Understanding Stein

It was published in 1951. Gertrude Stein: A Biography of Her Work by Donald Sutherland ends with a chapter on the “meditations” mode of Stein and it is a section delivered in a Q + A dialogue. Both in style and substance, it presents a take on the author and on criticism that is worth quoting at length for two main reasons: the emphasis on forces, tensions, etc. and for the connectedness of something belonging to anything (which is different from everything). Here goes.

Sooner or later criticism will have to get used to thinking in terms of forces, tensions, movements, speeds, attractions, etc., as well as in terms of constructs and animals — not because science says so or philosophy says so at all but because life is conducted more and more in those terms and it is the way life is conducted in a time that is the prime source of steady energy and solid reality in a work that outlasts its time. This kind of composition is getting to be more and more the composition of reality as everyone sees it. It amused Gertrude Stein to find that her early arrangements and abstractions, which had seemed to be highly acrobatic and gratuitous if refined formal exercises, were turning out to be literal transcriptions of the most evident realities, that is the same abstractions and arrangements on which life is more and more consciously conducted by people at large. It is true that we are more comfortable in the composition of 19th century life and literature, in which an actual or a mentioned cup of tea was part of an hour which was part of a day which was part of a week, month, season, or year, which was part of say the annals of Britain, which were part of the the general onward evolution of something that was part of a cosmic order. A sentence was part of a paragraph which was part of a chapter which was part of a book which was part of a shelf of books which was part of England or America or France and so on. Something belonged to everything automatically. But nothing now is really convincingly a part of anything else; anything stands by itself if at all and its connections are chance encounters.

And so a chance encounter with Susan Stewart’s Poetry and the Fate of the Senses and this remarkable sentence from the opening meditation on night, its privations and the drive to create:

The task of aesthetic production and reception in general is to make visible, tangible, and audible the figures of persons, whether such persons are expressing the particulars of sense impressions or the abstractions of reason or the many ways such particulars and abstractions enter into relations with one another.

And that was published in 2002.

And so for day 778

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