MODERNISM’S HITS AND MISSES

The HITS

1. Skyscrapers Useful.  Spectacular.  Yet, like almost every aspect of Modernism, a certain irony in the success: Modernism’s brutal, in-your-face archicture is the very face of what Modernism was supposed to be protesting: big, industrial take-over.

2. T.S. Eliot  Effete, gloomy, prejudiced, but most talented writer of the lot.

3. New Criticism  A certain intellecutal elan, but at great pedantic cost.

4. Jean Cocteau   Just really cool.  It is said the news that Edith Piaf died killed him.

5. The MFA Creative Writing Workshop.  Yes, a Modernist creation of Paul Engle, Allen Tate and John Crowe Ransom.  Great idea, commercially successful, but often reflects the crass, cheap clique-ish aspects of Modernism.

6. Gertrude Stein “A rose is a rose is a rose.”  A clown, but a savvy one.

7. William Butler Yeats Actually wrote some good poems

8. Bertolt Brecht Lucky to have Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya as partners, and not a bad poet.

9. Garcia Lorca Beautiful poetry

10. Abstract Art One complaint, though: all that lovely color should be on ugly industrial buildings and such; it’s a waste to be only in museums and private homes—where it often looks pretentious.

The MISSES

1. Manifesto-ism Pedantry, over-argument, splintering.  Makes you want to memorize a poem or two; or learn Latin or Greek or Hebrew…

2. Bauhaus The ugly factory.   Bauhaus building trade bucks enriched the modern painting con.  The puzzle of  millions chasing ugly art: solved.

3. Cubism Wins the Pretense Award in many categories.

4. James Joyce The most famous unread author.  Reinforces crass Irish stereotypes—no wonder the bluebloods love him.

5. Imagism Uh…memo to Pound and Williams: the Japanese already did it…it’s called haiku.

6. 12 Tone Music Get me out of this place.

7. John Crowe Ransom Very questionable taste, cunning essayist.

8. Apollinaire Wanted the Louvre burned down, but this iconoclast fights in WW I?  Died as a result—served him right.

9.  Charles Olson Ugh.

10. Picasso A blue period.

27 Comments

  1. horatiox said,

    August 4, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    I agree with most of your anti-modernist sentiments but don’t agree with your assessment of James Joyce. Many ‘Mericans pretend to understand Joyce’s writing–and tend to make the usual sentimental irish generalizations– but most haven’t made it past the first few chapters of “Portrait” (or first five pages of Ulysses). Besides, bio-speaking, Joyce was no blue blood– Eliot was.

    Ulysses presents a Weltanschauung of sorts– directly related to catholicism, of the thomistic variety (I suspect “Supa” is getting her panties in a wad already…..). Yet…not exactly affirming thomistic tradition. To read the book intelligently, however one needs to know something about the tradition–and dare we say western civilization–it’s not just like reading the morning sports section, yr favorite beat madhouse revery, or college goil pillow talk.

    The text relates to greek myth (ie the Odyssey itself), Aristotle, church paddies like Aquinas, Dante, irish politics and history (especially in regard to England…), Vico’s ideas on history, the Reformation, and then finally …modernism , including Ibsen and french belle-lettres (tho’ I think Joyce tended to ..parody french realism, AND English scribes as well)–and let’s not forget the dazzling wordplay, drawing on all latinate languages, gaelic, scando-germanic, a smattering of sanskrit and …who knows what else…

    U. is a difficult complex book which I don’t claim to have mastered–and it’s not amenable to mere synopsis or generalization, really. I do not think it just offers stereotypes. Leopold Bloom is not a stereotype really. Nor is “Molly” . Or Daedalus… (tho’—-perhaps “types”…as Ulysses himself was. And ..most readers overlook the..Dantean aspects, however quaint–or macabre: where does Ulysses reside …like inferno-wise? not such a great location)

    Really JoyceSpeak quite surpasses the cheap Tory-churchman dreams of Eliot, or faux-marxists, and most of the modernists. JJ’s near the peak of Parnassus with a few authentic greats while the pack of bellelettrists and poeticals are still stuck at the first switchback.

  2. Mabool said,

    August 4, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Joyce failed. Yiddish succeeded. Which have you used? Ans: Yiddish, i.e. shtick.

    • horatiox said,

      August 4, 2010 at 6:50 pm

      Nada mas que basura.

