Tuesday, April 7, 2009

little sales ladies and other little nouns

I'm reading a piece called Tender Buttons, by writer Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), an American ex-patriot who lived most of her life in France and who has one of the first public coming-out stories. She lived with lover Alice B. Toklas, with whom she managed a famous salon for most of her later life. Her book, Tender Buttons, is a prose-poem in which Stein breaks her world into three subjects: Objects, Food and Rooms. The prose is hard to read and, though lyrical, difficult to interpret. In fact, very few people have even tried- most critics shrug their shoulders as to its meaning, calling it "cubist" or "sensual," letting it end at that. I don't really like reading her work but I like thinking and writing about it. I appreciate that it is a nonsensical piece of writing about nouns-- something seems very true about that. Comprehensive descriptions of nouns are guided by a predetermined understanding of what they are and what they are used for. That her descriptions are tangled into intricate and nonsensical webbings of words seems true to nature-- that the meaning of an object is fluid and changes with it's context, with memory and with a dreamscape of unconscious associations. Though edited, it seems like this writing could have derived from or was made to mimic some stream-of-consious writing. Here's a passage from Tender Buttons, in the section titled Objects:

Suppose it is within a gate which open is open at the hour of closing summer that is to say it is so.
All the seats are needing blackening. A white dress is in sign. A soldier a real soldier has a worn lace a worn lace of different sizes that is to say if he can read, if he can read he is a size to show shutting up twenty-four.
Go red to red, laugh white.
Suppose a collapse in rubbed purr, in rubbed purr get.
Little sales ladies little sales ladies little saddles of mutton.
Little sales of leather and such beautiful beautiful, beautiful beautiful.

I'll leave it at that except to say that I took this picture of a still life I happened upon in Hooper 3 at school this morning, an arrangement which also seemed to speak about the absurdity of nouns.

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