Sunday, October 8, 2017

Gertrude encore

Gertrude rides again! Digi-digging online for a rip-van-winkled blog I'd created lo these many i.e. six? seven? years ago, to discover this page still might be alive . . . wait and see, for I still of course love Gertrude, and she continues to prevail as a literary Mother of Invention(not Frank Zappa's maman. . . .though I can't confirm her fairy-godmother blessing on Zappa as I can't locate my copy of Z's Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play, though both Z and Stein figure in Kotynek and Cohassey's American Cultural Rebels: Avant-Garde and Bohemian Artists, Writers and Musicians from the 1850s Through the 1960s (2008)) and so and so and so is it even possible that The GSCafe can be reopened? revived? Dr. Phibe'd?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Gertrude's blue and Nabokov's blues: preludes to "difficult" reading

Happened to read on the same day a TLS review (February 4)by Thomas Karshan of three new books on Nabokov and find a two-week old article in the New York Times (February 1) reporting that N's theory of butterfly evolution has now been proven correct.

It wasn't N's morphological studies (and I have yet to read all of my hc copy of Nabokov's Blues, lepidoptery taking second place to other "fixed" objects (e.g. words pinned down)that captured me, but N's tetchiness about claims that his writing was difficult to read. Karshan writes:

Like many of the Modernists, Nabokov was of two minds as to whether reading should be easy or difficult. "I work hard, I work long on a body of words", he wrote, "until it grants me complete possession and pleasure. If the reader has to work in his turn -- so much the better. Art is difficult....

Without pursuing the clear physical element of "pleasure" and "possession" of a "body" of words, and my wondering at N. being called an upper case Modernist, I found myself thinking more about the notion of "difficult reading."

I chanced on a book on my shelves, lying almost hidden on other vertically arranged books because of its format: Jennifer Scappettone's From Dame Quickly, a collection of poetexts, a nonword attempt to approach the innovative way that her poems and word-collages explore text. Truly a modernist qua exploratory departure from received forms. First section of poems with an epigraph from Gertrude's Lucy Church Aimiably, reading in part: "see in the distance that there is elegantly speaking what there is to detach."

Scappettone's texts present a challenge to reading, but to label them difficult is to miss the headiness of what words can do. Her book is not a body and defies possession, or: the pleasure is not in the possession but in navigating the layers and shifts and sometimes fluent sometimes jammed constructions in which each phrase is loaded with import and sheer lyricism that always keeps moving and slipping into new meaning:

lean a sculpture of swan flank forever covered for now
on every imperfect death takes you to task afresh yet
it being swapped all over the place again as decadence
embracing on the night train after a scare and a deal with the conductor you were
never to agree upon the narrative again

("never to agree upon the narrative again" sends me, scatters me off to Stefania Pandolfo's Impasse of the Angel, open nearby, but no . . .later)

There is Gertrude, waiting opposite, her turn to tell the story of blue, "associated with Picasso's return to Spain in 1902. For Stein, blue also means Toklas, whose blue eyes speak of tenderness and sexuality, as she wrote many times."
This, in Dydo and Rice's The Language that Rises.

More on all the blues at a later time when the sky returns to morning blue.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"writing in terms of discovery"

Reading "in terms of discovery" has brought me back, serendipitously, to Gertrude Stein but this time I will not just ingest her words and marvel once again at how she continues to connect me to what matters in matters of writing but voice it to the virtual void.

Rediscovering my copy of Jan Zwicky's Lyric Philosophy (University of Toronto 1992)thickly flagged with post-it notes and my own pencilled annotations by way of maintaining my ongoing dialogue with the book, I found this reference by Zwicky on page 171:

"John Hyde Preston, about Gertrude Stein:

She talks freely and volubly and sometimes obscurely, as if she had something there that she was very sure of and yet could not touch it. She has that air of having seen in flashes something which she does not know the shape of, and can talk about, not out of the flashes but out of the space between when she has waited."

