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THE "FOUNDING MOTHER": Gertrude Stein and the Cubist Phenomenon Jacqueline Vaught Brogan our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown — Elizabeth Bishop She wanted a "flow" — Kathleen Fraser But they called it a "flaw."} In fact, while our historical knowledge of Gertrude Stein, both as a person and as an artist, has certainly improved in recent years, and some recent critics have gone so far as to see Stein as the first modernist writer or as a quintessentially feminist writer, and now most recently as a proto-postmodernist writer, our appreciation of Stein as an individual artis as well as her place in the artistic movement she helped to inaugurate, particularly for American authors, remains deeply flawed. As Michael J. Hoffman noted in 1986, in his introduction to a collection of essays and reviews that represent all those various responses to Stein (and others), "Twenty years ago I was able to claim that nothing in Stein scholarship was comparable to the burgeoning 'Joyce industry/ That claim can no longer be made/'2 And certainly, in the intervening decade, critics have given more and more attention to Stein, particularly a Stein that is experimental, particularly in an "antipatriarchal" way, or a Stein that is psychoanalytical in a somewhat "French feminist" way, or a Stein whose meditations on love, war, and place are manifestationsof encoded lesbian love and desire in much the way that they are for other contemporary lesbian writers.3 In other words, part of the recent surge of interest in Stein stems from the legitimate ways her work in the first part of the century can be seen to anticipate numerous developments in poetic practice at the end of this century. GERTRUDE STEIN AND THE CUBIST PHENOMENON : 249 I am less interested in tracing our critical responses to Stein over time, however , than I am in seriouslyplacing Stein back in her "period"— that somewhat contradictory but certainly exciting period we have traditionally called "modernism ." It is not merely that reinserting Stein back into the artistic movements of which she was so clearly a seminal figure moves the dates of "modernism7 ' back by a decade (a point alreadymade by Ellen Friedman and Miriam Fuchs), or that doing so reaffirms the importance of women writers as a constitutive force in that period (a point made by the same critics, as well as by Margaret Dickie and Linda Wagner-Martin, to name only a few),but that her writing — and the subsequent aesthetic response of other writers—dismantles the very notions of modernism and postmodernism themselves in ways that allow us to appreciate anew and more accurately Steins self-proclaimed genuis.4 Such a dismantling also forces us to reevaluate such canonized works as Eliots "The Waste Land," James Joyces Ulysses, and Virginia Woolf s The Waves and such less well known works as Mina Loys Songs to Joannes, Parker Tylers "Sonnet," and Jean Toomers Cane as all being part of the same aesthetic climate —essentially the "cubist moment," or (as I am redefining it here) the "cubist phenomenon ."5 In other words, putting Stein seriously back into her own time revises our notion of that period of modernism to the point that the term evaporates.If Stein, rather than Eliot or Pound or Joyce, is seen as the ironically charged matrix of the literary activity of the time, our inherited vision of modernism as a (largely male) nostalgia for an order no longer available shifts to a focus on the remarkable breakthroughs (including most particularly the possibilityof multiplicity of perspectives) that characterizedvirtually all the major writings — and paintings —of the time. It is notably that aspect of the cubist aesthetic, of which Stein wasboth a proponent and a creator in the realm of literature,which is its most important legacy in the experimental writings at the end of the century. In this regard, my argument that Stein reveals "her period" as actually an explosion of a wider cubist phenomenon at the time makes one giganticswerve away from Marianne DeKovens otherwise excellent and groundbreakingdiscussions of Stein. Although subsequent criticssuch as Margaret Dickie and Lisa Ruddick have convincingly shown that thematically, Stein was often writing from very specific gendered concerns, DeKovens insistence that Steins writing should be called "experimental"—when by the term, DeKoven specifically means "antipatriarchal modes of signification" —distorts both the aesthetic animating Steins best verse, as well as that animating the writings of many of the men around her and the actual company she chose to keep in her real life...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780820343532
Related ISBN
9780820343532
MARC Record
OCLC
794306972
Pages
320
Launched on MUSE
2012-11-02
Language
English
Open Access
No
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