Saturday, April 4, 2009

1914: Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein

The Author:
Gertrude Stein
Born in 1874 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Stein studied psychology at Radcliffe College from 1893 to 1897 and then began pre-med studies at Johns Hopkins. In 1902, she quit school and moved to Paris, where she lived for most of the rest of her life. (The image on the right was taken in Venice in 1908.)

In the years before World War I, Stein played a crucial role in supporting the careers of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. After World War I, Stein encouraged and influenced the literary efforts of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, members of group expatriate American writers to whom she gave the name: the “Lost Generation.”

The Text:
Tender Buttons
During the pre-War period, Stein began producing literary works influenced by the experimental painters she admired. (Picasso’s “Portrait de jeune fille,” the painting below on the left [Portrait of a young girl], was completed in 1914.) The prose poem Tender Buttons was divided into three sections—Objects, Food, Rooms—each of which includes a series of “cubist” verbal portraits that use words “for their associations and sounds rather than their meanings.” (Perloff) The opening words of the text appear in the excerpt below.




A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading.


Nickel, what is nickel, it is originally rid of a cover.

The change in that is that red weakens an hour. The change has come. There is no search. But there is, there is that hope and that interpretation and sometime, surely any is unwelcome, sometime there is breath and there will be a sinecure and charming very charming is that clean and cleansing. Certainly glittering is handsome and convincing.

There is no gratitude in mercy and in medicine. There can be breakages in Japanese. That is no programme. That is no color chosen. It was chosen yesterday, that showed spitting and perhaps washing and polishing. It certainly showed no obligation and perhaps if borrowing is not natural there is some use in giving.

Perloff, Marjorie. "Gertrude Stein ." - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More. 29 Mar. 2009


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