This is cited from Preston's essay, "A Conversation" from The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 156, No. 2 (August 1935). Searching the internet in hopes of finding the entire piece archived, the first item I come across is from Irresistible Dictation: Gertrude Stein and the Correlations of Writing and Science by Steven Meyer. In his Prefatory Remarks he mentions Preston's conversation with Stein,

"shortly after she concluded her six-month lecture tour of the United States in 1934 and 1935, Gertrude Stein responded to Preston's confession of just how "miserable, despairing, self-doubtful" he still felt about his writing. Drawing on half a century’s experience in her chosen medium, she counseled him to write
without thinking of the result in terms of a result, but think of the writing in terms of discovery, which is to say that creation must take place between the pen and the paper, not before in a thought or afterwards in a recasting. Yes, before in a thought, but not in careful thinking. It will come if it is there and if you will let it come, and if you have anything you will get a sudden creative recognition. You won't know how it was, even what it is, but it will be creation if it came out of the pen and out of you and not out of an architectural drawing of the thing you are doing." (p. 188, online version, )."

Meyer's book is one that I bought in my book hunt for ever more writing responding to Stein and her peculiar genius.

Now the chain from Stein's response to Preston as contained in his essay 76 years ago surfacing in Meyer's book in the 2001 paperback and earlier recorded also in Zwicky's Lyric Philosophy reaches me on this snow-heavy day with striking relevance to a recent workshop with Gail Scott at the Toronto New School of Writing.

Now I know how to proceed, what to send to Gail in response to her brilliant but all-too-brief hours with us, as a profound "thank you" for what has emerged for me, through Scott, as a Steinian continuum and a way of continuing.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

a letter to Gertrude Stein

Dear Gertrude,
It has been nearly 13 months since I've written about you, not writing does not mean not thinking, does not mean not reading, means only that the words to capture the Gertrude component of my thinking and reading have not formed themselves into parcels to type into the format of a blog.

The table-height pile of books by you and about you has not fallen down, is an icon a monument a tip of the iceberg inviting me back to you.

Blog is a word, a sound, that still makes me shudder. Yes -- short for web log. Something I must do about that alien sound belonging more properly to Vogon poetics.

Note that a ship captain's log is not referred to as a slog. I fear for the sound of language. The sound of language and of language flowing is what first enchanted me about your writing. Your writing did not stay on the page. Our group of women met and ate and drank and read your words out loud to each other. We delighted in your words. I return to your words over and over again to read them, sometimes to listen to the few recordings of them.

I fear for the sound of language when it is reduced to convenience, to dosages of texts and near-cryptic messages conveyed on tiny machines. If the little sendings were small poems with Wonderland instructions ("read me out loud") then the tiny machines could create a streetcarful of people reciting together from bpNichol's Martyrology: part of the process of gaining focus//never could// lost that dimension a long time//the ryme of breathing

The breath. Hearing the sound. Reading Erin Moure's my beloved wager, her writing about sound. She writes, "Sounds unlock memories which precede the laws of social order. Sounds that precede words . . . .Sound is sense, a truer sense, undercutting surface commerce and ideology." And more, much more.

Dear Gertrude, you are so very alive in your words and the influence of your words is deep. Poet Stephen Cain mapped some of the poets whose work means so much to him with your name as the source, the mother of us all, of all of us who love the sound of words, of bpNichol, of Margaret Christakos, of Erin Moure, of so many.

Yes Gertrude I will provide links to all and everything I write here as I return to writing here so that you can see how the words go on. Top of the pile by chance is Steven Watson's Prepare for Saints: Gertrude Stein, Virgil Thomson, and the Mainstreaming of American Modernism. Next on my list to listen to.

Yours amiably [et cetera]

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Translating Gertrude and Gertrude translating

Head these days full of translation, a cascade of language and languages.

It would be a bit of a stretch to consider Gertrude Stein's desire to replicate Cezanne's painting into words as a "translation process" or even her particular apprehension of the "natural world" to a specific mode of composition that does not resemble what an ecologist would understand as the "natural world", given that her natural world was inhabited by language.

Still, I began to wonder about Stein and translation, given that the country where she produced most of her writing was France, and she did not speak French and if she understood French somewhat she recognized that her language was English, American English. As Renee Riese Hubert wrote in her article in SubStance (no. 59, 1989, 71-92): "Gertrude Stein and the Making of Frenchmen":

". . .for years she was practically compelled to publish her writings in France and to promote them by finding French writers to translate them."

