Theater 32.2 (2002) 2-25
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A Play to Be Performed
Excerpts from the Gertrude Stein Symposium at New York University
Bevya Rosten, Anne-Marie Levine, Catharine Stimpson, Richard Howard, Wendy Steiner, Maria Irene Fornes, Mac Wellman, Al Carmines, Richard Foreman, Charles Bernstein, Jane Bowers
Last October I curated and produced a four-day Gertrude Stein Festival, which included poetry, dance, and theater performances (at the St. Mark's Poetry Project and Judson Memorial Church), and an all-day symposium (at New York University in conjunction with the undergraduate Department of Drama). The three multidisciplinary, intergenerational panels of scholars, poets, and theater artists were intended to reflect Stein's own challenge to the creation of arbitrary categories and genres. The panels were titled "Stein's Landscape: Politics, Love and Art," "Stein's Influence on Contemporary Performance Practices," and "Stein's Legacy in Language." Among the issues explored were the relationships between product and process, art and politics, and scholarship and creativity.
Now that Gertrude Stein has become "fashionable," there are those who feel they can define the fashion and who lay claim to Stein's territory. Because this kind of intellectual and artistic imperialism continues to persist in an age of cultural "diversity," I was inspired to put together an event that would challenge some of the stereotypical and deadening current interpretations of Stein's life and writing. However, it's a testament to Stein's far-reaching legacy that her work and her ideas have spawned a truly diverse progeny who claim her as their influence. This influence can be seen in theater, music, poetry, painting, and fiction. Stein's writing not only anticipated contemporary artistic practices but also is mirrored in the shifting cultural concerns associated with "modern" and "postmodern" art.
My own investigations into Stein's work, particularly as it pertains to American avant-garde performance, led me to explore anew the vast landscape she inhabits. From the point of view of the avant-garde, if she was not necessarily "the mother of us all," she was certainly the mother of many and should be liberated from the clichéd categories into which she is so often placed. This viewpoint brought together the unique, idiosyncratic, scintillating, and often wonderfully opinionated group of people [End Page 3] who took part in the symposium. Due to the constraints of space, the editors of Theater have chosen to focus on select aspects of the conference, which is, alas, only a small representation of the scope of the entire event. However, I would like to extend my thanks to all of the participants, including those whose contributions do not appear in these pages.
Panel 1: Stein's Landscape: Politics, Love, and Art
This panel was designed to set up a biographical and ideological context for the day's discussions and included formal presentations by Anne-Marie Levine, Catharine Stimpson, and Jane Bowers, as well as an extemporaneous presentation by Richard Howard. Wendy Steiner moderated. —B.R.
ANNE-MARIE LEVINE From the early 1900s on, Gertrude Stein made her home in Paris, with only one trip back to the United States in 1934. She spent the First World War in England, Spain, and France; she spent the Second World War in a small village near Belley in eastern France—Vichy France. Gertrude Stein was sixty-six years old in 1940. She and Alice Toklas were Jewish, they were lesbian, and they were American. In other words, they were in danger. Stein and Toklas were warned; they were urged to leave France several times, and they could have left, but they chose to remain in rural France throughout the Occupation and to write about it. "It was less distracting to write in English among people who did not speak it, and of course Paris was much cheaper," Stein wrote to her friend W. G. Rogers. But those were only...