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.[1]

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.



1. Tan Lin, Selected Essays about a Bibliography (New York: Edit, 2010), 75.

Twenty-two on 'Tender Buttons'

Sarah Posman
Sueyeun Juliette Lee
Rachel Galvin
Seth J. Forrest
Michael Farrell
Marcella Durand
Rachel Blau DuPlessis
EC Maxe Crandall
Angela Carr
Laynie Browne