Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) Biography Aesthetics Reception Texts General Principles Biography Portrait by Picasso Stein & Alice B. Toklas Rue de Fleurus Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University Aesthetics The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas , 1933
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They always say . . . that my writing is appalling but they always quote it and what is more, they quote it correctly. . . . My sentences do get under their skin, only they do not know that they do.
I was very much interested to know just what they know about what is good publicity and what is not. Harcourt was very surprised when I said to him on first meeting him in New York remember this extraordinary welcome that I am having does not come from the books of mine that they did understand like the Autobiography but the books of mine that they did not understand.
People today like contemporary comforts, but they take their literature and art from the past. They are not interested in what the present generation is thinking or painting if it doesn’t fit the enclosure of their personal comprehension. Present day geniuses can no more help doing what they are doing than you can help not understanding it, but it you think we do it for effect and to make a sensation, you’re crazy. It’s not our idea of fun to work for thirty or forty years on a medium of expression and have ourselves ridiculed.
Lack of popular success in America is the last of my worries. I am working for what will endure, not a public. Once you have a public you are never free. No one who is ever to be really great succeeds until he is past forty, be he inventor, painter, writer or financial genius.
All this foolishness about my writing being mystic or impressionistic is so stupid. . . . Just a lot of rot. I write as pure, straight, grammatical English as any one, more accurate, grammatically than most. There isn’t a single one of my sentences that a school child couldn’t diagram.
—New York World
Picasso said, 'You see, the situation is very simple. Anybody that creates a new thing has to make it ugly. The effort of creation is so great, that trying to get away from the other things, the contemporary insistence, is so great that the effort to break it gives the appearance of ugliness. Your followers can make it pretty, so generally followers are accepted before the master. The master has the stain of ugliness. The followers who make it pretty are accepted. The people then go back to the original. They see the beauty and bring it back to the original.
It was to be expected that the Futurists, having ceased to dismay us with their art, and having foisted their primary and violent colors upon us in the outre fashions of the moment, would address themselves to literature. Forthwith, Doctor Dippy is outdone.
Gertrude Stein has perpetrated the latest Cubist joke. In a book that in contents suggests an insane asylum as its inspiration, she thus describes 'Mildred's Umbrella.’
The most remarkable thing about this 'new literature' is that there are people who pretend to understand that in which there is nothing to understand, and thus help on the sorry jest. Naturally, having accepted Futurist art, those forever on the lookout for the new thing must read meanings into another form of the unintelligible. With most amazing facility the world 'puts up a bluff' and gets in line with new fashion.
Sir: My 8-year-old niece is a devoted admirer of Miss Gertrude Stein's. She believes that Miss Stein has solved the problem of self-expression that now chains an unenlightened world to school benches and its ABCs. School cuts into one's play time frightfully, you know. Miss Stein's way is so much more satisfactory--you just write it, and there it is! After a preliminary course, my niece wrote me the following letter:
'Pig you the pap is you by my you bear the Jack you bear is a cat and the cat is. --Elsiette
I see in this letter a great and revolutionary meaning. Don't you? --D.
I asked of Gertrude Stein: 'Explain
Why they are fighting on the Aisne.’
She mused a space and then exclaimed:
'What seal brown bobble can be blamed?'
Stein’s writing seems “to express anarchy in art.”“Boston has seen some of the paintings of Matisse and Picasso, the sculptures of Brancusi, which created such a stir of amazement and contempt last spring. It has heard too, perhaps, of the new symphonies, wild sounds produced on new and unmusical instruments, which originated lately in Italy. Boston has pretended to try not to understand them, nor to admit that there is anything to understand, not even the point of view of the perpetrators.”
“To begin at the far frontiers, where literary expression as we know it jumps off into the deep waters of unintelligible derangement of words”
“A page read aloud . . . is really rhythmical, a pure pattern of sound.”
After a hundred lines of this I wish to scream, I wish to burn the book, I am in agony. It is not because I know that words cannot be torn loose from their meanings without insulting the intellect. It is not because I see that this is a prime example of the ‘confusion of the arts.’ No, my / feeling is purely physical. some one has applied an egg beater to my brain.
But having calmed myself by a sedative of flat prose from the paper, I realize that Miss Stein is more sinned against than sinning. She is merely a red flag waved by the Zeitgeist.
