P. xxxi Richard Kostelanetz intro to the Gertrude Stein Reader he edited (Cooper Square Press, 2002) draws upon the 1951 work by Donald Sutherland (Gertrude Stein: a biography of her work) to present an old rift/riff on the art of time as opposed to the art of space.
To the critic Donald Sutherland these evocations of sound and image are plays, rather than fictions, because they are designed to be performed and because they present “movement in space, or in a landscape.” They are organized not as narratives but as a series of joyous moments, each of which is as important as every other. Rather than telling “what happened,” they are happening. Sutherland continues, “These plays of hers do not tell you anything. They merely present themselves, like a drama or a circus or any play that is really a stage play.”
I find it quite telling that there is a slippage here from “fictions” to “narratives”. Synonyms perhaps. Also a relation between general category and a species.
No matter. I’m not going to elaborate. Suffice it to say that the shape of textual objects has much in common with the traits with other semiotic objects. I do want to focus on the word “circus” in the quotation Kostelanetz pulls from Sutherland to serve the distinction he pushes between narrative/fiction and plays.
Sutherland, in the previous chapter, in a passage relating to Stein’s Tender Buttons [a text not often if ever classified as a “play”], invokes the “circus”:
If the words as ideas in a work are not arranged according to the conventions of logic or the habitual groupings of ideas in life, one can most easily approach them like a circus or a miracle or the tricks of a magician. One should be as intellectually direct and ready as a child or a saint, with a flair for the impossible, for coincidences and collisions, for puns, paradoxes, slapstick, and the outrageous. Tender Buttons and a great deal of work of Gertrude Stein can quite fairly be taken as a sort of Wonderland or Luna Park for anybody who is not too busy.
One of the marvels of course is bending time to space (and evoking the temporality of traversing any space).
And so for day 767