- Passionate Collaborations: Learning to Live with Gertrude Stein
Karin Cope's new book on Gertrude Stein could not have been written without earlier thought-provoking representations of Stein as an important modernist who stretched language and genre. Scholars of Stein's work, such as Ellen Berry, Clive Bush, Harriet Chessman, Marianne DeKoven, Elizabeth Fifer, Elizabeth Meese, Lisa Ruddick, Juliana Spahr, and Catharine Stimpson, have developed ways of reading Stein that elucidate her texts as deliberate, political, smart, and literary. Cope adds to this forceful critical work. Her book is a welcome addition to the scholarship on Stein—more than welcome; her book is a tour de force—an insightful, stagy presentation of Stein in terms of collaboration. In Cope's own words, Passionate Collaborations"explores some of the material traces of Stein's historical collaborations," including those with Picasso, with Toklas, and with the World War II Vichy government (18). Cope explores "what those collaborations appear to have required and produced," both textually and in the "history of modernism" (19).
Cope begins with Stein's portrait of Picasso and Picasso's portrait of Stein. They become, in Cope's hands, markers of larger literary and artistic shifts in literature and art. Cope shows how central the portrait is for Stein and Picasso. Using theories of abjection and psychology, she examines the personal responses that the collaborations created. For example, Picasso's responses to Stein and Stein's to Picasso, she argues, must have included denigration and abjection, which fuel a "showing forth of insecurity, confusion, and error as privileged sites of creativity and production" (58). These feelings reverberate with "defacement," "deformation" (55), and "error" (46). When Cope asks, "What did Picasso confront in Stein that caused him to change the manner in which he painted female figures?" she traces a collaboration that shows that "Stein seduced Picasso in some way with her presence," while, simultaneously, that seduction could not fit his "heterosexual desire" (94). Throughout her discussions of Picasso and his work, Cope weaves Stein's texts, revealing that Stein created "something quite untoward, quite unprecedented" (96).
In the center of this book about Stein's accomplishments through collaboration, Cope reproduces debilitating harangues directed at Stein over this past century. One writer saw Stein, her body, and her work as "vegetable accumulation" (140). Others revile Stein for "a tricky disguise of Nature, that she was of the company of Amazons," insist on her "arrested-development," and accuse her of a "loafing mind" (152, 148,144). Cope is extraordinarily nonconformist in her presentation of these critical writings, placing them in the margins [End Page 605]of her own commentary, not in quotation marks or italicized but simply in a different font. That decision about this book's space is an ingenious one, because the placement in the margins reiterates an understanding that these past critical writings are always in our critical margins, here literally. These combined responses to Stein, from authors like Wyndham Lewis, B. L. Reid, Ezra Pound, Robert McAlman and Kay Boyle, Katherine Anne Porter, and even Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, astound and shock, especially in the context of Cope's own insights about Stein and her work, which reiterate Stein's textual genius. By representing this "Case Against Gertrude Stein"—what she calls a "revenge on Stein by belittling her" (20)—in the margins of her own writing, Cope peculiarly, effectively, and powerfully underscores how changing critical focus affects meaning. This chapter elucidates criticism's effects on literary texts and their receptions—and the importance of reading practices.
As Cope traces Stein's collaborations within her historical period, she also explores how readers collaborate with Stein. She posits that Stein's texts interpellate—hail and name—readers—even if those readers do not yet exist. Theories of interpellation are nothing new; for example, Catherine Belsey presented the case in 1980 that the nineteenth-century realist novel interpellates a reader who believes she is autonomous and uniquely individual, thus buttressing a dominant realist ideology that needs such subjects for capitalism. Susan Lanser wrote in 1988 and...