Wednesday, July 25, 2018

On Gertrude Stein

I'm inclined to agree with Picasso biographer John Richardson's view of Gertrude Stein as Modernism's preeminent example of artistic grandiosity, a writer with a ridiculously elephantine estimate of her own genius. I cannot read even a few paragraphs of Three Lives without erupting in derisive laughter at her prose voice--best described as the tone of a failed children's book writer: "They lived in a little house. The house was little and made of red bricks. The little house of red bricks was on a prairie. The prairie was where the little house was." That sort of thing. And as for her acclaimed and notorious, Dalkey Archived 'masterpiece,' The Making of Americans--well, the word 'excrementitious' is not exactly the first that comes to mind, but it is perhaps the best. Probably the least-read canonical work in American literature, the book's grinding repetitions seem designed to induce a soporific trance in the--I hesitate to say 'reader,' for I can't imagine anyone actually reading this bilge--let's say, the glancer, the browser, the poor, unfortunate soul who plopped down 15 bucks for 800 pages of a boring rich woman's opaque effusions about...what exactly? effusing?


as brilliant a reader as the late William H. Gass considered Stein a great and important writer. So I'm willing (just a hangnail's width of willing, an armhair's diameter of willing) to suspend judgment and say Trudy is simply not to my taste.

Stein, always her own most enthusiastic admirer (Alice was her wife but she was her own eternal husband), compared her prose to Cezanne's brushstrokes. I see the similarity, understand her point, and still dislike her prose. (I'll never see enough paintings by Cezanne; the first page of Three Lives gave me more than enough of Stein's prose.)

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