Tag Archives: Linguistics

Elements of Stein

12 May

What follows are notes regarding Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein. I have been working to form these notes into a coherent blog post that entices and entertains y’all, but I realized that it is much more interesting if I simply post them unedited. Stein stripped words down to their structure, so I will do the same for this blog post.

*Stein removes words from their connotations. The words are symbols, not the actual thing that they represent. Stein is experimenting with the treatment of the symbol, or the thing itself (meaning the word, not the meaning). Think of F. Saussure’s system of signifier and signified, and the arbitrary relationship between the two. Relates back to agreed upon reality: blue is blue because we all agree that it is blue, but it could be green, or it could be dirt.

*Stein is abstracting language: abstracting- “any art in which real objects are modified to emphasize certain qualities or content.” Changing the form in order to highlight an aspect. Similar to Picasso, jazz. Modernism movement of experimentation with form: what is a novel, one-image poems, what is language, stream of consciousness writing, representation of authorship. Is there a responsibility for the author to try and change the culture, or is the work removed? (Think of the Harlem Renaissance re: issues of representation.)

*Speaking of form: FOOD is presented as a menu first. We see what we are going to get, and then we are given “morsels.” The food is broken up into differing portions. Compare this to ROOMS, which is written in prose form. Similar to the fluidity of movement through rooms. No separation of portions or images. All rooms are contained together in a dwelling. Paragraphs are rooms, flowing with each other to create the form: prose/dwelling. Unless of course this imparts too much of the signified onto the signifier.

*Steins “portraiture of words”: both an attack and a close relationship to literature. Attack is on the demand for connections, meaning, logic on literature. (William Carlos Williams on G. Stein) Stein does this through a focus on texture, sound, and sight. Ignoring or changing punctuation.

*We are trained to create connections and meanings. The CHALLENGE found in Tender Buttons is exactly that…the mind continually creates meaning in the words, the sentences, the paragraphs. Even though rational thought tells us that the words are divorced from the signified, the words still carry a definite poignancy. “Suppose an example is necessary, the plainer it is made the more reason there is for some outward recognition that there is a result.” (125)

*Linguistically speaking: attempts to follow the linguistic path through the work = NOT EASY! This leads to an even greater attempt to infuse meaning or a pattern into the elements. For example, MALACHITE on pg. 129; is there a linguistic relation between the word malachite and the words that appear after it? If there isn’t, then what is the relation? Does there have to be one?

*Prosody – the infusion of emotion into speech with inflection, rhythm and stress. Tender Buttons is meant to be read aloud. (Perfect novel to read to infants. Everyone should do so. It is an excellent example to be read to babies who do not yet know the context of words…when the focus is still on the intonation, the sounds of the words. An exercise in words as the words themselves, with a being that IS that concept). Prosody can reflect emotional state. Each reader’s reading of the words can reflect their own emotional state, dependent upon inflection and stresses on the words. Does this then imply that the reading of Tender Buttons differs by reader, and by mood and by moment, so that no two reading are alike? Would it follow to say that the reader creates the work, not the author? Can the word itself carry an emotional state simply because of the pronunciation? Or would that be an injection of meaning? What about accents? Does one pronunciation of the word garage separate it from a different pronunciation? (As in, would one shade of blue still be considered blue, or is it a color totally different?)

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