Then this tantalizing statement:

"A cursory investigation of the presence of Stein in current literary criticism reveals that she persists in belonging to both cultures. In fact there are fewer Stein titles available in English than translations of her books in France, where several journals have recently devoted special issues to her." (71)

I then began Nathalie Stephen's At Alberta, recently received, not aware when ordering it that the first "talk"/essay concerns translation . . .and before getting far into the reading it was almost like a light bulb though perhaps only 25 watts so far recollecting my albeit limited experience translating Valery's "Cimitiere marin", with a feeling more than a thought (all the same, an inkling of knowing) that at the moment of trying or making a translation there is almost an utter silence between the original language and target language -- "my" language. There is almost a chasm when a metaphoric fog appears and virtually erases the original as it "crosses", when I fear it will not "make it" over, that somehow I will harm the original even in the attempt to find English words, or even in the way I understand the original, for the original already means something to me, something very precise, exact, and I feel suddenly a loss of language to find comparable words in English. It seems not only ridiculous to attempt, but also sacrilegious, a violation of the original French. So: a double silence: hesitation and erasure plus transgression.

Now I'm curious to read Stein translated as well as fathom the translations she made of Marechal Petain's writing at the behest of Bernard Fay in the 30s: what gets translated, and why, and what kind of sense it means.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"the work writing itself" -- a divagation

In the previously mentioned (Jan. 9/09 post, essay by Jack Kimball, "Gertrude Stein and the Natural World") a phrase he used stuck with me:

"The work writing itself -- this is the natural, inclusive 'exciting' subject matter of her composition."

Of course the reference is to Stein. While wandering the web, however, and checking in at a blog, Night Hauling, that I've enjoyed for his idiosyncratic and often darkly amusing posts, I found a link to an interview with Helen DeWitt (The Last Samurai)from if: the institute for the future of the book, a site that is currently "migrating to a new server" though the link at Night Hauling is still alive. Though the interview is long, it is highly recommended for anyone curious about what it means to be a groundbreaking writer in the sluggish world of publishing.

DeWitt's most recent novel, Your Name Here, is available via her blog, paperpools, as a pdf download for the modest sum of US$8 using Paypal. Although I hadn't previously known of her work (being more of a poetry hound than a regular pursuer of fiction)her interview prompted me to take the plunge and I now have a copy of the book to read on my computer with no intention of printing the near-600 pages: I'll wait until some savvy publisher gets it into print but meanwhile relish having the pdf version (which is surprisingly easy on the eyes) to read and re-read. Now I also have a copy of The Last Samurai, and am for the moment distracted by its spell also from reading the Gertrude Stein material on hand + related material + "all the other things I read", + the writing waiting to be written -- being so bedazzled by DeWitt's writing both on screen and in print (too) late at night with a vat of tea ever close at hand. (I never do anything at one sitting.)

(Surely all manner of reading/thinking/talking about modern/contemporary/revolutionary writing is on the menu at the GS Cafe.)

Kimball's sentence about "the work writing itself" could as easily apply to DeWitt with her counterpoint composition, serious and brilliant play with language and languages, and a narrative flow that is utterly captivating.

Coincidentally having received in yesterday's mail a CD of Angele Dubeau and La Pieta playing music of Philip glass (Portrait, on Analekta; recorded Nov. 2007 at McGill University) this description of the composer's oeuvre by Lucie Renaud (in translation here by Peter Christensen) struck me as equally descriptive of DeWitt's writing:

". . .he [Glass] treats the notion of time completely differently, not as a continuity but rather as a succession of moments that fall into one another ("une succession d'instants qui se jettent les uns dans les autres") without any relationship of cause and effect." And yet the result is not chaos, but flow -- in both his music and in DeWitt's writing -- with harmonies and shifts and subtle details that create meaning beyond the particulars.

I like the original French ("se jettent les uns dans les autres") for the shade of meaning that (for me) can't quite cross into English. The impossibility of pure equivalency across languages.