      No, you’re mistaken. Mabool…or another non sequitur. There’s no schtick, except maybe yours. Joyce succeeds. For that matter, the book’s full of latinate words (no yiddlish to be found) In brief, Bloom’s…. a demon of sorts, as is his consort…Molly . Not specifically…anti-semitic (as the sob sisters and freudian frauds teach it) but…well you can connect the dots. It’s just that anything authentically irish catholic tends to bother AIPAC land–and WASP land for that matter. Blooms don’t like to hear they’re reading for…Malebolge land.

      • thomasbrady said,

        August 4, 2010 at 8:26 pm

        Mabool’s pithy comment is not without merit.

        No one speaks Joyce, yet one must speak Joyce to enjoy the book. As an artistic work meant to be read by more than a few, wouldn’t that mark it as a failure?

        There’s no doubt that U. is full of linguistic beauties, and no disrespect intended—but how are they experienced? Perhaps U. needs to be differently organized, like a reference book…

      • horatiox said,

        August 4, 2010 at 8:49 pm

        No one? Not quite. Very few Joe Six packs can read it or understand it, but …scholars read it, as do europeans (and small latin, less greek here…y …yo puedo leer espanol y un poco frances…). For that matter…English…an odd mix of ….anglo saxon with latinate additions does not yiddlish make.

        The poly-glot challenges form part of the sublimity of U., really–again, not so different from Sapir-whorf hypothesis. Those raised in the latin and catholic …tradition are quite different creatures than the monolingual WASP or zionists–indeed thats a modernist sort of view (to their credit…they opposed the Mark Twain type of colloquial realism…).

        Fenians considered English itself …imperialistic, and wanted a return to irish gaelic. Joyce was probably influenced by that view (for that matter, Joyce actually knew irish gaelic, along with latin, italian etc. and JJ–supposedly–read Annals of the Four Masters, and other irish texts in the original…unlike his freakish phony cuz Yeats…)

        Americans think that Jeezuss himself spoke English. Or yiddish maybe. He probably spoke koine greek first, with a smattering of Aramaic (hebrew not even a language until 4-5 ad)

      • horatiox said,

        August 4, 2010 at 9:43 pm

        Re-peruse Ulysses and you will also note a very few interesting and cryptic references to Mohammed (as in.. the Prophet). Not sure what JJ’s official view was….he seems a bit ambivalent (tho not exactly approving), and an offhanded reference doesn’t suffice to prove much. Yet….I would assert Joyce was a bit wary of islam….somewhat similar to how he was wary of judaism. Moreover the Prophet doesn’t fare too well in Dante’s dream visions, does he. Either way it’s another interesting facet of Ulysses ignored by most in the college-ville bellelettres camps–

  3. Tattooch said,

    August 4, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    When discussing Modernism, I wonder “When did Modernism become Post-Modernism?” Well, when did Toasties become Post Toasties? As the philosopher Daniel Powter sang, “Where is the moment that you needed the most?” Did Modernism transform into a “post” state after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? After three years of undeclared war between China and the U.S. in Korea? After the assassination of JFK by “ass-ass-in” Oswald and Warren knows whom else?

  4. thomasbrady said,

    August 4, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    I’d say post-modernism begins with Elvis Presley and Andy Warhol…

  5. thomasbrady said,

    August 4, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Happy birthday, Shelley. Aug 4

    Here’s a poem the Modernists hated…

    A Lament

    O world! O life! O time!
    On whose last steps I climb,
    Trembling at that where I had stood before;
    When will return the glory of your prime?
    No more — Oh, never more!

    II.
    Out of the day and night
    A joy has taken flight;
    Fresh spring, and summer, and winter hoar,
    Move my faint heart with grief, but with delight
    No more — Oh, never more!

  6. Mabool said,

    August 4, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    Mistakenly, I put a comment in the JOWL thread that should have been here. It is a link to my blog in re Horatiox. The message is this:

    By now everyone has heard of the Silliman Blog comment stream degringolade. 1) This represents the transition to Facebook, where comment moderation is done by machine. 2) For some reason, in the aftermath of this, some horrible character by the name of Horatiox went around flaming everybody’s blog. We recommended that he be kicked off the blogs and he was. But he brought a measure of insight to the written word which none of the other bloggers have. It is the inspired madman thing which mainstream blogs like Sillimans and Harriets can’t handle.

