More on Gertrude Stein’s writing style

From “Gertrude Stein,” entry in The Oxford Companion to American Literature, ed. by James D. Hart.  5th ed. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983, p. 721:

[Gertrude Stein’s] Lectures in America (1935) explains her philosophy of composition, which is partly indebted to the aesthetic theories of William James and Bergson’s concept of time.  She contends that it is “the business of art” to live in the complete actual present,” and in describing her technique she compares it with that of the cinema.  No two frames of a motion picture are exactly alike, yet the sequence presents to the eye a flowing continuity.  Similarly, Miss Stein, by the use of partly repetitive statements, each making a limited advance in the theme, presents an uninterrupted series of instantaneous visions, so that one grasps a living moment in precise, ordered forms.  […]  In order to convey her concept of movement in the motion-picture manner, she set up a rhythmic pattern and placed her emphasis upon the verb.  Nouns being names, she felt that “things once they are named the name does do go on doing anything to them and so why write in nouns.”  She felt that most punctuation is “an unnecessary name of something.” “It is evident that when you ask a question you ask a question . . . and so why add to it the punctuation mark.”  Other punctuation also interfered with the need for capturing motion: “If writing should go on what had colons and semicolons to do with it.”  In her poetry she holds a different theory about language; for, though naming or non-using, does not carry prose forward, “you can love a name and if you love a name then saying that name any number of times only makes you love it more . . .” and poetry is “really loving the name of anything.”  Thus, for her, poetry is a method of dealing “with everything that was not movement in space.”

Cf. also Stein’s famous line  from the poem “Sacred Emily” (1913):  “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” 


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Filed under Lecture notes, Week 6: Stein, Barnes, Dean, Wittig

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