The growing pile of work by and about Stein that is stacking up here now leads me also along a path of translation, curious to find out how and where her writing has been translated, and also her own translation work. Two books I've recently received from the amazing online bookseller, Apollinaire's Bookshoppe deal with the act of translation, poetry in particular: Translating Translating Montreal (from pressdust; Montral) and At Alberta, by Nathalie Stephens (BookThug; Toronto) -- the latter being the publishing arm of Apollinaire's Bookshoppe, both the work of Jay Millar who, like Zaphod Beeblebrox, has a third arm, that of being a poet. One of the essays in the Stephens book is "WANT: L'INTRADUISIBLE (DESIRE IN TRANSLATION)" (also the keynote lecture at the annual translation conference 2006 at the University of alberta) which begins, "I will begin with the 'failure of translation.'"

And Translating Translating Montreal includes the theme of collaborative translation, and that takes me back again to Stein, and the work of Barbara Will, whose work-in-progress concerns an intriguing (and mysterious) episode of Stein's war years in France. Will's essay, "Lost in Translation: Stein's Vichy Collaboration" (from MODERNISM/modernity 11:4; 651-668; 2004) begins:

"In 1941, the Jewish-American writer Gertrude Stein embarked on one of the strangest intellectual projects of her life: translating and introducing for an American audience the speeches of Marshal Philippe Petain, head of state of the collaborationist Vichy government."

All this, and more, waiting to be explored.

Also coincidentally (again), Bud Parr at Chekhov's Mistress, a blog that I've been following for years with admiration, wrote a recent post (Jan. 10/09) about a forthcoming discussion (Jan. 23/09) at Housing Works Bookstore (New York): "Poetry in Translation Panel: Has the US Lost Touch with World Literature?"

He will be reporting on the discussion at Words Without Borders, another site where he posts his writing.

Enough for one sitting -- if it were snowing inside as steadily as it has been outside all morning, I'd be knee deep by now in more than books.

Friday, January 9, 2009

"words as landscape . . ."

The self-imposed project:
to read Jack Kimball's paper, "Gertrude Stein and the Natural World" from time-sense an electronic quarterly on the art of Gertrude Stein from a site devoted to scholarly writing.

Reason for reading:
sheer curiosity; can't imagine GS hiking through wild places leaving behind the comforts of 27 Rue de Fleurus where she can write day and night OR botanizing (where? in the Jardin du Luxembourg? watching "pigeons on the grass alas"?)or writing about the natural wonders of Montparnasse and other boulevards?

Kimball's essay sends me off in all directions. One of them to a paper (again online) by Jean Mills in The Philological Quarterly 22 March 04 where the phrase jumps out about Gertrude's use of "words as landscapes as opposed to words creating portraits of landscapes."

Now what? So far I'm absorbing that for GS the "natural world" is one of perceiving natural being that can be captured in the process of writing fully in the present, the work of writing being "natural, inclusive", not a matter of naming or lyricism.

Kimball writes: "We have anecdotes . . .about Stein's frequent outdoor writing sessions, how picnics and country drives provided placid backdrops for composition ostensibly addressed to a bewildering jumble of topics, but in fact transcribed in nature's company, unnamed cows, trees, birds and such. Stein writes in The Autobiography, 'I like a view but I like to sit with my back turned to it.'"

Jane Palatini Bowers devotes a chapter in Gertrude Stein to Stein's plays, which she called "landscapes" and which Bowers neologizes (121) as "lang-scapes" since the plays do not "represent, evoke or in some manner correspond to a specific place . . . .Rather, the are about language and its relationship to the performance event . . . "

Other non-Gertrude books intervene, as they tend to in any ordinary day, if our customary forest (not unlike the Vashta Nerada) is a library.

Opened to Robert Macfarlane's The Wild Places and chanced on this -- "Cultures that grow up in close correspondence with a particular terrain often develop idiosyncratic methods of representing that terrain."

The "cultural terrain" of GS: American cities. Her excursions: occasionally in her childhood to the outdoors in the Napa Valley but mostly books and more books. (Assuming that concepts of "culture" don't create "representations" but that people who grow up in those cultures do albeit not necessarily in a predictable or uniform manner.)

Then I also read some of the writings in Conjunctions: 49 "A Writers' Aviary" viz. Catherine Imbriglio's "Intimacy Poems" -- birds and humans, "interspecies meanings", daughter, mother, metempsychosis, gulls, cormorants, "real wings". Back to Bowers recounting an interview with GS about pigeons in the grass alas . . . and so it all comes back to the words again. Where no birds sing.