    • horatiox said,

      August 4, 2010 at 11:39 pm

      Not accurate really. I made a very few comments, taken out of context about Silliman’s petty tyranny and censorship (not to say hypocritical little power trip). Im not in the “scene” Malbool. What a Jessica Smith or her cronies say doesn’t interest me (after perusing like a few examples of her verse she appears to be another Hallmarker anyway…Sandpiper. Piperette. Spindrifter… Spin drift, spin drift away wit’ me). And one or two “chingas” aren’t even close to hate speech. NO one’s quoted Mein Kampf. Or even Glenn Beck (except for Silliman’s conservative cronies such as Kirby Olson. Jessica Smith sounds nearly like a Foxnews zombie as well)

      Who cares really. It’s already boring and not like moving product. Silliman will sink into obscurity. And what a selfish punk. That’s what you should think. I mean, even if the comments were …95% dreck some waifish loser might have valued them. Or had her favorite haiku up, etc. Fatman could have warned everyone at least.

      Feliz cumpleanos, phantasmo de Shelley

      FIN

      • Mabool said,

        August 5, 2010 at 12:39 am

        Basically, I am on Silliman’s side on this one. I don’t want you commenting on my blog because I don’t want to have to moderate the comment stream. Still, the dichotomy thing is there.

        Doctrines, dogmas, orthodoxies, hermeneutics.
        Dichotomies, anomalies, fallacies, exigencies,
        or reasonable facsimiles thereof.
        Narratives, pieties, psychiatrics, apologies.
        Scenarios, paradigms, algorithms, heuristics.

  7. Franz Bonkerz said,

    August 4, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    It’s been interesting time in Foetry, these past few weeks. Facebook. Comment Field Bullies. CFB’s of AmPo being identified as a disgrace to and by gated communities whose access to loachmhír, log enech, face-price, for a poem in the book, retails at what freebie luv frequencies from a crowd of pretending greats in their contemporary tenth-gen filigree AmPo dis-agreement of ours, don wan Tuatha Dé Danann túras, whose intuition proven in Letters, is writing toward the language of love-leaves remembered in the poetry – dán – gift-talent-vocation, of this fate-destiny, conceives whose Don dán poetry, is a new kid in town, everybody loves him, don’t they,

    Even your old friends
    treat you like you’re something new.

    ~

    Though-cops abound policing cyberville, checking out the undesirables, agreeing to, collectively demonize, Horatiox, Mabool, Whoever, X rated effers making a show of ’emselves in print, in the name of …what?

    Themselves? Us? You? Me?

    Not you or me, because we love poetry and don’t even know about it until after the event, pretending to chase time from space and vice versa; innit, face-fwendz soo in lurve wiv an idea of being the sherrif, in charge, ordering others about, telling them who to watch out for, wqhose dangerous, whose words are insane and the sign of mental illness, not fantastically civilzed poetry, like we, the clever, sensitive, always right mass of mid-grade ‘arse dribble’ keeping safe some tin-pot non-existent community of sad-acts (like myself) who wake up and turn to face our love, a virtual ‘book’ of potential freinds and suspects and hetronyms, made up shit, lies, outright fraud perpetuated on a scale so vast, you’ve to be either/or and/or, both, to get away with being bland. That’s the ticket. Hello online collegues: as a concerned bore who’s gonna settle the theory before speaking of the real moi, a total dribbler from the ars poetica dept, as/in moi, moi, moi, a very unimportant somebody to myself, of course darlinkers, but wannabe God to every other competitor-reind spewing outta cyberville, you fucks.

    Wake fecking up, everybody!!

    Do you know how many lies a day the average person tells?

    A hundred? Thousand? Million? Billion? Trillion?

    What is Reality?

    Do you know? I don’t, and I’ve spent ten fucking years searching cyberspace for a definitive answer about all the many thousands and millions and billions of unaswered questions one could think to ask and weave together into some bland boring group-think-speak nonsense that is but total lies from a million facebooks fwends all agreeing we do not wank.

    Me, no, never done it. Disgraceful behavior. Out fucking rageous, that shit. String up the weirdos and make ’em suffer. Who the fuck do they think they are, those pple like us who are honest enough to cruicfy our truth before our very eyes and drown our ears in weirdo speech, making us all agree it makes us feel collectively and singularly fake foetry poetasters who’re gonna just ignore and pretend that gravity-rush we get on reading that word, aint got owt te dae wiv moi, you cants failing to express what well within called …go on, have a fucking guess you lying bastards, fit for nowt but preening yr specs, innit ideolect, accent, the liddle aul foda, fecking ye oop, nae and a nonny nonny nah, so away to foldero do.

