I sat down with all of Stein’s books and several anthologies in front of me. I can do this, I said out loud to myself (while by myself). I opened “Tender Buttons,” and then I quickly closed “Tender Buttons.” What the eff just happened? I thought to myself. Why would anyone do this?
Well, Chapter 3: “This shows it all”; Gertrude Stein and the Reader’s Role in the Creation of Significance in the book Queer Poetics: Five Modernist Women Writers by Mary E. Galvin (1999), really helped me suss out some of my “I can’t read Stein” problems. Everything I’m about to say is NOT unique and came directly from Mary E. Glavin. So thanks, Mary!!
10 Things I Learned About Reading Stein:
1. There is most likely NOT a Steinian code by which she speaks to Alice erotically, without drawing censure from larger public.
2. Stein’s writing cannot be cracked… this would be antithetical to Stein’s approach to composition and her articulation of a nonhierarchically based lesbian experience.
3. Her aversion to punctuation is STILL received with varying degrees of hostility and confusion. (She found punctuation to be too directive.)
4. Judy Grahn says about Stein’s use of (or lack of) commas? “She thought this was condescending to and undermining of the independence of mind of the reader.” For the record, independence is overrated.
5. Stein’s poetry mirrors the abdication of the privileged position of knowing (authority). Our social order depends on such principles and the reader feels ungrounded/dislocated without these expected structures.
6. Stein’s use of a finite vocabulary avoided the use of ‘literary’ diction. Through a combination of repetition and variation, Stein found she could create emphasis and degrees of emotional intensity without relying heavily on adjectives and nouns to further her descriptions.
7. Stein abandoned nominalism and severed her dependence on metaphor. She was constantly displaying the multiplicity of being.
8. Stein can be seen as a direct descendent of Emily Dickinson! (In linguistic experimentation, especially.)
9. Both play with the multiplicity of language, its ability for ambiguity, equivocation, and unstable meanings! They both also have a propensity for disrupting categorical distinctions / “truths” they establish. While Dickinson leaves just enough traditional structure in place to make interpretation feasible, Stein pushes her poetics of disruption into realm of rationally unrecognizable
10. Stein undermines the need for critical interpretation, and Judy Grahn says, we (readers) are veiled by our judgments.