Friday, August 17, 2012

Aimless Reading: The S's, Part 51.1 (Gertrude Stein)

Writings 1932-1946
Stein, Gertrude
Writings 1932-1946

Purchased with its companion volume at the Niagara Falls Outlet Mall discount book store.

I think it may have been Eileen Myles who introduced me to Gertrude Stein's work. I am sure I never studied her writing in college. None of the three modernism courses I took as an undergrad included her. I seem to remember Eileen handing out one of her lectures, "Portraits and Repetition," in a workshop I took with her back in the mid-90s.

We focused in on a part of the essay in which Stein delineates a distinction between "repetition" and "insistence." I remember she recounts a story of her childhood in which her large, boisterous family is sitting around the dinner table and all of them are talking at once. The only way for anyone to be heard is to keep repeating what they say until it is understood. She called this kind of repetition "insistence." I've always liked that distinction.

After that I searched far and wide through the bookstores of New York to find a copy of Lectures in America. I think the best I came up with was a paperback that included "selected" lectures. This was pre-Amazon, so it was a lot more difficult to find books like that if they were not still in print. I am sure these LOA volumes did not exist at the time and the lectures themselves had been out of print for years.

It wasn't long after that when I found myself in Buffalo, inundated with Gertrude Stein. I think we read Tender Buttons and Stanzas in Meditation in the first class I took. And of course the previous generation of Poetics students, especially Juliana Spahr, had not only drawn attention to Stein's work, but had taken some of her innovations in new directions, so the spirit of Stein seemed to permeate the atmosphere.

from "Portraits and Repetition"

The difference between thinking clearly and confusion is the same difference that there is between repetition and insistence. A great many think that they know repetition when they see or hear it but do they. A great many think that they know confusion when they know or see it or hear it, but do they. A thing that seems to be very clear, seems very clear but is it. A thing that seems to be exactly the same thing may seem to be a repetition but is it.

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