    Ah!’s innit fab, all this groovy shit going on online, with professional lyricists, lanpoists, flarfists, thisists and thatists, all talking wank, mates, pulling each other off in the biggest faux blow-job ever faked, our own lips sucking on …go on, have a guess.

  8. notevensuperficial said,

    August 5, 2010 at 5:02 am

    the usual sentimental irish generalizations

    Such as? Which “‘Mericans” make these “generalizations” with respect to Ulysses?

    the first few chapters of “Portrait”

    A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man has five ‘parts’, or “chapters”.

    directly related to catholicism, of the thomistic variety

    Ulysses is set in Dublin, on the island of Ireland, in 1904. Is there any other such novel not “directly related to [C]atholicism”?

    What, in Ulysses, is “directly related” to Thomism? (Thomas is mentioned three times (once substantially but in passing, once by the misnomer “Aquinas”), Thomism nowhere that I could find.)

    The text relates to [. . .] who knows what else.

    One “else” thing would be eastern European Jewry, which includes the father of the novel’s ‘Ulysses’ figure.

    most readers overlook the Dantean aspects

    Name five prominent “readers” who “overlook” the effect of Dante on Joyce.

    Bloom’s a demon of sorts

    How so?

    his consort…Molly

    What action, in Ulysses, would encourage one to use the sexy term “consort” to describe Bloom’s and Molly’s relationship?

    Molly, with whom Bloom hasn’t had sex in years, is his wife. In the novel, she ‘consorts’ with a man named Boylan.

    (No yiddlish [sic] to be found)

    There sure is.

    For example, in the fourteenth section (called Oxen of the Sun), when we hear:

    “No fake, old man Leo. S’elp me, honest injun. Shiver me timbers if I had. There’s a great big holy friar. Vy for you no me tell? Vel, I ses, if that aint a sheeny nachez, vel. I vil get misha mishinnah. Through yerd our Lord, amen.”

    Not specifically…anti-semitic

    Nor generally, nor in any other way, either.

    In fact, the Citizen, in the section called Cyclops (or Polyphemus), cuts a most squalid picture of ‘anti-semitism’. Bloom, the ancestral Jew of Hungarian descent (“Virag” is Hungarian for ‘flower’), reminds the Citizen – to the Citizen’s great fury – that “your god was a jew“.

    authentically irish catholic

    Of course, the book’s chief odyssean figure, Bloom, is “authentically” no such thing, his mother having been an Irish Protestant and his (Jewish) father having converted – to Protestantism.

    not so different from Sapir-[W]horf hypothesis

    How is “the poly-glot challenges form[ing] part of the sublimity of [Ulysses“, in even the remotest way, similar to the “Sapir-[W]horf hypothesis”?

    [Jeezuss] probably spoke

    Jesus certainly spoke Aramaic, the lingua franca of Palestine in the centuries before the destruction of the Second Temple.

    Maybe he knew a few Greek words – though how many? he wasn’t a merchant, and all but one of the disciples were Jewish – , and maybe a few Latin expressions, being a (distant) resident of the Roman empire.

    Hebrew first flourished as a spoken language no later than 1000 BC, and, as a Jew, Jesus must have learned at least ceremonial Hebrew.

    (as in…the Prophet)

    There is no mention, that I can find, of “the Prophet” in Ulysses.

    Mohammed is referred to once, in the fifth part (Lotus-Eaters): “Mohammed cut a piece of his mantle not to wake her.” – a reference to a hadith that exemplifies Mohammed’s kindness to animals. (Bloom has, in his hands, a love-note and a flower.) As Mahound, his “magic” is once referred to.

    What, in Ulysses, would give one reason “[to] assert [that] Joyce was a bit wary of [I]slam”?

    [Joyce] was wary of judaism

    Oh, really? What, in the portrait of Bloom – his inner life, actions, reasonably inferred character – , would cause anyone to sense authorial wariness of Bloom’s ancestral religion, which is the ethnicity all the other characters understand him through?

    ———

    bullshitiox, you’ve never read a page written by Joyce, have you? Not even one short story . . .