For this is the sort of thing we are bound to get if the lid is kept down on the stylists much longer. Repression has always bred revolt. Revolt breeds extravagance. And extravagance leads to absurdity. And yet even in the absurd, a sympathetic observer may detect a purpose which is honest and right. Miss Stein has indubitably written nonsense, but she began with sense. For words have their sound-values as well as their sense-values, and prose rhythms do convey to the mind emotions that mere denotation cannot give. Rewrite the solemn glory of Old Testament diction in the flat colorless prose which just now is demanded and wonder at the difference. [I]magine a Carlyle, an Emerson, a Lamb forced to exclude from his vocabulary every word not readily understood by the multitude, to iron out all whimseys, all melodies from his phrasing, and to plunk down his words one after the other in the order of elementary thought.
“My brother, as it turned out, had not been satisfied with the explanation of Miss Stein’s work then current in America, and so he bought Tender Buttons and brought it to me, and we sat for a time reading the strange sentences. ‘It gives words an oddly new intimate flavor and at the same time makes familiar words seem almost like strangers, doesn’t it,’ he said.”
Stein “surprises and delights”: “the most important pioneer work done in the field of letters in my time.”
Quotes Stein “Point, face, canvas, toy, struck off, sense or, weigh coach, soon beak on, so suck in, and an iron.” Then: “Here, too, we have the appeal of significant form. The sentence is structurally contenting: it begins with a group of four isolated words, follows with three groups of two words, then two groups of three words, and finally a curt swing to a close. I quote one more instance, where the appeal is just as spontaneous, although more complex and difficult to analyze: ‘Lie on this, show sup the boon that nick the basting thread thinly and night night gown and pit wet kit. Loom down the thorough narrow.’”
“Art, that is, is a process of individualization; form is general, subject matter is specific.”
“Miss Stein’s method is one of subtraction” and that is its problem.
“Here is the absurdity of romanticism, or individualism; here we see carried to the extreme the tendency to take the personality of the individual as a virtue in itself . . .”
“It has taken me several weeks to clarify my own feelings about Miss Stein’s writings. Her work appears to have a certain amount of real virtue, but to understand or apprehend that virtue a reader would have to study Miss Stein’s methods for years; whereas this is the first book of hers that I have read.”
“This [history of Stein’s interest in psychology] may account for the fact that this book, at first sight, appears to be a collection of heterogeneous words, thrown together without any respect for meaning, but only a respect for the shape and rhythm of sentences. I hope I shall not be regarded as a reactionary, but I am bound to say that I prefer words, when collected into a sentence, to convey some sense. And Miss Stein’s sentences do not always convey sense—not even a new one.
After quoting a sentence from Stein: “This sentence, no doubt, would throw a psycho-analyst into a frenzy of excitement; and it was probably written for this purpose; but exciting psycho-analysts is not the highest aim of literature.”
G is for Gertrude Stein's limpid lucidity,
(Eloquent scribe of the Futurist soul.)
Cubies devour each word with avidity:
"Alone words lack sense," they affirm with placidity,
"But how wise we'll be when we've swallowed the
--G is for Gertrude Stein's limpid lucidity.
I called the canvas Cow with cud
And hung it on the line,
Altho’ to me ‘twas vague as mud,
‘Twas clear to Gertrude Stein.
`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.
A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference Is spreading.
A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading.
Any neglect of many particles to a cracking, any neglect of this makes around it what is lead in color and certainly discolor in silver. The use of this is manifold. Supposing a certain time selected is assured, suppose it is even necessary, suppose no other extract is permitted and no more handling is needed, suppose the rest of the message is mixed with a very long slender needle and even if it could be any black border, supposing all this altogether made a dress and suppose it was actual, suppose the mean way to state it was occasional, if you suppose this in August and even more melodiously, if you suppose this even in the necessary incident of there certainly being no middle in summer and winter, suppose this and an elegant settlement a very elegant settlement is more than of consequence, it is not final and sufficient and substituted. This which was so kindly a present was constant.
Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea.
Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea.
Susie Asado which is a told tray sure.
A lean on the shoe this means slips slips hers.
When the ancient light grey is clean it is yellow, it is a silver seller.
This is a please this is a please there are the saids to jelly. These are the wets these say the sets to leave a crown to Incy.
Incy is short for incubus.
A pot. A pot is a beginning of a rare bit of trees. Trees tremble, the old vats are in bobbles, bobbles which shade and shove and render clean, render clean must.
Drink pups drink pups lease a sash hold, see it shine and a bobolink has pins. It shows a nail.
What is a nail. A nail is unison.
Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea.