Term Paper: Gertrude Stein Indeed

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[. . .] Gertrude as Modernist

Gertrude has always taken great pains and great pride in breaking with the past. She, above almost everything else she did, is credited with embracing and perhaps even inventing modernism. What is modernism? According to Professor John Lye, of Brock University (Ontario, Canada), modernism is a "re-structuring of literature and the experience of reality it re-presents. (Art always attempts to 'imitate' or re-present reality; what changes is our understanding of what constitutes reality, and how that reality can best be re-presented, presented to the mind and senses most faithfully and fully.)" Lye also states that modernist literature "...is marked by a break with the sequential, developmental, cause-and-effect presentation of the 'reality' of realist fiction, toward a presentation of experience as layered, allusive, discontinuous; the use, to these ends, of fragmentation and juxtaposition, motif, symbol, allusion." And even in a cursory reading of Gertrude's poetry and essays, her modernist propensities are apparent.

Modern Poets Gertrude has Influenced - Susan Howe

As for Susan Howe, the considerable collection of scholars and critics who know her work and respect her work - and probably unfairly, she is considered an apprentice, or disciple, of the great Emily Dickinson - bring her into the category of "language poets." "Apprentice" is unfair, but when you title a book of poetry My Emily Dickinson, you are opening yourself up for that comparison. Still, Howe's brilliance both in prose and poetry stands on its own, even if she did pattern some of her work after giants. "A poet is never just a woman or a man," Howe writes in My Emily Dickinson. "Every poet is salted with fire. A poet is a mirror, a transcriber." A transcriber. That has a nice ring to it. And it's true with every journalist, every novelist, every songwriter and playwright, every high school student writing a creative paper for a class. Transcribing in the written word, and being influenced by greats in that act of transcription, is the heart of the creative process.

Howe, of course, has her feminist side, which is not only natural; it's expected, for a female powerhouse in the arts. "Emily Dickinson and Gertrude Stein are clearly among the most innovative precursors of modernist poetry and prose," Howe writes in My Emily Dickinson, "yet to this day canonical criticism from Harold Bloom to Hugh Kenner persists in dropping their names and ignoring their work. Why these two pathfinders were women, why American - are questions too often lost in the penchant for biographical detail that 'lovingly' muffles their voices." Is this why modern poets like Howe give so much attention and homage to the work of Gertrude and Dickinson? Because the likes of Stein and Dickinson were women, and American, and had fascinating biographies?

Meantime, Howe has heroes other than Dickinson and Gertrude. "When Thoreau wrote his Introduction to A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, he ended by remembering how he had often stood on the banks of the Musketaquid, or Grass-ground River English settlers had re-named Concord," she writes, also in My Emily Dickinson. "The Concord's current followed the same law in a system of time and all that is known. He liked to watch this current that was for him an emblem of all progress," she continues, showing, instructing, and advising readers as to how much attention to detail the poet must pay. "Weeds under the surface bent gently downstream shaken by watery wind. Chips, sticks, logs, and even tree stems drifted past," she goes on, "watery wind" helping the mind's eye of the reader to see that wave in the stream which ruffles that beneath it. "There came a day at the end of the summer or the beginning of autumn, when [Thoreau] resolved to launch a boat from shore and let the river carry him. Emily Dickinson is my emblematical Concord River." If anyone needed an explanation of why Susan Howe admires Dickinson's work, they have it right here, and by using the images she gleaned from Thoreau, Howe shows us again that a poet is never "just a woman or a man."

Howe, however, in defining terms of what is right and what is wrong in poetic devices, vigorously denies that she, or her esteemed and legendary predecessors, in their pursuit of what is generally known as "Language Poetry," attempted to lay down the law.

Emily Dickinson and Gertrude Stein," Howe writes (Hartley, 1996).".. conducted a skillful and ironic investigation of patriarchal authority over literary history. Who polices questions of grammar, parts of speech, connection, and connotation? Whose order is shut inside the structure of the sentence? What inner articulation releases the coils and complications of Saying's assertion? In very different ways the countermovement of these two women's work penetrates to the indefinite limits of written communication. "

Gertrude Stein," writes Howe, "influenced by Cezanne, Picasso and Cubism, verbally elaborated on visual invention," which of course is among the leading reasons Gertrude stands out from the pack of great poets. "She reached in words for new vision formed from the process of naming, as if a first woman were sounding, not describing, 'space of time filled with moving'." And here Howe plays the role of critic and analyst, with reference to Gertrude's work, as she describes the form of Stein: "Repetition, surprise, alliteration, odd rhyme and rhythm, dislocation, deconstruction. To restore the original clarity of each word-skeleton [Gertrude and Dickinson] lifted the load of European literary custom. Adopting old strategies, they reviewed and re-invented them." And it is entirely appropriate to say that all great poets, and writers, are doing nothing if not re-inventing what has been written before them - and that includes Susan Howe.

Modern Poets Gertrude has Influenced - Lyn Hejinian

How much influence has the work of Gertrude Stein had on the poetry and writing and thinking of the highly acclaimed California poet, essayist, translator and historical scholar, Lyn Hejinian? One very practical measure of Hejinian's respect and admiration for Gertrude is to log the number of citations Gertrude receives in the critically lauded Hejinian book, The Language of Inquiry. Seventy-five themes, allusions, and specific quotes from the life and works of Gertrude appear in the Index; and to count the page numbers in Hejinian's index, which direct readers to specific places in the text that reference a Gertrude Stein poem, or statement, or issue, or encounter, is to pass 200 and still be counting. And though Hejinian's home - in Willits, a gloriously pastoral community in northern California, where the roots of giant redwood trees have been digging deep into the earth for up to 2,000 years - is a far cry esthetically from the Paris, France that Gertrude called home much of her adult life, their hearts and intellect would appear to live next door to one another. Not to mention their common desire to flush out language for purposes of innovation and expression of strongly held feminine values.

Meanwhile, The Language of Inquiry is an extremely enjoyable and easily readable collection of twenty essays, written over a period of nearly twenty-five years. Like many of the "Language Poets" she has been - rightly or wrongly, intentionally or unintentionally - strongly associated with since the 1970s, Hejinian uses her brilliant language to create a new and fresh social space. And to read Hejinian is to discover quasi-daring political and philosophical investigative literature - not unlike that of Gertrude, although Gertrude was clearly the pathfinder in this "language poet" genre. Central to Hejinian's essays are the themes of time and knowledge, consciousness and perception. Hejinian embraces Gertrude through the influential "Two Stein Talks" work, as well as two more recent essays on Stein's writings. Included among the Gertrude-influenced work in The Language of Inquiry is Hejinian's own "composition as explanation," culminating in her new long Steinian poem, appropriately called "Happily." "Three Lives," and "A Common Sense," are also so-called "Steinian" poems to be found and devoured in the text. According to retired professor of humanities at Stanford University, now a writer / critic / editor, Marjorie Perloff, Hejinian's Happily is distinctly a Steinian work because it is written in exactly 250 sentences, "...ranging from one word to eight lines, and divided into irregular 'stanzas,' perhaps on the model of Stanzas in Meditation. In her headnote, the poet talks about her 'accordioning' sentences: 'ones with solid handles (a clear beginning and a clear end) but with a middle that is pleated and flexible' so as 'to allow for the influx of material that surges into any thought, material that is charged with various and sometimes even incompatible emotional tonalities'." In Hejinian's The Language of Inquiry, Happily is preceded by "A Common Sense," which is Hejinian's deliberation on the meaning of the commonplace in Gertrude's Stanzas in Meditation. "It was through participation in the everyday with its… [END OF PREVIEW]

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