  9. The Noochie-Coochie Man said,

    August 5, 2010 at 11:47 am

    When I.F. and Chomsky
    Turned ‘gainst th’Israeli state,
    Postmod’nism truly
    Began to undulate.

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 5, 2010 at 3:43 pm

      Stone and Chomsky
      From Huxley, ‘an teacher, Russell,
      Trained by Empire to sow dissent,
      Divsion, doubt, fear and tussle.

      Let y’r enemies do the fighting
      While you, the catalyst, ‘scape unscathed.
      Israel, a colonial remnant,
      To hell by Betrand Russell paved?

  10. thomasbrady said,

    August 5, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    “I bet your never read a page written by Joyce…”

    That’s my point. No one has. We know Joyce as Cliff Notes, because that’s the only way to “know” Ulysses.

    Joyce sacrificed unity on the altar of analogy. Dublin is Greece, the milk man is John the Baptist, etc It’s like Eliot and Pound, it’s all about the footnotes and the references…it’s pedantry run wild. Even Joyce hasn’t read Joyce…Joyce is just horatiox writ large…

    Supe, you speak as if Ulysses is an ‘authority’ we have to bow down to and ‘get right.’ Why?

    I also don’t like ethnic razzle-dazzle; I think it’s in poor taste…are you a good jew or a bad jew? am i jewish? am I half-jewish? Can I tell you about a bad jew who was good to a good jew who was really a bad jew without offending your jewishness? Are you a jew? What kind of a jew? A practicing jew? What do jews do in Ulysses? Is Ulysses a jewish text? Or a catholic text? Are the catholics good or bad? What did Joyce think? What is the catholic point of view? Is there change in the air? Is there something new? I smell a catholic, I smell a protestant, I smell a jew. Sylvia went to the loo and took her Ulysses, looking for a clue. How ’bout you?

    I find all that crap very boring.

    Joyce, Pound, and Eliot ARE PEDANTS. I think that sort of obsession turns one into a bigot, too, which is what they were, weren’t they? Two of them, anyway, are convicted bigots. All their so-called “authority” lies in pedantry. All of them seek to make a name for themselves as professors of Dante and Homer and Ovid who happen to be writing fiction—which is really, really stupid and really, really boring. To worship such pedantry and browbeat others with it is a disservice to Letters.

    I’m going to quote page 893 of Ulysses, sir, and prove once and for all that you are a ninny!

    • notevensuperficial said,

      August 6, 2010 at 12:36 am

      an ‘authority’

      No, Tom, to me, it’s a sometimes-boring, sometimes- beautiful novel – there are people who treasure without concern for “footnotes” or “references” the parts they find beautifully written.

      In fact, Ulysses is no more an “authority” than is The Cask of Amontillado, about which readers could quibble as to internal details – not as an obsession, or in support of bigotry, and certainly not (necessarily) out of a love-gone-seedily-into-worshipful-pedantry.

      Rather, the point would be to be clear and specific about how Poe’s tale worked, how it was ‘able’ to mean what, and as much as, it did to some particular reader. I don’t find this kind of specificity and clarity “stupid” or “boring”.

      ethnic razzle-dazzle

      I don’t like the ethnic pigeon-holing much, either – I didn’t choose to make the remarks I was responding to!

      However, Bloom’s being Jewish is part of the story that Joyce tells – especially, in a nasty way, in the Cyclops episode, but his heritage is mentioned one way or another many times. (If you like, I can find examples . . .) The Catholic catechism and other ceremonies and traditions are also part of the story, as is British occupation – the novel does happen in the United Kingdom! – — all potentially boring “crap”, but all part of Dublin life ca. 1904.

      browbeat

      A strong word, maybe a fair word. I was responding to volunteered perspective – freely offered, but facts are not malleable entitlements.

      – which you’ll see if you go back, once and for all, and read the fine print on the top-and-side edges’ corner of pages 893-4, alongside that nebular choir . . .

      • thomasbrady said,

        August 6, 2010 at 1:33 am

        “British occupation” is a tradition, alright. We speak the language of British occupation, our gods are the gods of British occupation, and the British learned their occupation techniques from Rome. The Romantics were Greeks fighting British occupation and the Modernists are the triumph of British occupation, the triumph of Rome returned.

        Supe, you responded very rationally to my ravings, and I appreciate that.

  11. The Noochie-Coochie Man said,

    August 5, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    What is Christianity
    But ‘Judaism for Dummies’?

