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A Vocabulary of Thinking

Gertrude Stein and Contemporary North American Women's Innnovative Writing

Deborah M. Mix

Publication Year: 2007

Using experimental style as a framework for close readings of writings produced by late twentieth-century North American women, Deborah Mix places Gertrude Stein at the center of a feminist and multicultural account of twentieth-century innovative writing. Her meticulously argued work maps literary affiliations that connect Stein to the work of Harryette Mullen, Daphne Marlatt, Betsy Warland, Lyn Hejinian, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. By distinguishing a vocabulary-which is flexible, evolving, and simultaneously individual and communal--from a lexicon-which is recorded, fixed, and carries the burden of masculine authority--Mix argues that Stein's experimentalism both enables and demands the complex responses of these authors.
    Arguing that these authors have received relatively little attention because of the difficulty in categorizing them, Mix brings the writing of women of color, lesbians, and collaborative writers into the discussion of experimental writing. Thus, rather than exploring conventional lines of influence, she departs from earlier scholarship by using Stein and her work as a lens through which to read the ways these authors have renegotiated tradition, authority, and innovation.
    Building on the tradition of experimental or avant-garde writing in the United States, Mix questions the politics of the canon and literary influence, offers close readings of previously neglected contemporary writers whose work doesn't fit within conventional categories, and by linking genres not typically associated with experimentalism-lyric, epic, and autobiography-challenges ongoing reevaluations of innovative writing.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

This book has been a long time coming, and many generous, insightful, and patient individuals have shaped its development. Richard Dienst, Patrick O’Donnell, and Siobhan Somerville provided guidance and support for its earliest stages, as did Lorie Damon, Joseph Steinbach, and Whitney Womack. The readers and editors at Contemporary Literature and American Literature offered invaluable...

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p. xi

An earlier version of Chapter 2 was published in American Literature 77.1 (2005), and an earlier version of Chapter 3 was published in Contemporary Literature 41.3 (2000). I am grateful to the editors of these journals for permission to use that material here. I wish to acknowledge the following for permission to quote from copyrighted works: Excerpts from Lifting Belly,

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1. Starting with Stein: Three Vocabularies of Thinking

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pp. 1-36

In “Finally George a Vocabulary of Thinking,” published in the 1931 volume How to Write Gertrude Stein begins with what seems to be a fairly straightforward set of definitions for the name George (as “the name of George Lynes George, Georges Bracque,” and so on) and the difference between a bay and a gulf. Then she moves on to take aim at the very fixity of the definitions she seems to have begun...

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2. Domestic Economies: Harryette Mullen’s Trimmings and S*PeRM**K*T

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pp. 37-64

In a 1999 interview with Cynthia Hogue, Harryette Mullen expresses an appreciation for Gertrude Stein’s work, Tender Buttons in particular, and she places her second and third books of poetry, Trimmings and S*PeRM**K*T, directly within Stein’s lineage. After initial engagements with Stein’s writing that left her frustrated but fascinated, Mullen began to admire Stein’s “idiosyncratic approach to...

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3. Re-Versing the Lyric: Daphne Marlatt and Betsy Warland’s Double Negative

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pp. 65-95

In her introduction to the proceedings of the 1983 “Women and Words/Les femmes et les mots” conference, Daphne Marlatt writes, “As the Québec writers reach back to Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein in English literature, we can reach forward to their new writing in French with its well-developed analysis, its radical deconstruction of male-biased language, its creative invention of new words...

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4. Multirelational Autobiography: Lyn Hejinian’s My Life

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pp. 97-124

In 1978, when she was thirty-seven years old, Lyn Hejinian wrote her first version of My Life, which was published in 1980. It consisted of thirty-seven sections, each of which was composed of thirty-seven sentences (which Hejinian calls “lines”). In 1986, she created a “revised and expanded” version of the work, this time made up of forty-five sections of forty-five sentences each (published in...

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5. Found in Retranslation: Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s DICTEE

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pp. 125-157

Unlike the other authors in this study, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha may not have been familiar with Stein’s work in general, much less with any of Stein’s work in particular. According to Constance Lewallen, Cha was drawn to the work of Stéphane Mallarmé and Samuel Beckett, writers who are fixtures in the avant-garde canon. Cha’s work, particularly her performance pieces and films, do seem...

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Epilogue: Returning to Stein

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pp. 159-163

Gertrude Stein’s “ Patriarchal Poetry,” published in the 1927 collection Bee Time Vine, bears all the hallmarks of her most hermetic and difficult poetry. The near-constant repetition, always with “a little changing,” of specific words and phrases is not, however, as some readers may believe, a paean to nothing. Virgil Thomson writes in his preface to Bee Time Vine that “I have not...


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pp. 165-189


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pp. 191-208


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pp. 209-214

E-ISBN-13: 9781587297403
E-ISBN-10: 158729740X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781587296130
Print-ISBN-10: 1587296136

Page Count: 228
Publication Year: 2007

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 606050529
MUSE Marc Record: Download for A Vocabulary of Thinking

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Subject Headings

  • Feminism and literature -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Women and literature -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Stein, Gertrude, -- 1874-1946 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Literature, Experimental -- United States -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
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