The general question for these Analytical Reflection Essays is: what did you find to be interesting, relevant, or important about this week’s lecture or reading — and why? As you consider possible ways to focus your Gertrude Stein essay, remember that Stein is interested in how people see things, and how people tell stories about what they see. You might, for example, choose one object in particular from “Tender Buttons” in the reading packet, and examine how she tries to capture the absolute uniqueness of that object. Or you might respond to the “Portrait of Picasso” in more detail
Gertrude Stein lecture
1. OK this week we’re going to continue exploring modernism through the work ofGertrude Stein. Stein was an important modernist writer in her own right, and she also had a strong impact on many other writers, especially Hemingway. This video lecture will giveyou an overview of Stein’s life and her work, and it will show you not only what influencesshaped her artistic and philosophical beliefs. Along the way, we will define and explore some additional literary and cultural concepts, such as fiction, “stream of consciousness” writing, and “the lost generation.” As you learn about Stein, I’d like you to consider the larger question of modernism and its relation to psychology. How does Gertrude Stein’sinterest in psychology help her contribute to modernist innovation?
So here is a picture of Gertrude Stein, and from the first glance you will probably note that she does not reflect traditional notions of femininity. She was born in 1874, and according to the 19th century American values of her childhood, women were expected to be pious, submissive, pure and domestic. Yet Gertrude Stein was able to escape these expectations because her family was very rich. She spent her childhood in Europe so she developed a refined sense of art and culture early in life. She was also extremely well educated. At Radcliffe College, she studied psychology with
3. William James, who was known as the father of Psychology, and he wrote the first modern Psychology textbook in 1890. This was a work that had a strong impact on manyscientists, including Sigmund Freud. Stein was influenced by William James’s theories ofthe mind and of human emotion, especially the relationship between sensation and perception. He was interested in the way the mind processed and understood humanexperience. Under James’s direction, she pursued a project on
4. Automatic Writing, which is a kind of writing without using the conscious mind. In automatic writing, one attempts to enter a trancelike state in order to access the subconscious.
So we see that even as an undergraduate college student, she was interested in experimenting with new possibilities for writing. After Radcliffe, Stein attended the Johns Hopkins medical school where she studied the anatomy of the brain, but she left medical study because she decided she was more interested in art and writing.
5. In 1903 she moved to Paris and began collecting art. In Paris, Stein also met Alice B. Toklas who became her lifelong companion. This is another way that Stein was radical and nontraditional, she was an ardent feminist and openly lesbian. Alice B. Toklas wasessentially Gertrude Stein’s wife, and together they established a home that welcomed andsupported artists, writers, musicians, and other modernist creatives. Here they are pictured in a home that is well-adorned with artwork in a photograph taken by Man Ray. Gertrude Stein was a great friend of Pablo Picasso and an early collector of cubist Art. The Cubist painters rejected the idea that art should copy nature, or that they should adopt the traditional techniques of perspective, modeling, and foreshortening. They wanted instead
to emphasize the two- dimensionality of the canvas. So they reduced objects and fractured them into geometric forms, and then realigned these within a shallow space. They also used multiple or contrasting points of view.
6. Here’s an example from last week’s lecture, Picasso’s “Three Musicians” to refreshyour memory about how this looks in practice. This painting looks like a collage made from cut out pieces of colored paper. We see simplified forms and angular shapes that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, and rather than offering depth, what we see are flat colorsthat create a surface pattern. Stein’s goal as a writer is to use language in a similar way. She wants her audience of readers to sit up and pay attention to literary form and to thestructure of language in the same way that Cubist painters challenge their audiences’understanding of visual perception. Like Picasso, Stein wants people to look at things critically rather than to see and understand only out of habit. She wants to create a new use for language to explore the limits of what language can do, and in the hopes that it might lead to a new understanding of possibility for words and for language but also of possibility for what can be expressed.
7. Picasso painted her in 1906 and here is that painting. In return, she wrote thisverbal portrait of Picasso, and I’d like to look at this verbal portrait, and to listen to it, as anexample of Stein’s aesthetic beliefs in practice. She wrote this poem in 1923, and it waspublished in Vanity Fair in 1924. As you listen to this poem, please pay attention to the words that she repeats.
- (play recording)
- You probably noticed that this sounded like nonsense – it literally doesn’t not make
sense in any traditional way of understanding language. She uses words in a way that stripsthem of meaning. But it does have a kind of musical quality, doesn’t it? It unfolds in a singsong sort of way, so that the words take on a different role than simply representing. And note what words she is repeating here – would he like it? She’s concerned about howher work will be received. Will Picasso like her portrait? Will audiences like it if she tells them what she has to say? She also repeats, Now, not now, and now — a clear concern withthe present moment. We can see this concern with the present in Hemingway’s title also, InOur Time, the now. Stein also repeats, Exactitude as kings, exactly as as, she’s veryinterested in questioning exact resemblance. And in the repeated mentions of Napoleonand kings, she’s calling our attention to patriarchal power, and to figures of authority fromthe past.