    • thomasbrady said,

      August 5, 2010 at 4:41 pm

      Funniest thing I’ve heard all day!

  12. notevensuperficial said,

    August 5, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    Who was Abraham
    but a monotheist for dummies?

  13. thomasbrady said,

    August 6, 2010 at 1:42 am

    Abraham is for dummies, indeed, for he was the father of Ishmael-lites and Israel-lites.

  14. January 6, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    From Quentin Crisp’s wonderful little book How to Have a Life-Style:

    One might describe [Oscar] Wilde as someone who used a very considerable literary talent as a trellis on which to trail an almost overwhelming personality. At this game he was one day to be beaten by a woman who may have been a little girl in America when he was striding through that continent lecturing the barbarians on aesthetics. This lady’s name was Miss Gertrude Stein and she was greater than Mr Wilde in that she used a small—some said a non-existent—gift as a colourless fluid in which to suspend a monstrous ego.

    It is heartening, when comparing these two so very different writers, to be able to point out that, though both of them sought world-wide admiration, neither was beautiful in a universally acceptable way. Mr Wilde’s appearance was such that, on first seeing him, Lord Alfred Douglas was sorry for him while Miss Stein, whether in photographs or in Mr Picasso’s portrait of her (painted in her absence), looked like an obstinate, middle-aged man….

    Though Miss Stein had no beauty, she did have other things. One of these was enough money to indulge her whims. In accordance with the laws of style, she did not allow these to multiply. By the time the world began to hear of her, she had only two. The first concerned her environment.

    She wished to live where culture grows wild. She therefore left America for Europe. ‘Art in this century,’ she said, ‘is something done by Spaniards in France.’ Once across the Atlantic, she set about picking artists in handfuls. This she managed by the simple and practical expedient of buying their pictures. Having made the acquaintance of Mr Picasso, Mr Pikabia and others, she cemented her relationship with them by inviting them to dinner and arranging the table so that each painter sat opposite one of his pictures. All this demonstrates her singleness of purpose and her cunning, but she must also have possessed some other quality. It is well known that the only solid food taken by artists is the flesh of patronesses’ hands which distasteful fare they wash down with swigs of absinthe. Yet no one ever seems to have despised Miss Stein. Those who were not members of her immediate circle wished they were. Almost every American of that era who had any artistic pretensions whatever ran all the way to her house the moment his boots struck the beaches of Normandy.

    Miss Stein’s second whim concerned herself. She was not content to carry a banner in the great cultural protest march of her decade; she wanted to wield her own pitchfork or axe or scythe at the storming of the establishment. It was not enough to rule her own coterie; she wanted, like Yum-Yum, to rule the earth.

    All around her the visual arts were being convulsed by cubism, futurism and other forms of abstraction. Miss Stein decided to perform a parallel act of liberation for literature.

    Her crusade was doomed. Colour and, to a lesser extent, shape—especially on a huge scale—evoke a certain emotional response whether they represent recognizable objects or not. Words have almost no power outside their meanings. Alliteration, onomatopoeia, assonance and all the other Tennysonian tricks work only in alignment with the sense of the phrase they decorate. If they move in a contrary direction they become inert.

    Miss Stein disregarded these eternal laws completely and, to provoke her readers further, did not call her writings verse. Had she done this, like Mr e.e. cummings, she might somewhere have won a little dazed acceptance. Miss Barrett’s maid was not the only person who did not expect to understand poetry. Some would rather die. Ignoring this loophole, Miss Stein referred to her shorter pieces as stories though they had no narrative content whatsoever. Even to say this gives to the uninitiated no hint of the anarchy that rages therein. One of these items ends thus—‘Stew stew than.’

    She also penned portraits of people whom she knew but, here again, in none of these did there arise any image of the person whose name was superscribed. As an illustration I quote the beginning of ‘The Portrait of Constance Fletcher’: ‘O the bells that are the same are not stirring and the languid grace is not out of place and the older fur is disappearing…’

    In this style Miss Stein wrote a great deal. She had to in order to convince the world that, even if she was mad, she was sincere. In this she ultimately succeeded. That her work was printed is not surprising. She paid. After a while she did better than this. Her sheer persistence—that massive belief in herself that is one of the prerequisites of style—bludgeoned some publishers into taking her seriously. When she was sufficiently famous for Harper’s Bazaar to print a parody of her prose, she wrote at once to the editor and asked why the magazine did not publish the real thing. ‘It’s much funnier,’ she pointed out. The contribution she sent appeared in a subsequent issue. From this tiny incident we see that she was prepared not merely to accept but to invite ridicule while never openly admitting that she wrote as she did for laughs. In this she resembled those actresses who, playing melodrama, if they fail to make their audience weep, overact until they provoke laughter. There is a vertiginous tightrope stretched between pomposity and clowning that all stylists must be prepared to walk.

