Mary Lim

Sunday, August 31, 2014

t3: gertrude stein research + formal exploration

  • Words that describe Stein's work: rhythmical, hermetic, idiosyncratic, repetitive, stream of consciousness, harmonic, integrative...
  • characteristic of her style: repetition, lack of literary allusion, deceptive simplicity, use of accessible vocabulary, odd juxtapositions of details, suspension of usual logic, contradiction, and words producing a meditative, hypnotic, and harmonic effect on the reader.
  • Stein tries to constantly create a "continuous present" through using words that suggest immediate action and response. For this reason, most of the words she uses are in the present tense, using words that end in "ing." 
  • Here is an overall description of how her work does not manipulate her reader emotionally: 
Unlike other writers of her time, her work shows no alienation, no social judgment, no anger, no fear. As a writer Stein never manipulated her reader emotionally. What evolves from the play Stein creates with words is a Cubistic perspective that allows the reader to see more than one facet of an object or person with all its humor, tragedy, and contradictions. (
  • Stein's work seemingly has no sense or logic, however, it ironically follows strict rules of grammar through overturning them. 
  • This website ( gives insight onto her approach to poetry and helped me understand her intent.
Her statements of "exposition" usually look like this: "here is a sentence" or "think in articles" or "successions of words are so agreeable it is about this." But perhaps her most explicit statement is: "It is impossible to avoid meaning and if there is meaning and it says what it does there is grammar." But how is it possible for meaning to "do" with the result that there is grammar? An example is this sentence: "Grammar makes her name trout and love birds." It is possible to read the sentence to mean that her name is trout, but if one does this the phrase "and love birds" demands that one consciously change "name" from a noun to a verb. This sentence does not always elicit this response; I have tested it upon several people, about half of whom responded in the above way, and half just stared. The following sentence usually succeeds in making one conscious of syntax: "A seated pigeon turned makes sculpture."
  • It seems like Gertrude has a very strong sense of the laws of language; she experiments with the structure of grammar and goes beyond what is conventionally used for sentence structure. 
For example...
  And and they will go.
   A is an article.
   They are usable. They are found and able and edible. And so 
they are predetermined and trimmed.
   The which is an article.
   With them they have that. What which, they have the point
in which it is close to the purpose. 
   Think in articles.
   The the inclusion.
   The in inclusion.
   A fine finely in in fanning. 
   A is an advice.
   A is an advice. 
   If a is an advice an is a temporal wedding.
   If a is an advice an is an is in an and temptation ridden. 
   Temptation redden.
   If a is an advice an is a temptation ridden. (How to Write 129)
  • I realized that the way she writes is very pertinent to graphic design and semiology. She forces readers to be conscious that words are signs through distinctly playing with what is a sign or a referent. "A fine finely in in fanning," can be read multiple ways. The first "in" can be an object, where it is "finely," where "finely" is "fine." In other words, "In" is "in fanning."
  • Stein forces us to see language as language, not simply as a "referent."
  • Another important aspect to her writing is Cezanne's influence on her idea of equality. According to Cezzane, the whole field of canvas is important. In the same way, she wrote in such a way that there was no figurative "figure-ground" in her poems.
  • Her style was "literature's answer to cubism, plasticity, and collage..." 
  • In the same way, Stein revisits ordinary objects, foods, and Rooms (three different functions of nouns) and defines them in a way that describes its essence.
  • Stein believed that her book was a "realistic" portrayal of everyday objects.
  • Here is a great analysis of Tender Buttons:
Gertrude Stein's TENDER BUTTONS, like many Eastern texts, considers three distinct modes in which nouns can function: words are examined as objects, food, and rooms--separate from the manner in which they have been conventionally defined. In addition to Stein's larger concerns with linguistic experiment expressed through the overall structure of her project, TENDER BUTTONS also demonstrates a desire to create a narrative that bears with it the urgency of the present tense: a concern with the seductive play of opposites against each other; a focus on the ordinary in everyday life; and, finally, an interest in the "bottom nature" of things. Through this text's devotion to repeatedly reenacting the process involved in the construction of meaning, a process that becomes visible in a ritualistic practice that plays itself out as a game--between Stein and her readers--of repeated imaginative, associative, and linguistic experiments, TENDER BUTTONS mirrors and multiplies the slippery nature of its own rules as well as those external rules to which any game involving language is always already connected.
  • one of her most well-known poems:
A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading. 
    • here, there is an emphasis and repetition of sound*
      • k sounds: kind, cousin, spectacle, color...
      • ordinary, unordered
    • also, in this poem, one moves from the particularity of objects to the simultaneous impressions they generate once they enter the diegetic space of the text. 
    • the proliferation of images...deny language the power to abstract the object's particularity and, therefore, to fabricate the transparency of the carafe for all viewers. 
  • A journal I found on JStor:
    • To read Stein's "descriptions" in Tender Buttons is to see something waste away. The meanings the reader might detect rise, gain momentum, then drown one after the other in a sea of untenable undecidability...Stein's objects fade, drowned in the simultaneous impressions they generate the minute they cross the diegetic space of the text. 
  • Stein's style shifted here, where she chose to emphasize vocabulary choice and suppression of the sentence (rather than emphasizing syntax)
    • Quote by Stein: "subject matter is the intersection of the object and consciousness. Attention is focused on the process of perceiving and that process becomes part of the subject as well." --> for this reason, fragmentation is prevalent in Tender Buttons.
    • Stein's intent for such obscurity was to "truly free-form texts that convert readers into writers"
Meggs' History of Graphic Design
  • Stein was influenced by Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne...
  • Experimented with the Cubist ideal that, "Each part is as important as the whole."
  • used rhythmic geometric planes, highly structured work of art
  • essence of the object, basic characteristics rather than outward appearance 
  • "both Stein and Cubism share an orientation toward the linguistic or pictorial surface: a movement in and out of recognizable representation; both shatter or fragment perception and the sentence (canvas), and both render multiple perspectives..." jstor article


My Design Methodology: 
  • something that expresses organized chaos
  • continuous present
  • void of emotion, but very spontaneous (random) frustrating to read, obscure
  • it's like a game between writer/reader
  • ritualistic, repetitive yet random

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