In Stein what we see is a writer who is trying to expand the boundaries of possibility for prose writing. She breaks from tradition to experiment with new forms. Her approach to language becomes both abstract and simple. She wanted to transcend representation and reveal an underlying structure in the world.
In her prose writing, she was a master of the long unpunctuated sentence, and she was also one of the originators of the
10. stream-of-consciousness style of writing. Part of the reason why I explained her academic background in psychology and undergraduate research into automatic writing is so you could understand why she would be interested in stream of consciousness.
A stream of consciousness combines the psychology of consciousness — how your mind works — with the psychology of language in the use of words. The questions that really interested William James — questions like, what is consciousness? how does consciousness relate to the whole personality? is consciousness continuous or discontinuous? — these are all questions that Gertrude Stein explores through her own writing. Stream of consciousness was originally a term from psychology that was borrowed into literature. In psychology it refers to the ongoing or continuous flow of past and present experience through the conscious mind. Anyone who has studied or practiced mindfulness meditationknows exactly what I’m talking about here – you try to follow the flow of your thoughts and you jump from past to present to future to planning to worrying to cold to hungry to noises that distract you – all in a matter of less than one minute. That simultaneous flow of past and present is a psychological transaction and it is precisely the transaction that modernist writers are trying to capture and render in language.
So stream of consciousness writing is a narrative mode that renders an individualcharacter’s interior mind on his or her thoughts as they happen. Stream of consciousness tries to give you direct access to mental processes rather than having them translated intosomething that’s grammatically correct in a coherent and understandable structure. Itincludes the free mental flow and free association rather than logic. As we see with the verbal portrait of Picasso, it comes across as fragmented and illogical and sometimes incoherent – but that is exactly the way our thoughts and emotions and sensory impressions emerge.
11. As I mentioned earlier, Stein and Toklas maintained an artistic and literary salon, where writers and artists and intellectuals would gather to discuss their work, and it was there that Hemingway came to know Stein. She mentored his writing and influenced his vision and his literary style. Hemingway viewed Stein’s impressive collection of Cezannes,and Monets, and Picassos, and he knew that he wanted to write the way they had painted: with that clarity, and that vision, and with all the colors and shapes and direct appeal to the senses.
Hemingway visited Stein’s salon often and he soon realized that he could learn much fromher. He was impressed by her use of the continuous present tense and her steady repetition of key phrases that created meanings larger than the words themselves. He wanted to acquire those techniques for himself, so he asked for and gladly accepted Stein’s advice.
12. You may have heard the term “Lost Generation,” and this is a term that was coinedby Gertrude Stein. Lost generation this is used to describe the expatriate group of young American writers who were disillusioned by the all of senseless death and destruction of the Great War. Partly this was a response to the Great War, which was a cataclysmic event.
Today, we know it as World War 1, but at the time they didn’t expect a second world war, so they called it The Great War, they understood it as The War to End All Wars.
These Lost Generation writers rejected the society that they viewed as hypocritical and they hated its materialism, which is why many of them left the US and lived in Paris and London. They were decidedly modernists — they embraced the avant-garde, they embraced modernism. And their aimlessness was also connected to a sense of moral loss or moral absence, and a big part of the reason the reason for their cynicism what that they no longer had hope or faith in their world. The War really devastated them, because it seemed to have destroyed the idea that if you acted virtuously good things will happen. Following the Great War, many good young man went to war and died or they returned home physically or mentally wounded and for many of them it was both. Their faith in a just and moral world that had given them hope in the past was no longer valid.
13. In addition to our reading the Portrait of Picasso, this week, we’re also reading a few of Stein’s prose poems from a book called Tender Buttons. This book was published in 1914, right around the same time that William Carlos Williams was writing many of the poemswe discussed last week. In some ways, Stein’s concerns were similar to Williams’s. Here, she is also looking at everyday, mundane objects, not unlike Williams’s interest in plumsand wheelbarrows. But Stein is using language in an unfamiliar way in order to make these everyday objects seem strange, to seem unrecognizable.
14. Her goal here is to “create a word relationship between the word and the things seen”so she’s trying to describe an object without using the object’s agreed-upon name. It’s easy to make fun of Stein’s writing, and lots of people have done so, but I don’t want you todismiss it too quickly. She is not being difficult for the sake of being difficult, but she is asking really hard questions about the relationship between words and the world. How does language construct the world we live in? What is the relationship between words and the objects they represent? What is the relationship between language and power – for example, in the power to name someone, or to name yourself, or to choose your ownpersonal pronouns? Gertrude Stein’s writing asks questions that can’t be easily answered.
addresses the writing prompt in order to make an original and focused observation about the week’s reading and/ or lecture material
offers clear and specific examples from the text/ lecture to support theoriginal and focused observation at the heart of the paper
writing quality is appropriate for college level: readable prose (grammatically and syntactically correct), accessible tone (neither too stiffly formal nor too casually informal), avoids repetition
clear organization, effective paragraph development and paragraph breaks, gestures towards introduction and conclusion
substantive content and length: meets the minimum word count, focuses primarily on class material, avoids empty words and filler text