    When asked why she wrote at all, Miss Stein spread out her arms and cried, ‘For praise; for praise; for praise.’

    It’s a wonder she didn’t starve. She would have done if she had not been ready to accept, instead of adoration, a few crumbs of blame. Yet she would not gobble up any old crusts of publicity. Along with all other stylists, in the midst of excess, she drew the line somewhere. She lived in France—that country to which Lesbianism is what cricket is to England—yet, though she looked like a man and lived for a lifetime in domestic simplicity with Miss Toklas, she seems seldom to have spoken and never to have written about her love life. She wanted literary notoriety or none.

    Nothing remains of her empire. Of all her books the most readable is Everybody’s Autobiography. This is doubtless still on the shelves of many public libraries but I should be surprised if it is often borrowed. In an effort to revive her memory a few years ago someone wrote a biography of her called The Third Rose. It seemed to cause little stir. The difficulty of recreating the quality of a stylist is almost insurmountable. They are not interesting for what they write or for what they do but for something that they are.

    Not only without looks but without much talent or even sense, Miss Stein, by sheer force of personality, got to know everyone she wanted to know and became a household word throughout the American-speaking world….

  15. April 17, 2013 at 10:01 am

    From Gertrude Stein’s libretto for the opera The Mother of Us All — this excerpt is from Act II, Scene Two:

    ANNE: Oh it was wonderful, wonderful, they listen to nobody the way they listen to you.

    SUSAN B.: Yes, it is wonderful as the result of my work for the first time the word male has been written into the constitution of the United States concerning suffrage. Yes it is wonderful.

    ANNE: But.

    SUSAN B.: Yes, but, what is man, what are men, what are they. I do not say that they haven’t kind hearts, if I fall down in a faint, they will rush to pick me up, if my house is on fire, they will rush in to put the fire out and help me, yes they have kind hearts but they are afraid, afraid, they are afraid, they are afraid. They fear women, they fear each other, they fear their neighbor, they fear other countries and then they hearten themselves in their fear by crowding together and following each other, and when they crowd together and follow each other they are brutes, like animals who stampede, and so they have written in the name male into the United States constitution, because they are afraid of black men because they are afraid of women, because they are afraid, afraid. Men are afraid.

    ANNE: And women.

    SUSAN B.: Ah women often have not any sense of danger, after all a hen screams frightfully when she sees an eagle but she is only afraid for her children, men are afraid for themselves, that is the real difference between men and women.

    ANNE: But Susan B., why do you not say these things out loud?

    SUSAN B.: Why not, because if I did they would not listen, they not alone would not listen they would revenge themselves. Men have kind hearts when they are not afraid but they are afraid afraid afraid. I say they are afraid but if I were to tell them so their kindness would turn to hate. Yes the Quakers are right, they are not afraid because they do not fight, they do not fight.

    ANNE: But Susan B. you fight and you are not afraid, you fight and you are not afraid, fight and you are not afraid, and you will win, and you will win.

    SUSAN B.: I fight and I am not afraid, I fight and I am not afraid. Win what win what, win what win what?

    ANNE: Win the vote for women, and you will win, win the vote for women.

    SUSAN B.: Win the vote for women, win what win what, win the vote for women. Yes some day some day the women will vote, some day the women will vote and by that time, by that time.

    ANNE: Some day the women will vote, women will vote and by that time, oh wonderful time, that time.

    SUSAN B.: But that time it will do them no good because having the vote they will become like men, they will be afraid, having the vote will make them afraid, oh I know it, but I will fight for the right, for the right to vote for them even though they become like men, become afraid like men, become like men.

  16. thomasbrady said,

    April 17, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Mama Stein had it all figured out…

  17. noochinator said,

    September 26, 2018 at 8:02 pm

    Wyndham Lewis wrote that Gertrude Stein “may be described as the reverse of Patience sitting on a monument—she appears, that is, as a Monument sitting upon patience….”


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