, trinkets, interiors. Its entries are paratextually complex — no mere companion but frenemy, on the move, having left the party. The index is a record of a set of concepts as-yet-unnamed. The unchattable as pure chat, left out like a snack cake for visitors. What kind of home is this? One in which the shopping list is a catastrophe — dissociative and sublime.
Stein’s index entries point — not to an object but as a gesture of pointing. A sentence points to itself, says, here, this thing right here. Pet oyster, small sac, slender grey, ink spot, carpet steak, surely rhubarb. A proposition self-points, or yokes to the performance of its little logic. Use values are best when spread everywhere, uncollectable. Some people write like a menu, but not Stein, she writes like a rogue index, all syntax and no background, all proof and no evidence.
If an index, in part, guides reading in its networked, affectionate modes, then Tender Buttons is a lesson on how reading is possible as a way of writing. Reading as writing is a mode of composing wriggled out from superstition: rhythm and assemblage, collection and list, figuration and simple machine, couplet and grouplet. How is writing written? By arranging words like things.